I recently chatted with Brian Barcaro, a co-founder of CatholicMatch, to hear his thoughts on 2010 and his plans for 2011. Here's a glimpse inside his always-active mind.
It's been a successful year with record growth. How do you account for that?
Despite a lot of headwinds in the online dating space - churning markets, a sagging economy and a persistent skepticism about online dating - we have continued to work hard to grow in a very healthy way. At the same time, we haven't gotten too big for our britches.I attribute our growth to two factors.
One, we're always trying to expand our community and provide users with more resources, because we feel the larger the pool of qualified Catholics our members have to choose from, the more likely they are to find the right match.
In addition to that, we've continued to reach out to more and more Catholics who may not consume Catholic media on a regular basis but value their faith in daily life.
What did you do to serve those Catholics?
We wanted to provide more dynamic content and develop the social media element of our site. We launched our blog in September, so now it's in its second season and it's steadily growing. It's a place we can share information specific to CatholicMatch, helping members have a better experience, and also shed light on the single life, which is often either neglected or misunderstood.
The same month we launched a monthly e-newsletter for our members, which is another way to keep us connected and share useful information, from human-interest stories about fellow CatholicMatchers to practical site tips.
What kind of behind-the-scenes work took place this year?
We committed to cleaning up and tightening up a lot of existing functions. We refined our ticketing system to ensure our customers can get prompt assistance.
Recently we released phase one of our new help system, which incorporates the three main methods that offer help to our customers: one, searching our database of answers; two, asking other CatholicMatch members for help through our community help forum room; and three, if neither neither of the first two routes work, you can submit a help ticket and our customer service staff is always ready to help.
Good customer service is a priority to us, which is why the average ticket is answered in eight to 12 hours, even though we can only guarantee a response in 24 to 48 hours.
What's your biggest goal for 2011?
2011 will be the year of the mobile device for us. We're investing in making CatholicMatch much more portable and mobile on various devices.
That's something we consider really important and something our members are asking for. We expect they'll want more and more mobility and innovation from us, and we're determined to rise to the challenge.
Many people think going mobile simply means developing an app or providing a mobile version of your website, but it is much more; it is a total philosophical shift, especially with the increasing convergence information on multiple devices.
While people have strong opinions about the devices and services they use - iPhone vs. Droid, Apple vs. Google, Verizon vs. AT&T - we want to stay out of those debates and just focus on meeting our customers' needs regardless of what they happen to use to come to us.
How will CatholicMatch members become matchmakers next year?
Another major objective for 2011 is to overhaul our matching system. We believe we can make it considerably more effective and comprehensive in the way it operates. We'll still rely on technology to do this, but for the first time, we plan to also incorporate a human element.
Technology is good, but the reality is, people and faith play a very real role in the matchmaking process. We don't think the exclusively formula-based matching system of eHarmony is the best route. It can become too cold and calculated. So we're going to add some warmth to the matchmaking process by creating ways for our members to actually assist, sharing their recommendations and offering input.
Not any dating site could pull this off, but CatholicMatch is unusual in possessing such a vibrant, close-knit community. We know our members want the best for each other. They pray for each other, and they'll roll up their sleeves to help each other in practical ways.
Any other goals for 2011?
We have so many members, forum rooms and modes of communication. You've got emails and emotigrams and chat requests, and it can be a lot to keep track of. A member can feel a bit lost. So we plan to completely overhaul our communications system, which we'll roll out in different phases.
We'll both refine the communication tools available to members and improve the process of using them, so it's easier to deal with email and emotigrams and chat requests.
Everyone's so busy, juggling so many things. We want CatholicMatch to be a place that feels really comfortable and easy to manage.
Any final message for members?
We want to hear from you! We're eager to receive more constructive feedback.
I'm sure you have great ideas about how we can reach more Catholics who aren't on CatholicMatch, how we can improve the site, and how we can establish a stronger presence in the church.
Our ultimate goal is to give Catholic singles more recognition and support, and we need your help to do that. How could we help your parish priest be more effective in ministering to the single people in his pews? What other partnerships could we establish? Be specific and practical.
We've made a point to create more avenues to give us feedback, from the new blog to the new community help room. And I know, Christina, you're out there, reaching out to members, seeking their stories for blog posts and newsletter features and general feedback, posting in forums and sharing your email address (email@example.com).
I hope our members take advantage of all these avenues and give us the constructive feedback that can make 2011 our best year yet.