We caught up with Melanie Aronson, founder and CEO of loneliness prevention app Panion, to talk about how COVID-19 has encouraged people to search for deeper connections and how her app is helping them achieve it…
Tell us about Panion
Founded in 2018, Panion is a rapidly-growing community-building platform built on advanced analytics and intuitive machine learning AI.
Using the latest in intelligent data gathering and analysis principles, Panion’s customised keyword data search brings together like-minded users to support social wellness and relationship-building.
It is the only app designed to solve social isolation for both individuals and organisations. Working with corporates, organisations, educational establishments, and individual users, Panion tackles the loneliness epidemic to help create genuine, meaningful relationships to improve wellbeing, networking, and engagement.
How did you come up with the idea for the company
When I moved from New York City to Malmö, Sweden more than five years ago, I realised that making friends in this new part of the globe would be extremely difficult. As an immigrant in the country that continuously ranked number one as the hardest place to make new friends, I struggled, and as a researcher at Lund University, focused on integration, I realised I wasn’t alone.
So I started to build a prototype for a tool I felt would help immigrants feel more connected in Sweden; fast forward five years and the world has changed. My idea has evolved and is now helping to alleviate the pain of loneliness and build virtual, meaningful communities.
How do you think social media can help tackle the loneliness epidemic?
Unfortunately, many people use social media to idolize celebrities or influencers whose lifestyles are unattainable and often exaggerated. We see images of unrealistic beauty and material wealth that harms our sense of self-worth. This results in a great sense of isolation, disappointment, and fear of missing out.
However, when used responsibly, social media allows us to form bonds around common interests, values, and goals. Social media gives us the unique opportunity to make unlikely connections with strangers whose lives may be different than our own, but are equally deep and real.
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How has usage of the app increased over the pandemic?
Panion experienced substantial growth in the area of conversations during March and April 2020 – a feature we have actively targeted for growth this year. Conversations are a key metric for us. Our mission is to provide our users with a platform for forming friendships – and our users can only become friends if they chat with each other.
After some analysis, we made alterations to the algorithm in early March, which we believe is the main cause for the explosive growth of unique conversations on the app, along with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of overall conversations as well as the number of unique users having conversations grew in all target markets. The percentage increase of unique users who had conversations was:
• 500% in Sweden
• 2000% in the US
• 791 % in Nigeria
Panion Gatherings, the tool for spontaneous events, has also experienced tremendous growth in 2020. Over the pandemic, we saw 86.7% increase in unique users joining Gatherings, a 184% increase in total users joining Gatherings and a 426% increase in the number of unique users who participated in a Gathering chat.
Panion app profile
How has the new post-COVID world has shaped the future of your work, and why is it important that your project/company is at the forefront of the new landscape?
When COVID-19 hit, we realized that being a social platform focused on in-person connections was going to be tough. Since we had already been building a community engagement feature into our platform, we decided to prioritize designing and testing this feature, to accommodate for the new rise in online communities due to the isolation people were experiencing from social distancing.
We are at a time when people are appreciating the value of community, but also realizing that physical proximity isn’t necessarily a requirement for building meaningful connections and valuable community experiences. COVID-19 bought to light the true repercussions of the loneliness epidemic and further emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health and wellness, which lead to an increase in our initiative’s relevance.
We are seeing a rise in community managers looking for alternatives to Facebook groups and Slack, and Panion provides that alternative with a deeper focus on facilitating meaningful connections amongst the members of a community. Our platform is ideal for large globally dispersed networks as it uses geo-location to provide a localized experience for each member.
I hope that our society will begin to shift away from the social media platforms that distract and disempower us and will begin to form more positive, supportive, and meaningful communities with members from across the world. With Panion’s community-engagement tool, we are starting that movement, encouraging community managers to build more human-centric communities, focused on building bridges and sharing passions and experiences in a virtual space.
What can we hope to see from Panion in the future?
In the near future, we’re looking forward to expanding the Communities feature, by adding features that solve our users’ problems. These features include community membership fees, which would provide monetization possibilities for both Panion and community managers and a “groups” feature within larger communities. Long-term goals include building the Panion web app and a comprehensive analytics dashboard for managers of Panion communities.