Recently I conducted an interview with the CEO/Founder of Lifelenz, Dennis Stack. Lifelenz is a social media platform dedicated to capturing life’s stories. Those of you reading this blog that understand and believe that social media is about connections and relationships, will appreciate what Lifelenz is all about. Lifelenz goes beyond traditional social media because Lifelenz allows you to get emotionally involved and connected with other people and their stories. If I had to define social media philanthropy, I would do so with one word…Lifelenz.
After going through a few profiles I was hooked, these are real people with real stories, it doesn’t get more interesting and emotional than that.
What’s your story…?
In a nutshell, can you describe what Lifelenz.com is and why you decided to create it?
LifeLenz is a family centric social network with a social conscience. I have been dreaming for years about creating a place for our families to archive their recorded stories. My StoryKeepers have been recording the stories, earlier on audio tapes and more recently on digital media, but both the analog tapes and the CD’s can be lost, damaged or go out of style. Sharing the stories requires access to the physical media they are recorded on which is not always convenient. LifeLenz is my answer to that problem.
What is your background and how did you end up in social media?
I have been married for 24 years and am the father of one 15 y/o daughter. I achieved a BS in Communication Psychology and the bulk of my professional career I worked as a stockbroker, or more euphemistically a Financial Advisor. A few years earlier I experienced an epiphany of sorts and realized that we as a nation were preoccupied with increasing and passing on our tangible wealth, building our valuables but doing nothing to preserve our values. Since 2003 I have made it my focus to work to preserve as many family histories as possible and make them as accessible as possible, the technology of social media has arrived at the perfect time.
Can you go through or explain the process of joining and participating in Lifelenz?
Simple and direct, basic registration requires only your name, valid e-mail address and a password of your choosing. Once done you have the ability to establish as many as three different profile perspectives; personal, social, and professional. We recognize that people have different aspects of their life and a desire to keep them in their place. The social network provides great tools that can function wonderfully with different missions. In the personal Profile section members can create and archive their family legacy. Stories, photos, audios, and videos, collected and shared. In the Social Profile members can interact with other community members in much the same way as they do in MySpace or FaceBook, but with some very important differences and distinctions. And in the professional profile they can express and share their expertise with the community and the world at large. Each profile can be independently secured at the level of networking that the member decides. Rather having only the simple friend / stranger relationship, we recognize four levels: private, family, friends, and the public. The features: Journals (blogs) and groups can also be set for security independently keeping them; private, family only, friends and family, or open to the public. Each member can create as many journals and groups as they wish and use them for entirely different purposes.
What is a StoryKeeper and why do I need one? Can anyone become a Storykeeper?
A StoryKeeper is a catalyst that enables the StoryTeller to tell their stories. Each of us left to our own devices would likely never get around to telling and recording our stories. StoryKeepers see that it gets done. Stories told without the reaction and feedback of an audience tends to ramble. StoryKeepers are trained to elicit those stories central to a storyteller’s life and help them remain focused and on-message, making them more engaging. Nearly anyone can be trained to become a StoryKeeper. The skill sets required are the basic social skills most all of us have: caring, compassion, good listener, non-judgmental and a modicum of technical and computer skills.
What is the target audience for Lifelenz?
Families, family friendly causes, and family oriented professionals, caregivers and their families.
Is Lifelenz VC backed/Are you profitable?
LifeLenz has managed to avoid using VC money. We have a vision of what this site can become and will not yield that vision to anyone motivated purely by financial gain. We have only just launched the site having been in beta mode for nearly a year. We are not profitable but expect to turn so within our first six months. We have built and intend to populate this site in what could be considered un-orthodox means. The bulk of our population and content will be provided by real people, feet on the street if you will. We intend to base our population with those in our communities generally viewed by social networks as those ‘least likely’. Our storykeepers will aid in getting the eldest of our family members loaded and trained to use the social network technology, allowing them to re-engage themselves in their family’s interaction regardless of proximity. Once we have Grandma and Grandpa blogging, they will naturally network with their own ‘downstream network’ (family). Each grandparent will have a population multiplier effect of somewhere near 10 for every 1, considering their children and grandchildren. We have several different projected revenue channels and none of them depend on advertising. Advertising is something we just don’t need to do and believe our members will appreciate that.
What would like to improve upon for Lifelenz?
Continue to make the site easier to use and more intuitive. New features will be added to enhance the site’s ability to handle content better and load content through more creative alternatives.
Where are you guys located?
We are primarily located in Tennessee and Arizona.
How many employees and Storykeepers do you currently have?
At the moment there are six of us working at it full-time and a few more part-timers. When it comes to StoryKeepers, we have more than 80 Professional Registered StoryKeepers in 38 States and more than 1,000 Volunteer StoryKeepers with more being trained every week. We have set a goal of training 100,000 Volunteers over the course of the next 24 months.
How many members/profiles do you currently have on Lifelenz?
In our beta site we had about 800 member profiles. We have only launched the Official site on the 31st of March, 2008. In the next week we will be contacting our network of storykeepers and supporters, inviting them to join.
What makes Lifelenz different from other social media platforms?
Our population and our purpose set us apart from others. We are a family networking site first and a social networking site second, as opposed to a social networking site only. Our content will be focused on preserving family legacies in multimedia and providing a platform for those social causes and experts we deem appropriate to our family theme.
What type of feedback have you gotten back from your users?
One member recently commented that he was glad to finally have a place on the internet where he would not be embarrassed to take his grandmother.
Are you partnering with any other companies or participating in any outreach programs?
We are currently considering affiliations with other providers and applications to advance our capabilities in managing and presenting our content, and working with recognized not-for-profit organizations compatible with our mission.
Is Lifelenz using SEO or PPC strategies to help market the site and increase search engine visibility?
We are constantly tweaking our SEO but feel we can live without PPC since our storykeepers will provide the bulk of our membership without cost to us. We will probably look more into PPC later.
Do you have any competitors or is Lifelenz the first of its breed?
Without trying to sound pretentious, I do believe we are a first of our kind. There are many other sites that share the some of the same kind of features but tend to have a narrower focus and limited functionality. Our population is what will really set us apart. Most of the other social networks make the world a closer place; we seek to make families closer. We are taking an unorthodox approach to building our population by acquiring the least likely members first. An army of StoryKeepers will be creating the profiles and teaching their StoryTellers how to use what was built. The interesting feature of social networks to me is that they are not mutually exclusive. My own daughter has no plans of abandoning her MySpace account, yet she would love to be able to communicate in the same way with her grandfather and other family, just not in her MySpace page. Our three profiles allow members to interact within the community in different ways with different networks of people; family with family, friends with friends, and business or professional with the world.
What is your favorite story on Lifelenz?
Where do you see Lifelenz in 2 years?
We are not looking at this effort so much as building a social network as we are in creating a culture. We hope to re-invent the extended family using social network technology to give voice to those family members who were not included in the social networking revolution. We also hope to house the largest archive of family histories in the world.
Where do you see social media in 2 years?
I think that the industry will see a growing number of niche players and members of the largest networks will become disenchanted with the brash advertising gimmicks and stupid applications. I mean when someone in my network sends me an image of a margarita, all I can think of is ‘what a waste of keystrokes.’ Am I to feel loved? I want to be engaged with people at a more meaningful level. I don’t want people who presume to subscribe to a worthy cause when all they are doing is making a social statement. Our members will be those who really do support their cause with their dedication, time, and money and don’t wear it on their sleeve.
Is everything free to join? Is there a premium vs. basic model? If so what is the difference
LifeLenz is free to join and free to use virtually every feature. There are premium features but they have more to do with storage space and bandwidth demands, and visibility than they do with functionality. To the extent that members do pay a premium, competitively, we intend to be the lowest cost and greatest featured network available.
What would like to improve upon for Lifelenz?
Continually enhance features and functionality: Convenience and ease of use.
What is your Lifelenz profile id so people can go check it out?
Do you have anything else you want to add? Here is your chance to talk about whatever you want, throw in some interesting or random fun facts about you or the company.
LifeLenz was originally conceived to be a safe, internet based archive wherein families could collect and store their legacies and their lore. With the framework of a social network it has the potential to do so much more.
With families becoming increasingly separated geographically and generationally, providing the platform through which families can interact in more meaningful and rewarding ways is a great thing. LifeLenz and StoryKeepers are committed to making that happen.
A very special thank you to Dennis for taking the time to answer my question, and another thank you to all of the readers of this blog. Please be sure to visit Lifelenz, I promise you will find it engaging and emotionally stimulating, it’s like social media chicken soup for the soul.