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T he equivalent of one in every three U.S. citizens has completed a transaction on Active.com, an online destination at which people can sign up to do everything from run a 5K race, enroll in a pottery class or reserve a night at a campground. Clearly, the site gets a great deal of use.

Even so, management wanted to “engage participants even more” and boost the number that signed up for different events, says Kristin Carroll, vice president of media and marketing with Active Network, the parent company for Active.com. “As a merchandiser of activities, we focus on how to get more people to be more active.”

The more visitors to Active.com who sign up for an event, the more revenue that flows to the company’s customers. These range from local groups — say, the running club that hosts a neighborhood fun run — to its largest event, the 85,000-participant Sydney (Australia) City2Surf 14-kilometer race.

Active Network provides technology, including online registration, transaction processing and marketing services, to these customers. The result is what the company calls “the world’s largest network of events, activities, communities and participants.” In 2010, Active Network handled 70 million transactions. At any point in time, about 200,000 events are live on the site, and Active.com averages three million unique visitors monthly.

Sharing purchases
To more fully engage its customers, Active.com began working with Sociable Labs, a company that develops software to integrate social media applications into its customers’ websites. Founder and CEO Nisan Gabbay recognized that socializing and commerce are a natural fit, “given how people are influenced by their friends offline.”

While Facebook and other social media sites clearly play into companies’ e-commerce plans, they’re not the entire picture. “The key to success is helping consumers connect with their friends on e-commerce sites,” Gabbay says. “That’s what our solution does. It helps consumers share what they bought with their friends.”

E-commerce systems, of course, have a great deal of information on their customers’ transactions, “but it’s largely anonymous from a social media point of view,” Gabbay says. That is, Expedia may know who is staying at a particular hotel, but it has no way of knowing whether any of the guests know each other.

At the same time, social media sites know which users are friends — but the sites don’t necessarily know what they’re buying.

Sociable Labs merges data from social media sites with that from online transaction systems. The company is currently targeting the 500 largest online retailers; at the same time, it’s focusing on the sectors in which consumers appear particularly influenced by peers’ opinions, such as health and vitamins, travel and sporting goods.

Recreational events also fit into this category. “Participating in activities like running a 5K or heading to a campground is inherently social,” Carroll says. “We know that people want to participate with other people.” In fact, a recent Active.com study found that two-thirds of respondents ranked being with friends and family as one of the most important reasons to participate in a sporting event. Active.com wanted to leverage that mindset.

In its experience, Active.com has found that “Women often invite friends to participate,” Carroll says. In contrast, men tend to challenge each other, she says.

The company has integrated Facebook “like” buttons into its website. “What we really wanted to do was take the inspiration and motivation that people get through each other and apply it to the shopping part,” Carroll says.

RSVP and Purchase Share, Sociable Labs applications located on Active.com’s event detail and purchase confirmation pages, allow users to share their plans to attend events. So far, users don’t appear concerned about sharing this information with their social network, Gabbay says. In fact, according to studies that Sociable Labs has done, about 58 percent of people authorize the use of their e-commerce data on social media.

The ROI
Online merchants that implement Sociable Labs’ applications typically see visitor conversion rates jump 50 to as much as 300 percent, Gabbay says. The level varies by product type: Some items, like electronics, can be heavily influenced by others’ opinions; others, like printer paper, often are more a function of price.

At Active.com, visitors referred by a Sociable Labs application convert to customers at a rate that’s 300 percent higher than the rate achieved when an event is posted to a Facebook fan page, the company says. The conversion rate also is 67 percent higher than that achieved through e-mail marketing, Active.com reports.

“It’s the power of a direct personal invite,” Carroll says.

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