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Social networks – users in control

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday September 9, 2006 )

Toyed with the idea of launching your own social networking MySpace-type site? If you’re approaching it thinking you’ll have total control over its evolution; then you may want to try another project instead.

Succesful social networking site growth is very much user driven – probably more so than any interactive medium launched on the web to date. It’s when the management of the site forgets that dynamic, even in a single instance, that disaster can strike.

It doesn’t matter if you offer the best tools, free accounts etc.; the devil is in the detail. It’s really important that you envision and address as many possible scenarios you can *before* you launch, because making changes later that haven’t involved extensive consultation with your community of users can really blow up in your face.

An example is the recent furore over profile tracking features introduced to Facebook. The backlash was such that the CEO of Facebook yesterday published an open letter of apology to Facebook users after hundreds of thousands of the network’s subscribers signed a petition against the changes.

The frightening thing for Facebook is those hundreds of thousands of registered protests accumulated in just *3 days*. Can you imagine being at the receiving end of that? Yuck.

While the company was a little stand-offish with the disgruntled section of the community initially, they did wake up quickly to the fact they had a huge problem on their hands and then sought to resolve it. Had they dug their heels in for much longer, it could possibly have threatened the entire operation.

There have been other widely reported examples of similar rebellion, such as another (once) popular social networking site which accumulated hundreds of thousands of users. The company behind the site wrongly assumed that those users had built up a huge dependence on their service and decided to implement a fee structure for advanced features. Users left in droves.

Loyalty is a very fragile thing on the web at the best of times and with more social networking sites being launched every day; expect fickleness to be even more of a challenge. Bear in mind that if one user leaves your network, they have the capacity to take thousands of others with them – doing so by using the very same tools that you provide them :).

Reasearch, plan carefully, launch, then consult, consult, consult.

Related:

Other TTB blog posts regarding MySpace



 

 
3 comments for Social networks – users in control
  1. I know that Cyworld is very successful at charging their members at least in Korea and a few other places. But I do not know what went wrong with your example above.

    Comment by Dann — September 9, 2006 @ 8:44 am

  2. Hi Dann – good point – Cyworld has done very well on a paid model. I guess it’s down to the way these sorts of moves are implemented.

    In the social network example I gave; what happened was members who were using advanced features for free were notified that they’d need to start paying for continued access to those features within a couple of weeks. Those users felt understandably betrayed.

    It’s always a very dicey move providing free services to people for extended periods and then suddenly pulling the carpet out from under them without consultation. I think it’s better to either:

    a) continue to provide what was free to existing members and only charge new members for those advanced features/services

    b) offer advanced features as a free trial for X period when they are implemented and be very clear on the terms.

    c) Consult with the social network community on the implementation of new features and ask the very important question as part of that consultation: “would you be prepared to pay $x per month to have access to these features?”.

    Comment by Michael Bloch — September 9, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

  3. But even if one batch of friends go there is a chance of equal rate of incoming friends I hope.

    Comment by Shasstra — September 30, 2006 @ 10:04 pm

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