Private Social Networks
By David Dorf on Jan 23, 2010
My wife recently joined Lifetime Fitness, so she asked me to setup her account on myLT.com. The website provides members an online community where they can communicate with friends, join groups, use tools to track workouts, and see the schedule of upcoming classes. In many ways it reminds me of Facebook minus the games plus useful tools. Turns out the website, and several similar ones, were created by Wellness-Layers, a software company run by Amir Kishon with focus on the healthcare industry.
After speaking with Amir, I found out Wellness-Layers is pushing into the retail industry as well, starting with Hannaford supermarkets. While social networks are good for high-level interactions with customers, private social networks owned by the retailer offer better benefits to both the consumer and the retailer. Consider the business case for grocery. Consumers can track all their purchases in their account, then run their own analytics to see weekly costs, overall nutrition, and coupon management. Safeway is doing this with their Foodflex program. Retailers (and manufacturers) can offer alternatives for their purchases based on their dietary needs. Consumers can share pre-built grocery lists for birthdays, Thanksgiving, or weight-loss programs. Amir cited the fact that Nutrisystem, another customer, has 3,000 fans on their Facebook page, but 3,000,000 users on their private social network.
When the retailer has control of the website, more compelling and personalized content can be offered, benefiting all parties. Of course we don't want a bunch of disjointed accounts we have to remember, so its possible to leverage standards like Facebook Connect, Twitter API, and OpenSocial to connect these networks when it makes sense.
Simply building another version of Facebook isn't good enough, so retailers need to ensure they provide useful tools and figure out how to help people leverage the wisdom of the network. Then make it easy for users to transition over to e-commerce, so they can act on the recommendations. Doing this correctly with definately increase a customer's lifetime value.