Stealing a page from Facebook, CNN is transforming its innovative five year old iReport service, which has enlisted readers to send in stories, tips and photos that CNN has used as part of its news reporting, into a full-fledged social network.
Users will be prompted to create profile pages pictured below that feature a photo, bio, groups and interests. Visitors who create a profile can “follow” other users, as well as CNN personalities, and can earn awards and “badges” for accomplishments. Depending on the interests and location of users, they may be prompted to participate in a story. For example, if a user is interested in politics, they may be asked to watch an upcoming debate and comment on it.
The idea is that readers and submitters will visit more often if there’s something they can do and connections they can make on the site. It’s a smart evolution in strategy. If CNN had tried to launch a social network originally, they would have faced the tough problem of landing users in what would have felt like an empty shell of a network. But with iReport’s popularity, CNN is right to gamble that they can turn it into something bigger – a daily destination centered around news.