When I entered the Annenberg Program on Online Communities (APOC) at USC in January 2010, I learned we didn’t have to write a thesis to complete our Master’s in Communication degrees. Instead, my fellow graduate students and I would have to conceptualize, build and launch a website, featuring an online community. The idea of this website would be based on everything we learned during our classes and through online research throughout the year of study.

Sounds easy, right? Not so much, actually. You see, due to the advancement in technology, what we learned about the social media space in January had changed dramatically by the time we started working on our final projects in late August. My APOC group, Ashlie, Tom, Josh, Scott and I had to think of an idea for a website that would not only be sustainable in the social media space when we launched in November but also appropriate in 2011 and beyond.

We brainstormed all kinds of ideas from reality television to gambling to sports to clothing. We knew we wanted to build a website with a simple, focused idea that targeted women. After a couple of weeks, we decided to build a website that focused on this simple idea: building an online community for people who wanted to brag about how much money they saved when they made a particular purchase.

Once we agreed on the idea, we worked together to developed the scope of the project, a Product Requirements Document (PRD), wireframes and a marketing plan. But the biggest hurdle was to find a web programmer to build it by the required deadline. We had to launch the website by Sunday, November 21, 2010 or the grade for our project would suffer dramatically.

Luckily, we found John, a very talented programmer, whom we hired to build the website for us. We then hired James, a brilliant graphic artist, to develop our logo and Tim, a creative web designer, to create the website design. The eight of us worked together throughout September and October making decisions on the following:

  • CMS or from scratch – we had to decide if we wanted to build our website on a content management system (CMS), like WordPress or Drupal or from scratch. We went back and forth for several weeks on the pros and cons and decided that it would be not only quicker if John could build it from scratch but also easier to add other elements in the future.
  • Shopping categories – yes to automotive, clothing, household items, etc., but no food categories.
  • Uploading photos – we wanted users to post images or photos but if they didn’t, we needed default images that would automatically appear for each category.
  • Login options – this was a big debate: Facebook and Twitter only login or add on-site registration? Due to the timing, we opted for FB and Twitter only but will add on-site registration when we launch V-2.
  • The Name – it took hours then days to find the right name and brand position for this website. Every great idea we had, the URL was already taken, and most of the not-so-great ideas that we had were taken. Then, Tom came up with SweetSaves.com, and the URL was surprisingly available, so we snatched it up.
  • Logo designs – we decided a gold coin going into a pink piggy bank best showcased the idea of saving money. “That’s a Sweet Deal” became our mantra and the rest of the brand positioning was created based on this idea.
  • Legal decisions – since we don’t want to get sued, we had to create solid terms and conditions, a privacy policy and community guidelines for our website that not only give helpful instructions how to use our website, but also protect our website from potential legal action.
  • Marketing – when to launch our marketing plan was a big question we faced toward the end of October. We wanted to make sure that our website was ready for the masses, since we knew that if people had a bad first experience on our website, they would not come back.

During the first two weeks in November, we tested the website and made changes. We also made decisions on what we need to do before the launch and what could wait until after launch. Then on Monday, November 15, 2010, a full six days before our deadline, we launched SweetSaves.com. The early feedback was very constructive, and we have a few elements to fix before we execute our initial marketing plans next week.

We think it will be perfect timing: everyone is taking advantage of the Black Friday deals over the weekend and will have plenty of savings to post on SweetSaves.com next week!

If you didn’t think social media was important, you should now. For the first time in history, the amount of time people spent on Facebook was greater than the amount of time they spent on Google sites in the United States, according to the Business Insider. The period of measurement was August 2010:

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Here’s some cool info from the Business Insider’s chart of the day. Check out these charts from Nielsen analyzing the most popular apps on each Smartphone platform:

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The month of May has flown by! During the first two weeks of May, I was focused on final exams and projects to wrap up the spring semester of graduate school at USC.  Then, I took a bit of a break before my summer classes started this week. Since my summer classes are focused on communications research and the business of sports entertainment, I’ll be spending the summer blogging about how social media influences and is influenced by research, entertainment and sports.

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Since I’m a Gmail user, this chart of the day surprised me. It seems that Yahoo’s webmail service has twice as many users as Microsoft Hotmail which is its biggest competitor followed by Gmail. But according to Business Insider’s Chart of the Day from Nick Saint and Kamelia Angelova, Yahoo is losing users. The only major webmail provider that is gaining ground is Gmail, which is up 27% from a year ago. AOL trails the field and is down 20% over the past year.

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After watching Betty White host Saturday Night Live on May 8, 2010, I thought that she looked and acted like she was in her late sixties rather than her true age of 88. She had impeccable timing, was very agile and delivered punch lines better than most comedians on television today.  I only heard her stumble over words twice, but more importantly, she immediately recovered and went on with the scene like nothing happened. That was the 70 years of acting experience talking!

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Getting users addicted to your games is very profitable, according to the Business Insider’s Chart of the Day by Nicholas Carlson and Kamelia Angelova. Zynga, the social gamesmaker behind Farmville, has a revenue run-rate around $600 million, a source close to the company tells us. Another source confirms that Zynga is doing well over $1 million in revenue a day.Check out the chart:

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