Monday, January 17, 2011

E-mail to the owner of the singles web site "LDS Fusion"

This started as a response to a site blog post announcing that the web site would start to charge new members for participation.
I don't like subscriptions for LDS singles sites. I understand that bills have to be paid but dating in the LDS community is notoriously difficult and charging people money to "help" them achieve an important goal in their lives with a deep-seated spiritual motivation strikes me as opportunistic and even predatory on a group that already struggles and is--yes--often desperate. There are plenty of profitable sites out there that operate in the black without charging subscription fees, I see no reason why LDS Fusion can't do the same thing. I am not averse to advertising if it means that more single Latter-day Saints can have the opportunity to meet one another.

Posted By: puente on January 15, 2011 at 10:10pm
This comment was replied to by the owner of the site thusly: us achieve that and we'll keep it free. Making a free site isn't easy. But you have ideas, we'd love to hear them.
Posted By: Admin on January 16, 2011 at 4:11pm
I then e-mailed him the following letter:

I think it's a simple matter of being more aggressive in seeking advertising, displaying said advertising effectively throughout the site and creating strategic partnerships with other businesses and their web sites.

Who would benefit most from sponsoring a web site that brings single people together? That's easy: the wedding industry. Videographers, florists, clothiers, cake decorators, etc. Who's to say that LDS Fusion members wouldn't call up the companies they see on LDS Fusion to provide services other than those for weddings. People don't just go to Mr. Mac to buy a tux. Cake decorators do birthday parties. Videographers produce commercials and film family reunions.

Consider the interests of LDS Fusion members and customize advertising to appeal to them when they log in. That's what Facebook does. I've been known to click on an ad on my Facebook account from time to time, I don't complain about the ads because Facebook doesn't charge me to use their web site. I would be more than happy to see ads on LDS Fusion and even encourage other singles to join in the long term. Once the site starts charging fees, I honestly doubt that I would recommend it to others. Frankly, the services it provides as a dating site are considerably limited compared to the other pay sites. There is no comprehensive survey, there is no system in place to gauge compatibility between potential partners. It has more in common with Facebook when it comes to features than it does with or eharmony.

Granted, LDS Fusion doesn't have the resources or capacity that Facebook has, that's fine. It doesn't have to. It fills a niche market and still has the potential to be profitable even without charging membership fees.

Consider the boost in membership it could get by advertising that fact. "LDS Fusion, the ONLY FREE LDS singles web site." More membership, more views of ads, potential click-through rates, etc.

You've created an LDS singles social network and that's a great thing but, again, social networks don't charge anything because they are largely passive and require people to put more effort into promoting themselves. Singles/match-making web sites put much more effort into helping people find compatible partners and that is a unique service that might justify charging a fee.

If LDS Fusion were to charge for a service like that, make it a one-time charge for that specific service, not part of a subscription requirement. That would help to differentiate itself from other match-making sites, especially the LDS singles sights.

I meant what I said about LDS dating sites being largely opportunistic and predatory. I've been doing business in Utah for over ten years and I do not use those words lightly. A lot of LDS business people have a nasty and despicable habit of using Mormon imagery, terminology and aphorisms to create the illusion of an endorsement from the LDS Church (might I recommend a disclaimer next to the copyright and privacy policy link at the bottom of the page so that people know that LDS Fusion is not associated with nor officially sponsored or endorsed by the LDS Church?) or to try and make an emotional appeal to Mormons through not-so-subliminal advertising (there once was a used car dealership in Mt. Pleasant called "Ensign Auto" and its owners were as corrupt as the day is long; the choice in their name is as obvious a means to manipulate customers as is the practice of a Utah politician who puts his Mormon mission on his resume to try and manipulate Mormons into voting for him. I ran for Congress last year and made it a point NOT to discuss my religion within the context of my campaign).

There is a world of difference between offering a legitimate service to a specific market and seeking to make a profit by preying on the emotions, fear and desperation of others. Single Mormons are under a great deal of pressure to get married and the older they get the greater the pressure and more desperate they become, the more afraid they are of dying alone and being judged by others in their faith.

I would like to see LDS Fusion differentiate itself from other LDS singles web sites and LDS-owned and operated businesses in general. I understand that it is a business and that there must be a revenue flow to meet costs. My point is, this can be done WITHOUT charging members.

This also begs the question of what precisely is your goal as the owner of LDS Fusion? Is it like any other company, to maximize profit by any means necessary including taking financial advantage of desperate, lonely people (casinos prey on compulsive gamblers, tobacco companies prey on nicotine addicts, match-making sites prey on lonely people)? Or do you sincerely want to help your single LDS brothers and sisters to find happiness in a committed marriage relationship?

Once people start getting charged to be a part of this web site, the less likely you'll be able to convince me that you actually care about helping others. You may not like to hear that but it's based on over ten years of experience doing business in Utah and I've come to learn not to trust Mormon business owners, especially the ones that wear their religion on their sleeve and target their fellow church members for their own personal gain.

I don't know what your employment situation is. Your profile says that you are married with kids and you want the web site to be successful.

Do you have a day job? Are you able to support your family with it? Are you looking to make LDS Fusion your sole source of income?

I don't know but let me ask you: What is your definition of "success"? Is it defined by money or by helping people? Will you gauge the success of LDS Fusion based on the bottom line or on how many of its members find happiness in marriage thanks to the web site?

Do you want the site to be just self sustaining--which would be an admirable and achievable goal--or do you want to make a living with it? The latter would require you to attach a number to your equation of "success" which I also think is achievablewithout charging membership fees for the site as long as your financial goals are realistic and modest.

If you do start charging for membership on LDS Fusion, you would also need to factor in my afore-mentioned concerns about profiting on the fear and desperation of others. You need to ask yourself the question, "Am I comfortable with supporting myself and my family by playing with the emotions of desperate people who are culturally conditioned to fear being alone to the point that they will pay someone their hard earned money just to try and alleviate that fear?"

You said in response to my comment about keeping the site free: "Help us achieve that and we'll keep it free."

This is something else I've learned from doing business in Utah. "Help us" usually means, "do it for me and do it for free." That I will not do. And I'm very aware that making a free site isn't easy but it is possible, people do it all the time and it takes a certain degree of character to provide a service to one's fellow man without asking for something in return. It is, in fact, our Christian duty to do that very thing, especially when it comes to helping people achieve important spiritual goals. Finding an eternal companion is an important spiritual goal. Charging people for the privilege of finding that companion is not a spiritual goal, it's a decidedly temporal and superficial goal.

Saying that keeping the site free is predicated on me helping you seems to imply that you do not want to take any responsibility for keeping the site free. That what you really want to do is to charge people money as soon as possible and start raking in that cash because the bottom line is more important to you than helping people.

If I am wrong in this assessment--and I certainly hope that I am--the onus is on you to prove me wrong. The best way you can do that is to keep the site free and increase your efforts to seek alternative forms of revenue regardless of the fact that it "isn't easy." If it's important, and I think that it is, than it's worth the extra effort if you sincerely want to help people.

This is the best I can do. To give you my ideas--free of charge, though I think they do have value--and let you know precisely what my concerns are when it comes to trying to make money off of a very specific demographic, especially a religious one. It raises some very important moral and ethical concerns that you should not ignore.


Joe Puente

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