Tagged may just be the biggest social network you’ve never heard of. Currently the second-highest-grossing social app on Android, Tagged is built by a company called if(we) (which recently rebranded from simply Tagged, Inc.) that’s completely dedicated to social discovery apps, and was one of the first social networks to become profitable. Its previous experiments have included Sidewalk, a cool city-based app for serendipitous discovery in cities. if(we) also owns Hi5, a former network for social gaming that now also focuses on social discovery.
As Facebook dominates the social landscape in terms of sheer number of members, if(we) is focusing on social apps that fulfill other human needs – like meeting new people online, finding dates, playing games, and other niches Facebook doesn’t quite cover. By building features for specific tasks that match specific human needs, if(we) aims to help everyone cultivate more meaningful relationships – no small feat in an increasingly digital world.
We recently spoke with Steve Sarner, Vice President of Marketing at if(we), to learn a bit more about the company’s journey from a single social app to an entire enterprise dedicated to promoting social discovery and other social products. Here’s what we found out.
How Tagged Came to Be
Tagged was one of the original social networks, designed to let people connect with others online. Formed in October 2004, right around the same time Facebook started to climb the social networking ladder, Tagged looked at conquering the high school market: “While Facebook was good for college, we’d get them even younger,” Tagged co-founder at CEO Greg Tseng told Jason Calacanis on This Week in Startups a few years ago. But an internal study quickly revealed that about 75 percent of connections on Tagged had actually been created through Tagged, not in real life (unlike Facebook connections, typically driven by real-life relationships). Armed with this insight, the company decided to start owning social “discovery” – basically, meeting new people.
Rather than simply curating online lists of people you know offline, if(we) focuses on building social networks that actually connect you with new people. Tagged allows users to find and message one another, and includes original features like PETS, a “stock market for people,” where users can buy and sell others’ profiles, betting on whose headlines and images will become most popular. if(we) also offers dedicated dating app, MeetMe, and social gaming services.
In fact, in 2010, Tagged was the third largest partner (behind Facebook and MySpace) for Zynga social games. As Zynga increasingly focused its efforts on the Facebook platform, Tagged transferred focus to developing its own games internally. The company quickly found that focusing on a few high quality games was preferable to trying to churn out a ton of titles, and has honed in on the aforementioned PETS game where users buy and sell profiles. Whether it’s despite or because of its highly personal nature, PETS delivers remarkably high average revenue per user.
Serving a Diverse User Base
Tagged members are diverse in many ways. There’s not a lot of overlap in how they use the social networks: about 20 percent of people are focused on social gaming, 20 percent use MeetMe for dating, and 60 percent browse and use the tool to meet new friends as well as dates. Less than 10 percent of users complete activities in all of these areas. As a result, if(we) needs to think about appealing to all of these different groups with unique apps and features.
In addition to gravitating to different features, if(we) users come from various countries and backgrounds. About 25 percent are from the US, with others all over the world – the UK, Netherlands, Malaysia, Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, and more, with a growing contingent in the Middle East. There are over 200 countries and 20 languages represented throughout the company’s services. About 60 percent of users are men and 40 percent are women.
These diverse groups of people have discovered if(we) products in many different ways. The company was one of the first to let users invite their existing networks to the platform, and continues to use viral hooks in the registration process to promote growth. Although the company has done some paid promotion, its growth is largely organic.
In 2011, if(we) acquired Hi5, a social network with a large concentration of users from South America and southeast Asia, in particular Malaysia. It was a challenge to begin to understand how users in Asia interacted with the platform compared with users in the US, and build new features accordingly. By now, if(we) has largely transitioned Hi5 from social games into a social discovery platform, a shift that has resonated with users and driven them to interact more with the service.
Mirroring its experience with Asian users of Hi5, if(we) sees significant regional differences in the ways its apps are used, with some countries going gaga for games and others focusing more on dating. Still other areas simply use if(we) services to find friends online, in tune with the social discovery track. Right now, much of the company’s revenue comes from from the US, but the company is looking into opportunities to grow elsewhere financially despite its rather impressive $50 million annual take.
Transitioning from Web to Mobile
As a more established social network, Tagged was originally built for the web. That has made for an educational transition into the world of mobile apps, especially given the company’s diverse customer base, which uses many different mobile platforms and devices. Initially, there were attempts to “force” an iOS app into the Android platform, but it quickly became clear that this didn’t provide an ideal environment for users, and a native Android app was created.
“Whereas mobile was the biggest threat to our IPO goal, it is also the biggest opportunity for growing our social products,” if(we) CEO Greg Tseng noted recently when discussing the company’s shift in mission and platform to focus more strictly on social, and the tension between mobile’s risks and opportunities is familiar to many companies.
Aside from deepening its social experimentation, another current priority for the company is to knit mobile monetization more tightly into its social apps. As consumers increasingly transition to mobile payments, making these work seamlessly will become more and more vital not only to providing a good experience for those using the app, but also to building revenue for the app creator. By making it as easy as possible for people to stay within the app and pay for additional features, if(we) builds its user base and revenue simultaneously.
What’s Next for All of Us
Although Google Glass has yet to take off, if(we) sees potential for wearables to influence the social media experience. Because wearables will be very personal devices, it’s only natural that they will also house very personal connections – though these may need to be of a different nature than the large friend or follower lists that many people curate on networks like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s possible that certain social networks will begin to dominate different wearable devices – or that a device will drive the growth of a new network. if(we) says there’s still tremendous opportunity on mobile, too, especially in terms of messaging and video, areas where wearables may influence the trajectory of trends as well.
Whatever comes next, the people at if(we) will be hard at work making sure that there’s a strong social discovery layer to it. Sarner says that working at if(we) means your code will be used by millions of people to connect with others. And while if(we) is a large, established company, it also offers employees “the freedom to act like a startup and try new things” – but with the “stability and scale that a startup wouldn’t have,” according to Sarner.
All told, just like its members, if(we) is always looking for the next new thing. So pay attention to what they come up with next as the company moves into a new era of experimentation, one that matches its people-centric and exploration-minded name.