It all started during a long layover at the airport. Jeffrey Goronkin, with plenty of time on his hands, wished there was a way for him to connect with other people around him. That’s when iZoca.com’s community pages was born.
`We plan on focusing heavily on the Capital Region and from there, once we feel like we are firmly established, will branch out to other communities,` said Goronkin, president and CEO of iZoca.com. `We’re going to grow community to community.`
iZoca.com is a group networking website launched in 2007 that `connects your world` by offering businesses and non-profit organizations a way to promote themselves in the geographic community they’re active in. The new feature, community pages, was launched on Tuesday, Jan. 4, and takes that concept a step further by providing enhanced interaction between community members. That could mean discussions about local issues, calendar event postings, sharing photos and news.
`Non-profit organizations can definitely benefit from something like this. They can talk about their mission, promote their fundraising efforts, post photos of events,` said Goronkin.
Businesses too can use iZoca.com as another marketing tool and way to get their name and service out there.
`Businesses can use our website to create group. For example, a restaurant can post weekly specials and customers can have discussions about dishes they have or post photos of their restaurant in a community photo album,` said Goronkin. `Whatever anybody does, whatever product or service they offer, can create a group and promote that.`
iZoca.com partnered with a New York City-based company Ouside.in to provide hyperlocal news from various communities onto the site, including the latest news stories and blog posts by neighborhood, zip code or state.
Goronkin said he also hopes residents will catch on to iZoca.com and use it to have community forums, talking about `hot button issues` like politics or anything else that is important to them.
So far, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Clifton Park have been `founded.` When members `found` a community, they get a green `key to their community.`
While the site is completely free for everyone to use, businesses can buy ads if they choose. Those ads are the site’s primary funding source and Goronkin said in the future their may be additional features available for a small fee.
Norreida Reyes of Thinkwellspring, a ghost blogger company, was one of iZoca.com’s first paid advertisers. She met Goronkin and Chief Marketing Officer Susan Bardack at a social media meet up.
`I see it as strengthening local communities and in these hard times it’s more important than ever that we’re able to be closer to our neighbors,` said Reyes. `Their model is the same kind of model we should be using in our everyday lives.`
Reyes said iZoca.com’s mission is something she felt comfortable and confident putting her support behind.
`Primarily, the founders Jeff and Susan have demonstrated a tremendous commitment and I have absolutely no doubt of their success,` said Reyes. `When I’m advertising somewhere I want to go to a place I know is working hard to make themselves successful as well as myself. I know they’re looking out for all of us as a team.`
The `tremendous commitment` that Reyes and other advertisers saw was how Goronkin and Bardack never gave up on iZoca.com, even when it seemed like there was no other choice.
`In 2009 it was so difficult to raise money. A lot of people didn’t quite understand [iZoca.com] when we first started out and when the economy started to tank, people weren’t investing in startups,` said Goronkin. `Susan and I created Buzz Media Solution, a public relations and business development company. We secured some clients and that helped to allow us to keep moving forward using funds we collected. We were committed from day one to making this work.`
iZoca.com’s foundation is currently built on groups that connect geographic community pages, `my world` membership pages and soon organization-based community pages for institutions. Throughout the new year, Goronkin is already looking to see how much more the site can expand.
`We want to further refine the website as it exists today. We want to make events searchable as well as discussions and photos by keyword,` said Goronkin. `Once everyone starts letting events known to the community we want to be able to filter them. We also want to provide companies even more exposure than just having a generic group on our site, so we envision having some type of service we provide for a small monthly fee.`
Even further down the line, iZoca.com will connect communities around the country, said Goronkin. But for now, it’s all about promoting the site with the resources they have, so they can reach their expectations.
`We don’t have funding to do broad marketing campaigns. We’re doing grassroots where we reach out to chamber of commerce’s, meet with non-profit organizations and business, anything in the area that is community driven,` said Goronkin.