How HER Puts Its LGBTQ+ Community’s Safety First
People have gotten crafty when it comes to staying connected during this time of social distancing. Zoom calls with family and friends, Animal Crossing weddings, and drive-through birthday parties are just a few of the ways we’re showing up for the people we care about. HER, a dating and social app for LGBTQ+ womxn and queer people, is also doing its part to foster safe socializing for its community. That said, you might say this comes as first nature to HER, because safety has always been a must when it comes to representing and providing a space for their members.
In this episode of Community Signal, HER’s head of community, Shana Sumers, discusses the recent changes that have been made to help community members stay connected during the pandemic. She also shares some of the tools and policies that keep members of HER safe from scams and persecution because of their sexual identity or gender orientation.
Patrick and Shana also discuss:
- How community moderators make a difference on HER
- Reasons why members find value in HER even after finding a partner through the community
- Delivering a premium and safe experience on HER without forcing everyone to pay a premium
- Why the 40+ community is Shana’s favorite on the app
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Discourse.
When you happen upon a scammer meeting (12:47): “It’s almost like [scammers] have a room where they have figured it all out. … We’ve even caught some of our scammers having conversations with each other when they figure out there’s code words that they have. It’s just a whole mastermind process.” –@shanahasatwitr
Ensuring the safety of HER’s LGBTQ+ community (18:44): “We’re available in [about] 113 countries worldwide, but we [also pay attention to] where it’s still illegal to be an out LGBTQ+ person and where people get highly prosecuted. … We wanted to be sure that the app was available in places that it was safe. If you were comfortable enough to come onto the app and show your face, that that’s because you were in an area where you can, and if you didn’t, that you have the option to be able to with our incognito mode.” –@shanahasatwitr
Why building your brand and profile on HER could lead to more dates (26:35): “[We saw adding posts to your profile] as a way to hold people accountable, [but it’s also] a way for you to build your brand and make yourself seem more appealing to the community, which would then lead to more likes, more messages, and hopefully more dates.” –@shanahasatwitr
Fostering inclusivity for the HER community (36:27): “Our community is so intersectional that we want to be able to find ways that everybody can feel represented. Even though we do have a big group of people who identify as lesbian or bisexual, it’s not far off to have people who are identifying as non-binary and we want to be sure that all of those are represented, all of those fit, and thankfully, the profiles give us a lot of data in that area so we can continue to adjust and make sure that people are seeing things that make them feel like they are part of the community.” –@shanahasatwitr
About Shana Sumers
Shana Sumers is a black, queer womxn, who is the head of community for HER App, the largest social and dating app for LGBTQ+ womxn and queer people. With a community of over five million users worldwide, Shana has worked from the ground up to launch and grow a community that supports the wants and needs for this rainbow-filled group. Online communities, in-person events, social media, content creation, email marketing and customer support are just scratching the surface of skills utilized by Shana on a day to day basis.
- Sponsor: Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities
- Shana Sumers on Twitter
- The HER App
- Incognito mode has arrived
- HER’s community guidelines
- HER premium
- We Met on HER
- COPPA: Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule
- Shana’s podcast: Bad Queers
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, a podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening. Our guest is Shana Sumers, head of community for HER app, a social and dating app for LGBTQ+ womxn and queer people. We’re going to talk about moderating dating profiles, incognito mode safety, and why the 40+ community is her favorite community on the app.
Our Patreon supporters are a group of listeners who really value our program. Among them are Maggie McGary, Marjorie Anderson, who suggested Shana to me as a guest, and Carol Benovic-Bradley. If you’d like to become a Patreon supporter, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for details.
Shana Sumers is a black queer womxn who is head of community for HER app, the largest social and dating app for LGBTQ+ womxn and queer people. With a community of over five million users worldwide, Shana has worked from the ground up to launch and grow a community that supports the wants and needs for this rainbow-filled group. Online communities, in-person events, social media, content creation, e-mail marketing, and customer support are just scratching the surface of the skills she utilizes on a day-to-day basis. Shana, welcome to the show.
[00:01:23] Shana Sumers: Thanks, Patrick. I’m super excited to be on.
[00:01:25] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m so glad to have you on. So HER is a dating and social app. You have dating profiles and you have a communities feature within the app where members can join specific groups and talk with other members outside of that dating context. How would you describe the difference between moderating those community posts versus dating profiles and content?
[00:01:47] Shana Sumers: With our community posts that is the full breadth of moderating content. You’re looking for people to follow guidelines. You’re trying to make sure that there aren’t any sneaky nude photos that are coming in. We have a whole team that is both voluntary and a paid 24/7 team that comes in and moderates. We have our volunteers who are members of the community. They get tools on their profile app to be able to help move content, delete it, check to make sure that everything’s running smoothly, and suspend profiles if necessary.
When we’re looking at the dating site it just strictly profiles so all we’re looking at is photos and anything that they’ve written in their bio. That makes it a lot easier and a lot less time-consuming because you can guess a lot sooner if a person is breaking guidelines based off of their photos, aka either having no photos on their profile or having inappropriate photos. Then based off their bio, they could write in anything else that breaks community guidelines but that’s not typically the area that we would moderate. Most of our moderation attention goes into the community because of its wide array of content.
[00:02:53] Patrick O’Keefe: A lot of the dating profile moderation, I assume, is based upon reports or flagging.
[00:02:59] Shana Sumers: Yes.
[00:03:00] Patrick O’Keefe: Dating right now has the potential to encourage the spread of COVID-19. What steps have you taken inside of the app to guide members toward practices that could reduce the impact of this pandemic?
[00:03:12] Shana Sumers: One decision we made was to immediately pivot to virtual events; providing a space for people to be able to come and connect and still feel like they’re meeting people in person rather than actually going through the act of doing it. We did have the typical … our CEO made a really great statement to the community. We also sent out different information for the community to be like, “Hey, we love you but please don’t meet in person. Just keep it long distance.”
We were also able to provide a free premium trial that played off of one of our communities Orange Is the New Black and made that as a joke to say, “Hey, please stay home, but we understand that it’s not our favorite thing to do right now so please enjoy this.” That actually got a lot of really positive traction with our community. I would have to definitely say that we leaned into the virtual events which allowed people to still feel connected to the LGBTQ+ community as well as the HER community. In the last six weeks, I believe, we’ve hosted over 60+ events with over 2,200 attendees which is incredible. That’s been our best option.
[00:04:14] Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve never used a dating app. I think that if I did, and I was using it right now I would almost be building a queue of people I look forward to meeting in person. I don’t know. Is that something that you think is happening? People are finding people and you want to take that next step and so there is almost a queue of like, “Here’s the backchannel I have to clean out when we finally can go outside.”
[00:04:35] Shana Sumers: [laughs] I’m pretty positive there are people who have lots of in-person dates lined up or at least it’s almost like now they’re able to scope through and say, “Oh, this person has this so check here,” and it’s almost like a list but I know a lot of people who are making it work through virtual Zoom dates. They set up themes to their dates or dress up, or they both make the same recipe or watch the same movie and share screens.
There’s been a lot of creativity with the types of dates that they have online. Some people I have heard have gone through and done in-person social distance dates. I’ve heard of one case where one person was on their balcony and the other person was down, so they were like on the second or third floor of their balcony and they were just talking from that distance. If you don’t mind bothering your neighbors that way, that’s one way. Somebody else went to the park and they sat like six to ten feet apart and just yelled their conversation. People are definitely getting creative with their dates, but I definitely think there is a queue because I’ve heard from some people as well that they have at least three people that they’re ready to go on in-person dates with, but they’re continuing to get to know them and talk to them so I’m interested to see what happens after all of this comes down.
[00:05:48] Patrick O’Keefe: This is a period of vetting, it’s a very, very detailed vetting. Were you running virtual events before this pandemic broke out?
[00:05:58] Shana Sumers: We were not. We did all in-person events and we were actually getting ready to launch our in-person meetup groups. Our events run like a monetization model. We go to a club, party, hire DJs, make a profit and in-person meetup groups were going to be just community focused and around driving more people to community events where they did not feel pressured to have to come out and drink and party and be a big extrovert.
We were getting ready to go into that, had just tested a few models and as soon as we tested that second model was when we went into social distancing. Within three days we planned our first two weeks of events. I think in 13 days we threw over 18 virtual events with over 750 attendees over that span of time. It was crazy and we had it every day for those two weeks.
[00:06:50] Patrick O’Keefe: These virtual events, are they taking place in the app? Is it a community? Is it an external live stream? How are they taking place?
[00:06:57] Shana Sumers: All of our virtual events are on Zoom and so we have a mix of general events and then we have a mix of general community events as well. The community events are the ones that we drive to the app afterwards so that people can continue to connect and engage with each other from that. Then our other events are either open for sponsors or were models that we were testing.
Some of the community events that we have, our mindfulness and well-being group, we host a different mindfulness of well-being track each week. Then we have a trans womxn meetup group, so trans womxn come together and there’s different topics discussed every week compared to some of our other events. We just finished a three-week sponsored sex therapy, ‘ask me anything’ event that ranged from masturbation to couples to dating online.
We had a queer sex therapist come in and actually answer those questions for our community. Some of the other events that we have hosted are like live cooking sessions, we’ve had open mic nights. We host movie nights, we have a club queer-intine every Saturday and we have different dress-up theme. Some people even change their outfits three times, so it’s a whole range of kind of the events that we’re hosting for the community.
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Before the show, you told me that you want the moderation team to be the main source of accountability in the app which encourages other community members to do the same. Talk about that.
[00:08:53] Shana Sumers: Our moderator team is a part of our HER community. They are basically our equivalent to our super users. They come in just about every day. They have people that recognize them and vice versa inside of the app and they have the best understanding of the guidelines out of anyone. I think some of them even know it better than myself. Being able to make this shift where we used to have our team who ran 24/7 help with the moderation in terms of not really engaging with our users, but deleting content, moving it, etc but ever since we launched our account verification inside of the app, we’ve had to shift their time and so now our moderators are the ones that are on the frontline and so they are dealing with engaging with our community and holding them accountable and making sure that most up-to-date news is presented to them. I want these faces who everybody recognizes that they’re already connected to and already trust, to be able to communicate with them and encourage them, them being the rest of the community audience, to also pay attention to the community and keep it safe, because they don’t want to provide any more work for these people that they already know, already love, already trust. They’re more than willing to engage in conversation with them and be like, “Oh, I understand why this is happening. Now, I can take this extra step to help as well.” That’s the definition of community right there is to be able to go in, trust the space, and then be able to help protect it.
[00:10:23] Patrick O’Keefe: What is the most common moderation issue on the community side and what’s the most common… I don’t know if it’s moderation or trust and safety, but the most common moderation issue on the dating site?
[00:10:32] Shana Sumers: On the community side, it is definitely around fake profiles and romance scammer scams that come through, especially since COVID-19 has happened. There has been an influx of fake accounts that come in and try to take advantage of the users that we have inside of the app. Because we are still a startup, we’re not under the big Match Group umbrella, like maybe a Tinder or Bumble would where they have those tools to be able to handle those accounts. We build all of our tools in-house. It takes us a bit longer to be able to get to the point where the scammers are no longer coming into the app or are not as obvious as they are. At times we have to deal with the effects of the community not feeling like they’re safe for seeing these romance scammers for the first time and saying, what does this mean? How does this work? I believe that’s some of the questions that they deal with the most. On the dating side, I would have to say it’s the same thing, unfortunately. They come on and they make these profiles. Some of them are extremely obvious, very high done-up photos. We have a bunch of military images that come in and they say that they’re from somewhere in the US, but they’re based somewhere in the Middle East or in Africa and that they’re working. They have to find those accounts quickly. They have figured out that they change their height to a specific height, or they put a specific statement in their bio or things like that. I would have to say on both accounts, it’s definitely romance scammers.
[00:12:00] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting you mentioned the military because a friend of mine who is in a polyamorous relationship, one of his partners was in the military and we’re friends on Facebook. She seems to regularly get Facebook DMs tied to eventually some sort of scam, but around the military, and like around being stationed here or having been in the service or having been overseas or being overseas now or something like that, to where it’s actually a recurring theme on her Facebook. I don’t see every post she makes, but I’ve seen it now enough several times where it is something that these scammers, unfortunately, co-opt as a way of social engineering and getting their message in.
[00:12:46] Shana Sumers: They absolutely do. It’s almost like they have a whole room where they all have figured it out. This is the mass message that they’re going to. It’s like you’re taking this section and you’re taking these brands and just going to town. We’ve even caught some of our scammers having conversations with each other when they figure out there’s code words that they have. It’s just a whole mastermind process.
It’s also a very frustrating process because no one company has been able to figure out how to stop them. They come at such a high frequency that it’s really hard to be able to adjust on the fly, especially because when you do adjust them, they just switch their behavior. It can just be the slightest switch that your program doesn’t pick up on and then they’re back to doing exactly what they were doing before.
[00:13:33] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s just so easy. Social engineering, it just takes one. You throw 100 people at the wall and one of them sticks, then you’re successful. Even yesterday, someone had sent my fiancee a bottle of wine from work as a thank you or a gift or whatever. I answer the door, I took it, and she asked to see my ID, which of course when you deliver alcohol you have to see ID. Afterward, I let her take a picture of my ID front and back.
Then I realized, I was like, “Wait a minute. Who’s this from?” Wait a minute, we’re in an apartment building in Hollywood with security, they have to go through some steps. They had to come to our door specifically. There’s no real reason why they would target me or us specifically, but she came with a bottle of wine, I took it. She seemed professional enough. She had a face mask on. We maintained distance. She took a picture of my ID and I was like, “I feel like I should have asked more questions.”
I don’t know why I was so trusting of a package delivery service as someone who is pretty sharp on these things. I don’t know. It’s so easy. I could have– I don’t know if that would have been the scam like buy a bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s, Two-Buck Chuck, or whatever for a couple of bucks. Go to random doors, deliver wine, gets access to the ID. I don’t know what you’d do with those IDs, but that could be something I suppose.
[00:14:44] Shana Sumers: Oh, absolutely. There’s a job for everything when it comes to scamming. That could have totally been it, but yes, we go through such a process and especially even just signing on to new sites online. We’re giving so much permission to access different things, and we honestly don’t know what exactly we’re giving permission to and that’s what makes it so easy is that even though we’re providing all of this permission to different companies, there are so many loopholes that they probably haven’t looked at in their security.
I know now a lot of companies are having to step up that process because scammers know that people are home and more people are online now than ever. They’re going to take advantage of that. This is like a three to six-month continuous bonus for them. [laughs]
[00:15:27] Patrick O’Keefe: On your end, you’re building a dating experience but also a social app and there’s a certain degree of trust in there that you’re trying to bake in with the work you’re doing. You want people to trust it and you’re doing things to encourage them to trust it and you’re building a safe place for them to contribute and participate and meet other people. At the same time, you can always attack something.
There’s always a vulnerability to find in something and it just takes one person to get into the system and say, “This thing is this, and people might get scammed,” and it’s easy to do that. It’s easy to find that one in. On one hand, you want people to feel safe. On the other hand, part of feeling safe is educating them about, “Hey, just because it’s here, that doesn’t mean that it’s always something you should trust.”
[00:16:15] Shana Sumers: Correct.
[00:16:17] Patrick O’Keefe: I was reading your community guidelines, this really ties into what you were talking about as far as fake profiles and identification. Your guidelines say that it’s, “Required to have a profile image of yourself to verify your identity. We understand not everyone feels comfortable or safe enough to do so, we will be releasing a tool in the near future to help with this.” I’d love to hear about that challenge.
[00:16:37] Shana Sumers: Especially because our app focuses around LGBTQ+ womxn, trans, and non-binary folks, which means that we do not have any cisgender men inside of the app. Anyone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a male is not allowed inside of the app.
[00:16:52] Patrick O’Keefe: Me.
[00:16:53] Shana Sumers: Because of that.
[00:16:53] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s why I had to do research from the outside. I had a question about the app before the show, before we hit record here just for listeners I was like, “Is this how it works?” You confirmed it, thankfully. Anyway, I can’t see it so continue.
[00:17:06] Shana Sumers: I’m glad that our system worked, but there are some men who end up slipping through the cracks and including the scammers that come through. We encourage this mainly because it is such a safety factor. Bigger apps that incorporate both cis men and cis womxn on there get a higher amount of traffic, but also have the ability to enforce more security measures where we do not. The easiest one that we can see is a photo of you.
While not all photos are of that person, we do understand the systems and processes to be able to quickly find those accounts that are fake and keep it moving forward. I do need to update those guidelines because we do now have the system where we are able to hide profiles and so that’s called our incognito mode and it is a premium feature where people can come in, create their profile, but the profile will not be seen inside of the app until they engage with another person’s profile.
Our app acts just like any other dating app where you see a profile and you swipe left and right on them. The person who implemented incognito mode can go in and swipe right on someone to show that they like them and only that someone will see their profile. We still need to be able to have a face on the account as well. We just implemented account verification so people can copy a pose, send in a photo, but we need a photo to be able to compare that photo to so that we know that you’re real because you could just be a photo of anyone. That also has been put in place so that people have an extra sense of security inside of the app. That’s why we continue to encourage people to show photos but that’s also why the app is not available everywhere around the world. We’re available in I think 113 countries worldwide, but we look at a lot of those countries where it’s still illegal to be an out LGBTQ+ person and where people get highly prosecuted. That could even lead to death for identifying that way. Grindr had that issue before where there had been like undercover cops and people who hopped on there and specifically searched out for people to cause them harm. We know that our community is even more vulnerable in that area, especially because trans womxn of color experience the highest amount of homicide throughout the years. We wanted to be sure that the app was available in places that it was safe. If you were comfortable enough to come onto the app and show your face that that’s because you were in an area where you can, and if you didn’t, that you have the option to be able to with our incognito mode.
[00:19:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Is the incognito mode the tool that you were referencing there for the future?
[00:19:42] Shana Sumers: Yes, which is why I need to update those guidelines.
[00:19:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Don’t worry about that. It’s always good to update them in a way that is an improvement. When you have that incognito mode feature and you have people who want to hide that photo, you’re still looking at a photo on your end to sort of verify them into the app. Is that correct?
[00:19:57] Shana Sumers: Yes.
[00:19:58] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned those countries… I think you answered this, but I just want to verify. How do you handle it in a country where it’s frankly not worth the risk to identify yourself in this way? Do you just stay out of that country or do you adjust in a certain way?
[00:20:11] Shana Sumers: At the moment, yes. We’re staying out of that country and providing them with the options to follow us on social media sites, as well with these virtual events, because there’s no real track record where people can come and find their information through the avenue. In majority of the countries especially Africa and the Middle East, we are not live in those areas. People cannot really get on. We are live in South Africa but South Africa has laws and rules that are a bit more open and accepting. They can definitely do better, but going from there. We, at the moment, because we know that we cannot provide safety to our users, we’re not comfortable launching in that area. Once we’re able to get these systems in process and make sure that they’re smooth flowing, I’m sure that our rules will shift as we are able to provide more safety and security to our users.
[00:21:02] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned incognito mode, which I wanted to talk about because it was introduced in March. As you mentioned, it’s a premium feature. It allows those premium members to view profiles and content but not post, comment, like, or say they’re attending an event. They can turn that feature on and off. As you said, if they swipe right or they add someone as a friend, then they’ll be visible to that person.
According to the announcement, the feature was at least partially inspired by a professor who emailed you and said that they like the app but notice their students were also on it. They didn’t want those two worlds to mix too closely, which is totally understandable. Yet, I’m sure that there is also the potential for this feature to be abused. What was your process for evaluating the feature from a community perspective?
[00:21:44] Shana Sumers: I think we looked at it as a way of one, yes, we want you to be able to come in here and get your date on or find friends and still be able to connect with the community. We went back and forth a lot to see what could happen with them inside the community because obviously they can’t post or like or comment, but we did provide the opportunity for them to see. Our communities before you join, you can go and scroll through as much as you want to see if that community is good for you.
As well, if you’re incognito mode, that doesn’t hinder you from being able to see the content that’s in there so you don’t feel like you’re missing out even though you can’t technically engage with the post. You can also go in and see events, you just can’t say that you’re attending. All of that information is still there. Then if you wanted to, especially for the events, join it in another platform, because we post our events also on Facebook and Eventbrite, that is available for them to still be able to connect with the community. They just have to take a couple of extra steps. Sometimes you have to do that to secure your identity and feel safe and comfortable navigating the community. Yes, that was a big process. We were like we are literally about to shut them off from a whole side of the app that they should have access to. We were discussing how we could make it so that they felt that connection, and we’re still able to see what was happening.
That was where we took the chance to say, “Hey, let’s just allow people to view the community. Then we’ll prompt them to join after X amount of rotations, but they can continue to see it without any limitations, and the same with the events.” That was our compromise that we went through to be able to keep them still feeling like they’re a part of the community.
[00:23:26] Patrick O’Keefe: If I was a member I might be concerned about the idea that someone can view things and me not be able to see them, but I think the fact that you still are verifying accounts that come into the community, it sounds like from what you said, even if someone is incognito. To me, that’s an effort that should ensure a great degree of trust, but have you heard any concerns from members about that sort of thing?
[00:23:45] Shana Sumers: Very, very little. I think maybe like once every six months, but it operates similar to social media sites. You put posts out there to the world to see and this side of HER kind of acts like a social media site. That’s the risk that you take with putting posts inside of the app. We make that fairly clear to people where it’s like you’re posting at your own risk. We now have it where all of your posts are added to your profile. That’s also a space where we did that on purpose so that we could hold people accountable who were going in and posting low-quality content and or inappropriate content or content that broke community guidelines.
Either one made it very easy for our moderators to be able to go in and say, “Oh, hey, this person is posting a ton of stuff that breaks community guidelines, we can suspend them.” Or people who are swiping on their profile can get to know them a bit better. That encourages people to post more about them or questions that they would have and things like that. It automatically makes them look better by having their posts on their profiles and makes it less likely that they will post something that is really derogative or really inappropriate or anything that breaks community guidelines.
[00:24:58] Patrick O’Keefe: I was reading about that feature where you’ve added posts to member profiles. At the end of April, you wrote a blog post titled, ‘Build Your Brand,‘ where you announced that and that members could now become an influencer on the platform because those posts would be featured and visible to more people. I know influencers, at least my perspective of influencers living in Hollywood and living in an apartment building where there have been some notorious ones, they’re often synonymous with promotion for better or worse.
I know, also, in your guidelines you talk about advertising. You don’t want self-advertising, Kik, Instagram handle, Snapchat, phone numbers, all that can be in the direct messages. Your guidelines say you want to keep it as a space active for you just to engage, not another platform to gain followers. I was curious if you might be going in a direction and seeing opportunity for people to become influencers in this community and how that might lead to easing or relaxing that standard and maybe changing it to I guess, I don’t know. I guess the positive thing is to give people an opportunity to become well-known and to start building a platform within your platform.
[00:26:00] Shana Sumers: Absolutely. The way that we put that out there in terms of building your brand was connecting it the most to artists and people that the LGBTQ+ community already follows, which are a bunch of social media influencers. A lot of it started with YouTube influencers. YouTube influencers were the big start for online spaces where the queer community was able to come and connect with these people who also identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
When we were thinking about the fact of like, “Hey, we’re adding these posts onto their profile,” while we were looking at it as a way to hold people accountable, we were also going to say that this was a way for you to build your brand and to make yourself seem more appealing to the community, which would then lead to more likes and more messages and hopefully more dates. Putting it in that language allowed us to be able to connect with them in a way that it’s like, “Hey, people can see you, people can see what you’re posting, so please be aware of what you’re posting inside of the community and go from there.”
At the moment, we definitely could lean back on the social media stuff, but currently, that becomes such an influx of what’s posted inside of the community that we don’t want to lean up on that yet. It’s like you can DM people that. We don’t remove it if it’s on your profile, but if you spam it all over the community and are just trying to literally build your brand outside of there, it’s like, “No, we want you to build your HER brand. We want you to stay here and do that here.” That’s where we’re encouraging people to take that action.
[00:27:33] Patrick O’Keefe: I thought it was interesting that you said the end result there was more dates [laughs]. It’s still the purpose of the app and that’s not to say this couldn’t change or evolve into a bigger social network.
[00:27:42] Shana Sumers: Absolutely.
[00:27:43] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m not necessarily encouraging one or the other.
[00:27:46] Shana Sumers: We definitely talked about both and what that would or could look like and so there are lots of sticky notes everywhere. Things that could happen if we did shift in that direction.
[00:27:55] Patrick O’Keefe: There is a great thing that comes with being big, but not so big if that makes sense. Where it’s like, and I’ve run a martial arts community, I’ve run for 20 years and it’s tiny, small, but one thing I did the other day that I thought, “Well, if I was running this massive platform, I’m not sure I can do this as easily and quickly.” Someone came to the forum and joined it and said, “Hey, is anyone into cryptocurrencies and getting free cryptocurrencies?” They didn’t put a link, they didn’t put an e-mail. They didn’t put anything like that, but I know what that is. I know what’s happening here. I’ve been on the internet for a while. I’ve moderated communities. This is a martial arts community. There’s not going to be, “Are you interested in free cryptocurrencies?” “Yes. Okay. Here’s some you can get right now.” I can just say it right now as an independent person running this community, “No, don’t want it, bye.” Then just remove that and get rid of it. There’s this beautiful thing of, I don’t know, everyone wants to be number one and I think that’s a great goal and hopefully and not everyone will make it, but man, there’s just so much opportunity beneath that. Under the radar, you can do so much good work without that added scrutiny.
[00:28:57] Shana Sumers: I absolutely agree.
[00:28:59] Patrick O’Keefe: HER is based on a paid subscription model. We talked about some of it. You pay for additional features. I looked through the feature list and the help desk and it seems like a majority of them are targeted at the dating side, which makes sense. Things like being able to see who’s liked your profile, unlimited swipes, read receipts, the ability to go back over profiles you’ve skipped and more and many members are looking for I’m sure, committed relationships and they’ll get married and they’ll graduate basically from the app or at least from the dating side of the app.
[00:29:28] Shana Sumers: Yes.
[00:29:28] Patrick O’Keefe: You alluded to this just a moment ago and the purpose people are there for and what that could become. I was curious about that path of graduation. What’s the path to not only keep them as members posting for free saying, you know what? I’m not dating anymore. I’m just going to cancel that. I still want to be a part of the community. I still want to be here. I’m still going to post but also to retain them as subscribers.
[00:29:50] Shana Sumers: The overall goal that we’re after is to get them from point A of coming on, checking out profiles, hopefully getting to a match and then finding their person. Once they’ve done that, the way that we work to bring them back in is through one, featuring them on our main social media platform. Every week we do a, “We Met on Her” profile on couples that have met on the app and a lot of those couples have come through the community again so that they can see that feature.
We also drive them into the community side to still participate in events and come and post content. We are in the process of adding more premium features into the community. Hopefully, we’re going to have a local filter come through. We may have premium communities come through and or other engagement tools that will be premium-centered. That’s one way that we’re looking to implement that in the future.
Also, even if they don’t stay on for a paid premium subscription, when we were hosting in-person events, if they were able to pay to attend those then that also carried over into our payment flow. Those are the ways that we want to keep them, is even if you have met your person maybe you don’t find use for the app or you come on for the community every once in a while, but not as much as you did before, we have all of these other opportunities for you to be able to come back and engage with the community.
[00:31:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you, so the revenue model. It seems like paid premium membership is the drive, but also you have events people can pay to attend. I noticed advertising on your website, so you might have some advertising as well?
[00:31:22] Shana Sumers: Yes, we have advertising inside of the app. We also get paid sponsors in to help with events, and the parties and our virtual online events, we have started to do a new payment model, which is really awesome. All different sorts of ways that we are trying to pull in people to make sure that we can afford it because unfortunately, LGBTQ+ apps do not receive a ton of funding and so we have to be very particular about where we’re pulling money in from and without bombarding our community with all these ways to pay for stuff.
It is also a community where a lot of people are not able to afford all these options or want to support but they can only do it on a sliding scale, so there’s a lot of different parts that we have to move around.
[00:32:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Your favorite community on HER is the 40+ community. Why?
[00:32:13] Shana Sumers: Oh, man, they’re just a fun bunch. [laughs] They have given an example of everything that I want the other communities to be. They have come on and quickly connected with each other just over something as simply as being a group of over 40 out people. They have found different connections through either the content that they’re posting, a lot of them have started to get to know each other. A few of them have started dating each other, which is amazing.
One day I came into the community and there was a photo of 15 to 18 of them in Vegas, and they had planned a trip together, all just so that they could meet in person and they all just went and hung out in Vegas for five days. That is the whole round and goal of when we were launching the community that I wanted them to go to. Was making sure that you got on, you met some people, you started to recognize people that you came on and saw on a regular basis.
You saw their posts and you started to connect with them and then you were able to just on your own without HER having to make the plan on our end, that you all took the initiative to go and meet in person and now you have this whole new community. Those womxn came from all different parts of the US to meet in Vegas and hang out for five days with people that they’ve only talked to online, and I think that is absolutely incredible.
While they are the ones that call me out the most on anything that goes wrong, I appreciate it. They definitely hold us accountable and they hold everybody else accountable who comes into the community to say, “This is what the space is for and this is what we’re about and this is what we’re here to do.” That’s my pride and joy in the 40+ community.
[00:33:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Have some of them become moderators?
[00:33:55] Shana Sumers: Yes. I think I have three who have been around for like five years and then we just added on probably seven or eight more. They are definitely our biggest grouping in our 40 and over community compared to our “hit me up” community which has the most moderators in there, but they are the most active moderators.
[00:34:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you feel like age group stick with other age groups in this sort of community context or is there a fair amount of mixing?
[00:34:25] Shana Sumers: That’s a great question. For certain communities, I would say there’s a fair amount of mixing and for other communities, there’s definitely a very specific age group that follows in our app. In more of our topic-based groups, we definitely see more mixing of the ages. Everybody is able to come in and talk about the same topic and engage off of that and give their feedback. There’s not really any stress around age because it’s just, “Here’s a group of people who are interested.”
Our “sports talk” community, everybody will come in and after the World Cup, they all came in and talked about their favorite teams and were able to banter and go back and forth from there. Where in our “strong and single” group, there’s a lot of single people. Most of the people who use the app are between 18 to 26 and then our next group is about 27 to 34. That ends up being a lot of people who are in there specifically looking for people around their age to date.
While there are some people who are open to whatever age, not a lot of people are like that and so they’re able to come through in that area and that’s kind of more age-specific. I would definitely say, topic-based, great mix of people who come in and discuss and when it comes to dating-specific topics, then that is when the age groups start to show.
[00:35:39] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s interesting that you’re able to see that data, think about it and apply decisions to it because a lot of community spaces, I don’t think I’ve ever managed a community where I knew… I knew if they complied with COPPA, I knew if they were 13 or older or 18 or older or 18 or younger, 13 or younger, but I didn’t know what age it is, so it’d be like, “Okay, who knows? Who knows how old this person is.” With those insights, you’re able to allow that to inform at least some decision-making I assume.
[00:36:06] Shana Sumers: Absolutely. We definitely have to take in a lot of factors that I think a lot of communities don’t have to look at. Besides the age and where they’re located, we’re looking at different identities and not just sexual identities, we’re also looking at gender identities and making sure that topics and content that we post within those communities flow between all of those things.
Our community is so intersectional that we want to be able to find ways that everybody can feel represented. Even though we do have a big group of people who identify as lesbian or bisexual, it’s not far off to have people who are identifying as non-binary and we want to be sure that all of those are represented. All of those fit and thankfully, the profiles give us a lot of data in that area so that we can continue to adjust and make sure that people are seeing things that make them feel like they are part of the community.
[00:36:59] Patrick O’Keefe: Shana, I appreciate the work you’re doing and I appreciate you spending some time with us today.
[00:37:03] Shana Sumers: Thank you so much. This is great.
[00:37:06] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Shana Sumers, head of community for HER app. Download the app at weareher.com/download and listen to Shana’s Bad Queers podcast at badqueerspod.buzzsprout.com.
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