SNW INTERVIEW -- Nov 8 -- Gather.com is a social network for grownups. Here’s my interview with their CEO Tom Gerace. - Mark Brooks
What is Gather’s founding story?
When we launched the company, we focused both on the technology that creates social discovery and a social conversation system. We started off with a key set of relationships in public radio and in publishing to seed the community. We wanted to create a connection between people and ideas. Our vision for the company has always been to enable people to have conversations with their friends, family and colleagues around topics that matter to them. Gather’s goal is to provide a forum for conversations that matter.
How would you say Gather is different from the likes of Facebook and MySpace?
First it’s about who is using Gather. We attract an adult audience. About 30% of our users are in their 30’s, 30% are in their 40’s, 30% are in their 50’s.
The second thing is that our members are focused not just on the quick social things like status updates; they’re focused on having a meaningful conversation and sharing ideas—things that they create themselves. It could be a photo album, an opinion on something they’ve read in the news, the first chapter of a book, a poem or a video.
When you get tens or hundreds of friends that are sharing all the things they find, it really becomes a key way for you to learn and discover. This phenomenon happens offline all the time; Gather brings it online. Our friends are key recommenders of movies, our friends shape our political opinions, and our friends help us to find new products, new experiences, and new places in the world. We rely on and trust those friend recommendations more than we do advertising for sure.
Who would you regard as your competitors?
We think about competitors broadly. Standard social sites are the biggest competitors. We also see some competition in people trying to create their own communities around stand alone blogs.
How does the community make money?
We make money in two ways. We sell standard brand advertising. Companies like Kraft have promoted multiple brands on Gather, as have Nestle, Westin, Amtrak and others. And we see the CPG space growing despite general economic weakness in the financial services sector.
The second way we make money is through engagement campaigns where companies engage their prospective customers in a conversation around their products. We do this through reviews and samplings, which then cascade through the Gather community. If you get 20 reviewers and they’re connected to 100 people each, their thoughts cascade to 2,000 people. So you get real social influences and relevant conversations spreading about brands people love. These engagement campaigns are increasingly popular and it’s something we’re working to standardize by forming an industry group called the Social Media Advertising Consortium with a number of media agencies. We are going to standardize what an engagement campaign means so they’re as easy to buy, monitor, and track as traditional media campaigns have been.
You have some real hallmark advertisers. How have those relationships been leveraged into deals which create awareness of Gather.com?
We engage audiences for our partners by building experiences on Gather. Audience members engage in a persistent conversation around topics of interest on the Gather platform. So at FoodTalk. Gather.com you’ll see a group that exists for the radio show The Splendid Table and it has about 11,000 people sharing their recipes, trading cooking tips, really exploring the food space. From time to time that content is integrated into the radio show. This kind of cross media engagement has a real potential because it allows large publishers to capitalize on the creativity of their audience.
What are your goals and plans for the community in 2008 through 2009?
We will continue to build upon our foundation to create an experience that links people with all of the ideas that their friends, family, and colleagues are exploring around the country and around the world. As Gather continues to grow we definitely expect to expand the experience across platforms. You’ll see us making early investments in mobile. Also we will begin to organize the content geographically so you can access content that is relevant to where you live.