In the second installation of Through the Ringer, I bring you Hooah.com, the new social networking Web site for members of the military, military family members and those who support the troops.
For the non-military folks, Hooah! is a common Army phrase that can mean just about everything and anything except “no.” The site was started when founders Christian D’Andrea, Mark D’Andrea, Paul D’Andrea and Aaron Zelhart (founders of the Hooah! energy bar) noticed that there were dozens of social networks out there — but none dedicated to the military.
So they started one.
The site is just getting off the ground, but they are off to a great start. It has tons of community features, allowing members to share news, meet people and more. On top of that, the site is giving back to the community by donating time, effort and money back to the military.
Here is what Mark had to say about Hooah! when the D-Ring put him Through the Ringer:
1) Who came up with the idea for HOOAH! and why did you decide to go ahead and make the site?
My brothers and I started marketing the HOOAH! Soldier Fuel energy bar back in 2004. HOOAH! Soldier Fuel is the energy bar co-developed by our company’s R&D facility and the military for the warfighter. In marketing the bar, we’ve come across a lot of servicemembers and a lot of organizations devoted to helping the servicemember. We started to notice how important communication was within the military, especially because of deployments and the number of times military families have to move. We also noticed that a lot of the communication tools online were scattered or insufficient. So we thought “well, we own HOOAH.com, and ‘hooah’ is a word that the military likes to rally around, let’s launch a social networking site there.” And that’s how it began.
2) Why HOOAH!? Why not OO-RAH (the Marine’s phrase of choice)?
HOOAH is of course a word beloved by the Army, by Soldiers, but we’ve also heard members of the Air Force and Navy use it. We’ve met a lot of Marines and they have a lot of pride in the word “OORAH.” And we wanted to honor that. As a sign of respect to the Marines, users on HOOAH.com can “go OORAH,” which means that their profile has an OORAH banner across the top and they receive “OORAHs” from fellow members of the site, instead of “HOOAHs.” We have buttons everywhere that allow you to give HOOAHS and OORAHs to people and content that you like; it’s the ultimate compliment.
3) How many members are on HOOAH?
We have around 5,000 registered members. But we only launched a few months ago, and have just started advertising the site, so we’re expecting a lot more people in 2007.
4) How do you distinguish your site from other social networking Web sites?
The main point of distinction is that HOOAH.com is for military, family, and friends. It’s built specifically for anyone and everyone who’s “hooah”. We’re going to be adding HOOAH News and HOOAH Forums, so HOOAH.com is becoming the central social networking point for all the people who are “hooah” as well as all the things (news, etc.) that are “hooah.” Other social networking sites, such as MySpace, have too many non-military and non-HOOAH people on there, which detracts from the experience of a ‘community’ site. MySpace isn’t close-knit and it isn’t niche. And other military sites, such as Military.com, don’t focus enough on the social networking tools, so that their community sections become too hard to use.
5) I noticed you don’t have RSS for users to feed their blog posts. Is there a reason for this?
This is one of our planned improvements for 2007.
6) Any new big plans for HOOAH! you want to share?
Soon we’re going to be launching some new features such as Forums and Instant Messaging tools. In addition, this week should see the launch of HOOAH News, where HOOAH.com members can post interesting news items that they come across, decide which pieces of news are “HOOAH” (and which are “NOT HOOAH”), and comment on other news items. It’s where “You choose the news… not the mainstream media.” This is something the military community is really hungry for… a way to have everyone’s voice be heard when it comes to which stories get told. And we’re the first to provide it. We’re also planning on allowing more customization of an individual’s profile, more of a chance for the user to show the HOOAH community who you are and why you’re HOOAH.
7) If you could start HOOAH all over again from scratch, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Well, the site is quite new, so we haven’t had a lot of time for regrets yet. I think we’re going to continue to focus on two things: (1) listening to our members and (2) short cycle-times for improving current features and adding new features. Forums and Instant Messaging are examples of feedback that we got from our users that we’ve turned around and immediately put into development.
8 ) How do you see HOOAH! connecting with the existing milblogging community?
I feel that users on HOOAH will become a new kind of milblogging community, with thousands of interesting blogs popping up telling the stories from the military viewpoint. And not just soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, but veterans, military wives and girlfriends, military parents, and military supporters who want to express themselves.
In addition, we’ll be creating a HOOAH Blogs page, where we’ll feature the best blogs from the site alongside some paid “professionals”, i.e. milblogging veterans who will be regular contributors.
9) How would you rate the military’s attitude toward and acceptance of new media (including your site)?
So far the only response we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. As an example, over the Christmas season HOOAH.com set out to make the World’s Biggest Christmas & Holiday Card to the Troops. We had around 15,000 people come visit the card, and just under 1,500 Cards contributed. We printed the card out on a banner that was 4 feet tall and 26 feet long. We spoke to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and Walter Reed, and they were all thrilled to have us come by and present the card to the troops in person. The response was so great that we decided to make the Greeting Card go year-round, and allow HOOAH.com visitors to post greetings on Valentine’s Day, July 4th, and other Holidays. So I think that the military’s acceptance of new media will only increase as the military comes to understand what a powerful morale-boosting tool it can be.
10) Anything else you want to add?
I think there’s a large community of military and their family and friends, and they have a lot to say to each other and to the world. We’re thrilled to be providing a place where their voices can be heard, their friendships can grow, and where they can show the world what it means to be HOOAH.