Originally published in HuffPo. Click here for the original post.
Facebook is facing a number of challenges these days, not the least of which is from upstarts set on usurping the company as the preeminent social media destination. Once such start-up is Experience Project, a company with a very different take on social media. I recently sat down with Armen Berjikly, company founder. Experience Project bills itself as the world’s largest community of life experiences and is centered around a very different model than Facebook.
In a nutshell, what’s Experience Project about?
Experience Project is the leading online network of people who share life experiences. Every person starts gathering experiences from the moment from birth until death. Our experiences represent an always increasing, infinitely interesting set of things; they are likely the single best manifestation of who we truly are. Experience Project is the optimized platform that connects folks that understand each other. Its fundamental tenet is that people who share your experiences “just get it.”
Do you see Experience Project as a platform? If so, how?
Certainly it is a platform for brands to represent themselves, but more interestingly, I also think it can be a platform for people. Any place where you have the ability to represent some important aspect of yourself, your mind, and your desires is a platform for you to express and connect.
Experience Project seems to be based upon a fundamentally different model than other social networking sites. When I heard about it, I thought of The Fancy, a social ecommerce site based upon people — not products per se. Seems like Experience Project’s approach to social networking is based comes from an equally different place. Yes?
Absolutely. One of our core driving forces is to create something special, something different, and most critically, something meaningful and lasting. Technology can be an incredibly positive thing, especially when it unites people. It can eradicate feelings of isolation, and disseminate knowledge to anyone, anytime. With billions of people on Earth at the same time, it is outrageous to think that you are truly ever alone in what you’re going through, whether it be a really exciting opportunity, or a difficult life challenge. Connecting people who have the same situations and the wisdom gained from going through them is incredibly empowering. Purpose building a place where you can be yourself — pros and cons, challenges and triumphs — means that we have to appreciate the vulnerability in everyone, and earn long lasting, authentic, and trusting relationships with our users.
Monetization is still a challenge for companies in your space. What’s the plan at Experience Project?
Building an innovative and fundamentally sound business model is incredibly important to us. First, there’s the obvious reason of achieving business success. Second, it ensures that this property, which at this point contains perhaps the most complete view of the human experience found anywhere, is here for the long run.
We have a (probably) unique situation where our members get so much value out of the site (four out of five say the site has changed their life for the better) that members in the early days would actually send us money without expecting anything in return– “use this to keep building the site!” In response to that, we’ve built a subscription model that rewards paying members with additional functionality and exposure of content across the site.
Over time, we’ve also developed our own unique “ad unit” with which our brand partners like Chevy, Wal-Mart, and JC Penney have had incredible results. We are experts in generating and consuming personal, emotional stories. The holy grail of marketing is to tell a story, and through that story, engage your customers emotionally — that is engagement and conversational marketing at its best. So brands come to us when they want a huge audience creating and reading personal stories that reflect the values of a brand. Think about the causes a company supports or the communities their products benefit. When deployed on a community about life experiences, that approach is incredibly successful at improving brand preference, and, affinity. Ultimately, this drives loyal customers because it gives them a chance to connect emotionally with the brand.
Finally, over time we’ve built a massive and proprietary database mapping specific human emotions to the content. Using that insight, we’ve recently released Crane, a groundbreaking product called that allows our customers to take any content anywhere. Crane allows us to look at tweets, customer service emails, and the like, and detect the emotions and sentiments contained in the content. When you can map certain “emotional signatures” to certain outcomes, like a customer completing a purchase, you have a new and very powerful way to understand your customers. We have found that emotion drives decisions, whether they are purchases or cancelling subscription. This is the first automated, highly accurate signal that can provide granular insight into how a single customer is actually feeling.
Where do you see Experience Project going from here? Are there any practical limits?
As long as people keep having experiences and want to talk about them, Experience Project will grow and thrive. We provide a safe, comfortable, and trustworthy platform to share those experiences with millions of others. As a result, there is no ceiling to our opportunity. In fact, the larger our reach has become, the faster we’ve grown. Also, we don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake. We know our property helps people. The more people who come across it, the more good we can help do.