Over the past year, the team at NCI has been developing a social marketing service under the umbrella of Digital Sherpa for local advertisers. The service was launched commercially into the multi-family market last August and into the home design market in December.

Our attention over the past months has been focused on executing on our value proposition for our clients. The core of the proposition is to leverage social media tools and content creation and curation in order to expand a customer’s digital footprint. The outcome is increased web traffic through improved Google juice and increased connectedness with their community of interest.

To execute these propositions at a low monthly price to our customers while delivering measurable results, we’ve been building and fine-tuning our business processes and bringing on board a group of talented and enthusiastic professionals excited to pioneer the next wave of internet marketing.

Our activities attracted the attention of a leading analyst in the local media space, Peter Krasilovsky, who heads up the Marketplaces advisory service at The Kelsey Group. Peter asked to look under the hood and has issued summary report about DigitalSherpa.

Here’s how he framed the report in his alert to clients:

Will vertical advertising be replaced, in whole or in part, by search engine optimization? That’s the question companies are grappling with as they consider that many leads are coming from articles and other media that rank high in search results.

NCI, the publisher of The Real Estate Book, Apartment Finder and other publications, isn’t waiting to find out. Throwing worries of cannibalism to the wind, it is building social media content for its advertisers, placing highly contextual articles, abstracts, photos and video on advertiser blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In his report, Peter poses 5 key questions about the Digital Sherpa service:

  1. Will “content” be a compelling proposition of potential clients, even though the big SMB bets for 2010 are reputation and presence management?
  2. Will DigitalSherpa experience the same high churn that other local internet ad services have experienced with SMB’s?
  3. Can DigitalSherpa develop effective content?
  4. How much content does a service need to develop in order to deliver results to its clients?
  5. What impact will creating DigitalSherpa have on our core customer relationships?

These are great questions. I’m not going to take a stab at answering them now. With close to 1000 clients currently, we’ve going to have data-driven answers to the questions in fairly short order. That will be the time to see how things shake out in this social media marketing experiment.

The Kelsey Report advisory alert is available to subscribers here. If you have questions for Peter, you can find him at his blog, The Local Onliner.