Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Making Money From Building Social Media Around Illness

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 10, 2007

I recently met with the Experience Project, a startup that is creating social media support groups around various illnesses. This for-profit company recently launched its first online community called the Cancer Support Project.

Carol Lin, a well known CNN reporter, is one of the key evangelists for the Cancer Project. And the Experience Project plans to build many other social media sites around specific illnesses. The goal is to pay for the web site design and the infrastructure costs, etc, through an advertising model.

Pharma is spending huge amounts of money on general advertising on TV, radio and magazines. Online sites such as the Cancer Project provide far better targeting for pharma companies, potentially lowering their marketing costs.

Is it OK for a for-profit organization to make money off of often tragic illnesses such as cancer? Yes, I think it is as long as the monetization of that community is not taken too far.

A community sites such as CraigsList.org works well because the owners of this private for-profit site only monetize the jobs section, and parts of the commercial rental market. The rest of the site is ad-free even though most of the content is free-ads.

CraigsList's owners could commercialize far more of their traffic but they choose not to because they don't need the money. This has built tremendous user loyalty, and it is a strategy that keeps competitors at bay because CraigsList's mostly-free model doesn't leave much to compete over. It's a canny competitive practice and one that Experience Project should consider.

The backers of the Experience Project include an interesting group of angel investors, former tech guys now entering their 60s. They make small investments in medical related startups, which jump-starts those ventures, and allows them to qualify for various government grants and attract additional venture investments. (See the video interview for more info...) Those seed investments are able to leverage tens of millions of dollars in medical research and development. Smart investing.

Here is a collection of quick interviews I conducted at the recent launch of the Cancer Project in San Francisco which attracted a spirited and colorful crowd.

http://www.podtech.net/home/4320/building-online-cancer-support-communities

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