Watermark Online: 2009 Year in Review

By : AnitaHeading
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Patience is a virtue, except when it comes to getting all the latest LGBT news, event, photos and video. That’s why Watermark unveiled a new resource for its readers in 2009—a redesigned online home complete with a dedicated online editor tasked with keeping the site fresh with daily updates.

And boy, did Watermark readers respond.

In the past seven months, 713 registered members have posted nearly 600 comments remarking on nearly 700 articles (as of press time). Since the site’s launch, traffic has increased steadily, dozens of advertisers have benefited from clickable banner ads that connect clients with services, page views have topped hundreds of thousands and Watermark readers have won prizes, found their photos in online galleries and connected with each other by discussing what is hot and what is critical to LGBTs in 2009.

Here’s a glimpse at the life of WatermarkOnline.com since it launched in May 2009:

Launch goal: Gay Days weekend
The primary launch goal was to have the new Watermark Online live and functioning for Gay Days weekend 2009 so LGBTs would have access to a comprehensive listing of events, breaking news throughout the weekend and a place to check out photos uploaded the morning after every party. It took some long hours but the switch was officially flipped at midnight on May 29, 2009, just in time for the party weekend.

Giveaways Galore
WatermarkOnline’s relaunch happened to coincide with Watermark’s 15th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than to give away 15 prizes (one for each year) to Watermark’s readers over the next 12 months? And so the giveaways began, kicking off with a huge one—a year’s worth of free movies courtesy of the newly-opened Plaza Cinema in downtown Orlando. The prizes kept pouring in and over the past six months, delighted readers have won everything from box seats at Britney Spears concerts to Kathy Griffin tickets and admission into a party with the cast and crew of RENT. The giveaways aren’t anywhere near over, either.

Bears Break the Site
Hands down, the most-commented story of the year was on the feud between the Bears of Central Florida and the newly-formed Bears, Cubs, Chubbys and Chasers. The story was centered around BC3’s decision to host a Bear weekend on the same weekend as BOCF’s annual Bear Bust. Details of the story can be found in the Orlando Year in Review on page 9, but for the purposes of the Web site, the articles covering the events garnered dozens of comments, the most for any story posted online so far.

But the Bears’ influence on the site went beyond commenting. Shortly after the Bear weekend, a poll asked, “Which Bear weekend event wins?” It’s still not clear whether the poll was circulated via email or posted to a popular message board (or both!), but thousands responded. So many, in fact, that for a few minutes one afternoon the site exceeded its bandwidth and had to be put back online manually. This was the first time community participation reached a level that actually affected the functionality of WatermarkOnline.

Blogs get Big
Readers enjoy five Watermark-hosted blogs: Spontaneous Consumption, a collaborative blog for all things pop culture; Beautiful Wickedness, John Sullivan’s spot to riff on celebrity; WaterLog, which spotlights other media; Fire Down Below, Erik R. Caban’s stories from the sordid world of dating; and Scottie Saves the World, where Scottie Campbell documents his activism.

As the months ticked along, the blogs became more and more widely-read, so much so that Beautiful Wickedness, Fire Down Below and Scottie Saves the World all placed in the Watermark Awards for Variety and Excellence’s “Favorite LGBT (Friendly) Blog or Website” categories. Additionally, Scottie Saves the World was a finalist in a number of the “Orbbie” blog awards hosted by the Orlando Sentinel; however, Campbell did not take home a prize this year. Next year it could be a different story. 

In Your Facebook
As Facebook gained in popularity within the LGBT community in 2009, it became essential that Watermark have a strong presence on the popular networking site. The Watermark group enjoyed an instant following that, at press time, stands at nearly 600, with new members joining every day. Group members get exclusive messages and early contest info not available to the general public. Members of Watermark’s Facebook group began also requesting a Fan Page, so that was built earlier this month and already has attracted nearly 500 followers.

Online Extras
As 2009 progressed, a number of niche needs were identified then fulfilled via WatermarkOnline. The Real Estate Showcase is a single, clean page that simply shows the best deals in Central Florida real estate, straight from the top realtors. And this year, the Holiday Gift Guide did something it has never done before—allowed shoppers to click directly through to vendor Web sites so that holiday shopping could begin immediately.

What’s to Come
Within the site itself, the biggest improvement planned for 2010 is a Watermark Nightlife Guide. Redesigned and packed with new features, so that with a single click, Central and West Florida’s LGBTs from Daytona to Sarasota will know where the fun is in town on any given night and get a glimpse at what they might have missed the night before. 2010 will see Watermark become active on Twitter, and this will tie into the Nightlife Guide, allowing readers to tweet real time updates on where they are, who they see and whether it’s hot.

It always has been and will continue to be the primary goal of WatermarkOnline to just keep getting better. More features, meatier content, increased relevancy and a continued effort to roll out the welcome mat and invite area LGBTs to hang out in their online gayborhood.

What else would you like to see at Watermark Online for 2010?

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