One unique feature of SightNation is a filter that determines what each user will see on the site depending on his or her profession. “There's a high degree of sensitivity between the [ophthalmology and optometry] professions, so we want to keep them separate,” said Bill Scott, president of JMI's ECP Business Services. (ECP is short for eye-care professional.)
While Scott said he believes the time is right to launch a professional network in the optical space, he is aware of the risks inherent in trying to create a new network from scratch. For every phenomenal success like Facebook or LinkedIn, there are numerous online communities that debuted with great fanfare and were subsequently abandoned when members stopped participating.
“We're changing people's habits, and that takes time. So this requires a high degree of patience on our part,” Scott said. “I take satisfaction in the fact that the metrics are going in the right direction.”
When SightNation was launched in mid-March, it had no members. By last week, about 2,000 people had created personal profiles, up from 1,800 three weeks earlier. Members are referred to as “citizens” of SightNation.
To get those numbers, JMI's Optical Group has been actively and regularly promoting the site to the audiences it serves with its other optical brands—which include20/20 Magazine, Lab Talk, Review of Ophthalmology, Review of Optometry and Vision Monday—via e-mail blasts, activities at industry trade shows, print advertising and online advertising on its optical websites.
For the first two months, potential new citizens were enticed to join by a chance to win an Apple iPod Touch or a $200 American Express gift certificate in a monthly drawing. In the third month, to keep existing members engaged, the contest was opened up so that entrants could earn one chance to win every time they referred someone who joined SightNation. In the fourth month, JMI upgraded the prize to an iPad.
The site rollout was designed so that additional features could be added on a regular basis to drive interest. In June, a recruitment section was added through a partnership with an existing job board. “We instantly added over 300 open positions and had our highest traffic day other than our launch,” Scott said. In August, a new section called VideoNation will begin to host user-generated video.
Citizens earn SightNation points every time they post a photo, make a comment, join a group or take other actions on the site. “We're still working out how we're going to reward people, but we will be using the points system to incentivize participation,” Scott said.
SightNation is about to enter a new phase, where the focus will shift from gathering citizens to fostering engagement among them, as well as between citizens and the editorial staffs of the optical group's other brands, Scott said.
One strategy in the effort “to continually remind citizens that we exist” will be the launch of a weekly e-mail alert, he said.