With God As Their Witness, Entrepreneurs Reveal Ways to Bring Social Networking to the Enterprise

What GodTube.com and Internet dating reveal about building customer communities online.

Jason Martell likes to give the people what they want. For 15 years he has coded websites, specializing in sites where people gather: AmericanSingles.com; JDate.com, a Jewish singles site; and the site now known as Flux, which is a multimedia blog for the MTV crowd. Social networking before it was called that.

This summer, he found God. Well, GodTube.com. In June, Martell, with cofounder and CEO Chris Wyatt, launched the video-sharing site, which they claim is the largest social network for Christians and the first major one to go real-time.

Wyatt, a former CBS television producer and theology student, and Martell, as GodTube's chief technology officer, want to spread the social networking gospel as well as the holy kind. News or music, dating or spirituality—any company can build an active online community, Martell says, whether the goal is to make a sale or get a man or get an "amen."

The best techniques for attracting visitors and luring them back work across industries: Appeal to people's desire for fame, search to belong and urge to have fun.

"I gained a lot of insight at these places," he says. "These technologies and lines of thinking are being funneled into GodTube." Big Jump Media, Martell's software development company, which provides GodTube with its video-sharing technology, has trademarked terms including "Jesus 2.0" and "Godcaster" for future products and services.

Among the top priorities for CIOs this year are developing new businesses and services on the Web and promoting collaboration and knowledge management internally, according to our latest "State of the CIO" survey. A new business that corralled an average of 3 million unique monthly visitors in its six months in existence—and 19 million page views in December—GodTube is worth studying.

Baby Got Book from jaser7 on GodTube.

Drafting Social Network Techniques for GodTube Services

Like YouTube, anyone can post a video at GodTube. There are 50,000 up so far. But unlike YouTube, GodTube vets submissions so they are "safe for families," meaning the videos are free of sex and violence.

And like social networking site Facebook, GodTube gives registered members e-mail, affinity groups, personal profiles, online polls, the ability to link to friends and track their activities and the chance to make public posts on "walls." On GodTube's wall, visitors post text and video asking others to pray or light a virtual candle for a specific reason—the Middle East, a premature baby named Daniel, a quick home sale.

GodTube is a little like Twitter, too. Twitter, a so-called microblogging site, lets members type text updates about what they're doing, in 140 characters or less, to their "followers." GodTube's take on that is video chat, where members sign up to watch each other in streaming video while they converse via text.

Technologies to foster online collaboration—for example, blogs that solicit customer feedback and wikis that allow employees to work together on projects—are gaining traction throughout the corporate world, a recent McKinsey & Co. survey found. Video-sharing sites offer a "test bed" to see what inspires people to collaborate electronically, says Jacques Bughin, a McKinsey consultant.

Companies should pay attention to what motivates people to glom onto an online community inside and outside the corporate walls, Bughin says, because it isn't usually financial gain. At a cable company McKinsey studied, more than half the employees who contributed to an internal wiki did it to build their own reputations and because they identified with the community, he says. Only 20 percent did it for the chance to earn a bonus.

How GodTube Appeals to Users' Emotions and Ego to Build Online Affinity

At GodTube, Martell is applying what he's learned about human nature to the widgets, viral applications and real-time "shared experience" technologies he's building.

First, he advises, tell people what to do, then praise them when they do it. When members sign in, Martell advises, generate a message asking them to add a friend to their lists or go to a specific channel or group related to their activity last visit. After they do so, congratulate them with another message and suggest they click a link that leads them to another activity.

"Don't just give them a bunch of choices. Encourage them to make decisions," Martell says. "Then pat them on the back for completing a task. That's one of the most successful practices because they want positive reinforcement."

Next, from the dating sites, Martell learned that when you appeal to people's vanity you not only please them but you keep them around.

When a member checks in, he wants to know what's happened at the site while he was away. But not general information about total traffic or new features. Rather, how he himself is reflected in all the activity. At JDate, for example, Martell helped put together stats boards where members could see how many people, and in some cases who in particular, looked at their profiles, who sent e-mail, what their linked friends had done recently and who was online right then.

JDate also shows members a list of compatible partners generated by people-match algorithms—closely held formulas for matching two date-seekers based on items in their profiles and answers to questions.

"When people come to a site, they don't necessarily know why they're coming. They don't know what they're looking for," Martell says, "so hold their hand. Tell them who's checking them out and how to check other people out."

Five Million Psalm Video Viewers Can't Be Wrong

One way at GodTube to check people out is the video chat section. On one recent day, member JesusSetMeFree77, a bearded GodTuber wearing a heavy gold cross, sat at a desk in front of his digital video camera and appeared to be studying the Bible. Some fellow chatters in the group provided audio with their video and text, though it was mostly ambient noise that morning instead of conversation. Admin Mike and Admin Pam monitored the group. Not a lot of action, but there doesn't have to be. The visuals let people feel connected and perhaps satisfy a sense of voyeurism, Martell says.

In August, the average GodTube visitor spent six minutes on the site each session, according to Compete.com, a website analytics tracker. Now it's up to nine. Martell says sessions frequently last more than 30 minutes.

Pure entertainment goes a long way to increasing linger time and page views.

GodTube's most popular video is "Little Girl and Psalm 23," in which a red-haired tot in a Disney princess T-shirt stands in her kitchen smiling as she squeaks out the six verses of "The Lord is my shepherd." How popular? More than 5 million views. That's on par with the 5.2 million views logged for the racy YouTube video, "I Got a Crush on Obama," by bikini model Amber Lee Ettinger, a.k.a Obama Girl.

The more people view, the more apt they are to leave comments—that is, participate. "Little Girl" has garnered more than 1,500 comments. Nurture interactivity by identifying frequent posters of high-quality content and sending them individual messages seeking more opinions from them, advises McKinsey's Bughin. By doing that, you boost the number and quality of contributions, he says.

GodTube officials won't disclose financials but have said they want to make a profit. For a fee, megachurches—those with congregations of at least 25,000 members—will be able to offer live streaming sermons on GodTube. Subscribers to those Godcasts will be able to choose to let GodTube share their e-mail addresses with the churches, Martell says. The site also runs traditional banner ads, such as from Publishers Clearinghouse and Classmates.com, and has started experimenting with video ads from Google.

For example, in GodTube's "Celebrities" video channel, which discusses famous Christians and encourages visitors to post multimedia prayers for wayward stars, one of the most viewed clips is "A Prayer for Britney Spears."

In the bottom left corner of the video screen, small clickable ads rotate every 20 seconds as the 6-minute video prayer plays. "I know she's going through a very difficult time with her children and rehab and car accidents and whatnot," says the New Jersey woman who posted the video, and up pops a link to ringtone seller BestTones4U.net. "Deliver her from Satan and from darkness or anything that's troubling her. You know more than I do, Lord," she says, as a pitch for online prayer requests at carepages.com appears.

GodTube doesn't yet have in-house staff to monitor closely the results of all of its interactive features, but plans to add such analysts to its 20-person staff, Martell says. "The important thing is to keep experimenting with what we know about people and technology."

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