OPW INTERVIEW -- Oct 4, 2005 -- Lorna Borenstein is the General Manager for Yahoo Personals, the single most trafficed online personals site in existence today (per Hitwise, Nielsen//Netratings). Prior to joining Yahoo Personals Lorna was VP and General Manager for eBay Canada.
What did you learn from eBay that most significantly affected your approach to running Yahoo! Personals?
The most important thing I learned there was that a site is only as good as its community . If you’re constantly taking care of the needs of the community, then it has a sustaining value proposition and you can develop revenue for the business.
Do you think personality profiling has a future? How has Yahoo! Personals Premier worked out for Yahoo?
Singles are looking for help in making better choices for their happiness and dating. When you think about the needs of singles, you have to think about their overall relationship needs. From what we hear, both from Yahoo! research and secondary research, singles want to be better understood and want a more personalized experience. Our extensive market research identified a clear opportunity to better deliver what singles want: customized services and features that meet their diverse needs. We were actually the first online dating company to offer singles a customized approach to dating based on their varying relationship goals.
To do that requires greater customization and personalization. It can’t be just photo personals, we have to help people to identify the criteria that are most important for them and find others with those matching criteria. Also, we need to help people understand themselves better and enable them to take advantage of the screening tools available for online daters. Then we let chemistry take over. Anything to help people do a better job of understanding themselves is a great advantage to the consumer. We believe that this level of personalization gives Yahoo! Personals Premier a brilliant future.
Yahoo! Personals drives a lot of its users from Yahoo!. Now that the online ad market is booming, how has this affected internal promotion and is Yahoo! Personals pushing for more external promotion now?
We are blessed to be part of the Yahoo! network. Yahoo! has more than 380 million unique visitors a month. External advertising is increasing the extent of our reach. We're very efficient at acquiring customers off the Yahoo! network and we're working to diversify our order sources all the time. The other thing that's great is that we have a search business, so we're really be able to take advantage of search engine optimization, search engine marketing and the like, which engage new users with Yahoo! Personals.
Do you think Yahoo! personals could ever extend beyond the web into singles events and mobile phone personals?
I think Yahoo! Personals will absolutely extend onto different devices as the industry moves increasingly beyond the desktop. Singles are looking for more of a 360 degree dating life and don't really separate online and offline and all their different activities, so we are continuing to build and extend beyond the PC. It's amazing what is happening in Asia. They're so far ahead of the U.S. in terms of embracing mobility as a way of life. Some of the technologies are very compelling. You can give virtual flowers on mobile devices to someone you're dating. We're very excited about all of the possibilities and are looking into the opportunities that make sense to our users with great enthusiasm.
When a man meets a woman he's interested in for the first time, he has to communicate two things to her, 1. he's interested, 2. he's safe. What is Yahoo! Personals position on safety going to be in 2006?
We continue to have the same perspective; just as in life in the real world and in offline dating you have to use common sense when using online dating. Yahoo! is the most trusted of online brands and Yahoo! Personals is a safe community to be part of, but you still have to use common sense. We hope all users will be aware and leery of any approach to screening that is out of their hands and that might offer a false sense of security. Common sense and the same approaches people have taken in dating for ages are still the most solid. We encourage users to continue to use their common sense, whether online or in the real world.
Jupiter Research ran a survey this January and found 35% of online daters were somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with personals sites. Only 29% were somewhat satisfied or very satisfied. Yahoo! Personals taglines and text under promise...so Yahoo! Personals can over deliver. What are the key areas Yahoo! Personals is focusing on to improve satisfaction levels?
It's quite purposeful that we choose to under promise and over deliver. This helps us build credibility and trust, which is exactly what we're focused on. Online personals are a way to make better choices and have more variety in dating. We're working on being able to incorporate user feedback in real time. We actually just conducted our 3rd annual Singles Voice Survey that shows more than 75% of singles are looking for long term relationships. Many of these are in the 45+ age group. Yahoo! Personals is focused on helping people find great dates that have potential for the future. Singles might also come out of a relationship or marriage and be looking for a more casual relationship. We serve that audience as well. As mentioned earlier, we were the first online dating site to offer customized options for daters looking for different kinds of relationships.
Online personals users send each other emails then they send instant messages, then they're out on a coffee date. That's a big jump! Where do video/webcam dating and the mobile phone fit in?
It depends on the market we're playing in and the age of the person. The phone fits in more with 18 to 24 year olds than with those aged 49+. Just like there’s no single answer as to what someone is looking for in a mate, there's no one answer to how our users want to connect with that person inside and outside the online world. We believe that the dating experience on a PC is not the same as on a mobile device. We don't think the market is there yet for video dating. We do believe there will be a strong future in video overall, however. Mobile personals will eventually become part of the online personals experience. Users will set up their profiles and matching preferences, and those profiles and requirements from the PC will also be in the mobile environment. When that user happens to be out in the evening and another user happens to be at the same club, the phone will beep with an alert that they're there. There are some really fun applications for mobile devices which are really going to make the online dating experience even more enjoyable. Users will be able to share profiles with friends over coffee. Mobile applications will extend online dating and take it out into the real world.
What does the future hold for Yahoo Personals?
We're expanding the community and enhancing offerings for the betterment of all online daters. We will continue to keep our genuine, authentic voice. At the end of the day, just as we say at the site, we’re deeply focused on helping people have better first dates and more second dates.