Sisterwoman.com, a newly launched social network, is hoping to build an online community for women that will also allow marketers to incorporate their brands into the experience.
On paper, the concept reads like a marketer's dream: a social networking site where marketers can reach an actively engaged audience of women aged 25 to 50. It is designed to be a gathering place for women to keep up with friends and interact with like-minded new ones. One of its goals is to provide advertisers with a way to tap into the social networking phenomenon led by sites like MySpace, while eliminating some of their concerns over associating their brands with unpredictable content.
"Advertisers that we've talked to have been very excited by the chance to build a community within a community that they can embed their brand into," Allie Savarino, president and co-founder of Sisterwoman, told ClickZ News. "They want to be involved with sites like MySpace, but they don't want to put their brand at risk."
The site, which has been building buzz since the fall, launched on Wednesday with three site sponsors, a hand-picked group that Savarino said was kept intentionally small to allow members to take ownership of the community before introducing more advertisers.
The site offers advertisers a "Circle," where members can share their experiences with the products with other women and share their feedback more directly with the brand owners. At launch, there are Circles for Neutrogena and The Learning Channel. A third advertiser will launch its campaign in conjunction with an offline campaign that breaks next week.
Both Circles incorporate a question-and-answer section, where women can ask a question directly to the advertiser, as well as scheduled live chats where representatives of the advertiser will be on hand to interact with members directly.
Because the site offers advertisers an attractive demographic, with limited inventory available to reach them, Sisterwoman is able to limit the number of advertisers on the site by charging higher ad rates. Ad sales are handled by an in-house team. Savarino expects to begin working with other advertisers over the next few months.
An important element of both the design of the site and the integration of advertising was respect toward members, Savarino said. "We did a lot of market research with women in multiple markets, and a range of psychographic groups. We found among all of them a desire and a need to contribute. They feel like they are experts in many areas, and place value on being able to share their feedback," she said.
Sisterwoman has taken a three-pronged approach to member acquisition. First is an affiliate marketing program that is open to women's groups with more than 500 members. Since September, book clubs, shopping groups, industry organizations and other offline groups representing more than 70,000 members have taken up Sisterwoman's offer to create a Circle for their members and an instant online community. About a third of those members have signed up.
Sisterwoman is also expecting the site to grow organically, through word-of-mouth efforts by its members. The third prong of the approach is public relations, with both online and offline outreach.
"We think the site will be better long-term if it's allowed to grow organically," Savarino said.
The company has big plans for the Sisterwoman brand. Over the next two years, the company expects to extend its presence to other channels, including wireless, print, TV and events.
Savarino, a former SVP of marketing at rich media player Unicast (now owned by Viewpoint), founded the site with Sally Rodgers, a former journalist and SVP of teen-oriented Varsity Media Group. They recruited talent from around the industry, picking up most of their developer staff from MSN's advertising team. That group is led by Bart Barden, along with former MTV and E! executive Joe Shults.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
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