CaringBridge, the Eagan-based nonprofit social network, is teaming up with Hallmark Cards Inc. to offer cobranded content and services on the popular well-wishers site.
"Loved ones come together to support each other on CaringBridge, but it can often be hard to know what to say," said Sona Mehring, founder and CEO of CaringBridge, in an interview Friday. "The partnership continues to strengthen that; we want to help people connect when it matters most."
In one of their first projects, Hallmark will create ways for visitors to the CaringBridge site to leave guest book messages using Hallmark text and images.
CaringBridge allows users to create privacy-protected online spaces to share health updates and messages of concern. In 2012, more than 46 million people visited the site, and more than half a million people use the site everyday.
Linda Odell, a spokesman for Hallmark, called the partnership "a really natural fit for both of us." The partnership will offer Hallmark the chance to learn how it can be more helpful to people. "It gives us the opportunity to better understand people who are in the moment," Odell said.
The CaringBridge deal with privately held Hallmark won't be a direct source of new revenue for CaringBridge. Mehring said the site has been free to use and will remain free. The deal is more about building awareness of CaringBridge nationally and to enhance the overall user experience by making it easier to connect.
CaringBridge now gets more users through mobile devices than through its website, Mehring said. But it's more difficult to write messages on a mobile device or tablet. Through the partnership, Hallmark will make it easier for users to select text and images.
Ease of use on mobile devices has become increasingly important to CaringBridge. For the year ended Dec. 31, 2012, CaringBridge had revenue of $8.3 million, a 2.3 percent decrease from the previous year, the first year its revenue has not gone up. Mehring expects 2013 revenue to be flat.
Nearly 90 percent of all funding comes from individuals and families who use CaringBridge. The free site has been used by people in all 50 states, as well as 225 countries and territories. Increasing the awareness of CaringBridge through the Hallmark partnership is expected to increase donations.
"CaringBridge needs to continue to grow in awareness," Mehring said.
Started in her living room
Mehring founded CaringBridge in her Eagan living room in 1997 as a way to help a friend deal with a life-threatening pregnancy. Mehring, a software programmer, created a website that kept friends and family updated and allowed them to post words of encouragement.
Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. distributes greeting cards through more than 39,000 retail outlets, including 2,600 Hallmark Gold Crown stores in the United States.