Los Angeles-based SocialEngine recently announced the launch of their SocialEngine (SE) Cloud platform, which lets brands and affinity groups create their own interest-based social networks, similar to what Ning offers on its DIY social network platform. Since launching two weeks ago, the company has gotten more than 200 subscribers looking to build their own interest-based community.
Originally launched in 2007, the company started with offering its Social Engine PHP, a white labeled social network that users would download and host on their own servers. It built up a base of over 10,000 customers ranging from small community groups like public schools to big-name brands like Apple and Shell. However, after observing customer feedback and taking part in TechStars in Boulder, Colorado in 2011, the company came away from the competition with a focus on building a SaaS-based product that was more scalable, the result of which is the new SE Cloud platform.
“We were turning away customers because we didn’t have a hosted service, and the majority of people that approached us to use Social Engine were not that technical and didn’t want to set up their own servers, so this absolutely solved that problem,” co-founder Alex Benzer said in an interview. “Another thing that led to this is we did TechStars in Boulder last summer, and we took a really hard look at our model. Our mentors helped us understand that the company wouldn’t really scale in an interesting way unless we could solve more of a problem around building an online community for customers and put that on a subscription model.”
Users can have their site up and running right out of the box upon signing up, with customizable branding and page creation options in addition to backend analytics and a member management admin dashboard. One user group the company targets are brands who want to connect their customers with each other, since lets them capture additional information about their most loyal customers, as well as promote link sharing around their content and websites. On the other side of the spectrum, it also provides affinity groups a way to build a completely independent community.
“This is a great way to build a community that is as independent as you want it to be from Facebook or Twitter, I think a lot of people or end users feel self-conscious about geeking out about something because their social graph is listening.” Benzer added. “Whereas, if I’m a hardcore Star Trek fan, I may not want to go on and on about it on Facebook, I may want to have a place for it, that’s more intimate with more like-minded people close by. I think larger interest-based networks like Reddit and Pinterest have completely proven this, we believe there’s a proliferation of sites like this and we want to be the platform for it.”
Social Engine’s Cloud platforms are available $46 per month with an annual plan, or $54 month-to-month, and users also have the ability to monetize if they choose with built in Google AdSense integration.
The DIY social network site space has both large players and upcoming ones, with one of the more established ones being Ning, which was originally founded in 2004. Another recent player is Backplane, most famous for being used to build Lady Gaga’s online community LittleMonsters, and will be adding more communities later this year. However, Social Engine’s advantage may lie in its flexibility in being able to cater to both developers and non-technically inclined groups, and yet still be able to provide the functionality to create a Pinterest-like site right away. ”We put a lot of energy into making it easy to set up and making it accessible to people who aren’t technical, but still flexible, so that if you are a designer, you can really hack into it,” Benzer said.
The company is working on letting customers build white labeled mobile apps to compliment their online communities. Beyond the funding received from TechStars, Social Engine is self-funded with significant revenues to draw upon, according to Benzer. With people increasingly looking to join niche and interest-based social networks, the company’s previous success with its SocialEnginge PHP product could give it the edge necessary to make it the go-to platform for brands and special interest groups alike.