Building Awesome Social Products [6 Basic Principles]

Number of Social Products are launched these days; everyday we come across a new one. While I am also busy building my own Social Product – sharing few of our learnings with other Entrepreneurs & Product Managers working on Social Products.

Social Graphs are all around us today – some like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter have extremely high adoption rate and have provisioned development frameworks for existing and new products to leverage social graphs behind them. Each of these social graphs are distinctive by type of connections and mindset its users have developed towards them.

Google+ has been left outside of this discussion – cause in my personal opinion it is yet to find itself a distinct social graph. In current position – Google+ overlaps with lot of existing and established Social Graphs. More notes on Google+ can be reserved for a different blog post.

Building Awesome Social Products

Presentation from P J

Existing Social Graphs (everyone knows this):

  • Facebook – Social Networking for friends, (close) colleagues and family. These are users with whom you have interacted in real life.
  • Twitter – Loose social connections, people you know or are acquaintances with. Typically people who are celebrities, known professionals, subject or domain expertise are followed by others.
  • LinkedIn – Professional and Business contacts.
  • Email Contacts – Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc – all people or contacts whom you have/had private conversations over emails.

There are other Social Graphs like – YouTube, WordPress, Flickr.., those who are limited by its mindset or domain; also limited ways to leverage those social graphs.

Every Social Platform has Social Mindsets & Product Norms:

Social Platforms – no matter how big in user base, its users over a period of time have developed strong mindsets, product usage norms and social norms. They are usually not said or stated, but followed subconsciously by its users.

  • Facebook –
    Product Norm: Users can share status, comments, updates, photos, videos with “known friends”
    Social Mindset: Informal, between friends, perceived closed group communication.
    Social Norm: Example – Do not keep on updating status at same pace at which they tweet.
  • Twitter –
    Product Norm: Follow like minded people, domain experts, known professionals, celebs, etc
    Social Mindset: Open conversations & thoughts expected by followers.
    Social Norm: Example – Retweet what you agree on, etc
  • LinkedIn –
    Product Norm: Strictly Professional & Business oriented. Make connection with people you have worked with or intend to.
    Social Mindset: Share professional or company updates; Industry news & views
    Social Norm: Example – Do not post jokes or Facebook-like status updates.

Social Mindsets and Product Norms are difficult to break:

Users follow social mindsets and product norms subconsciously, they learn to follow it over months or years of product usage. Over a period of time, they become so strong that such platforms itself are not able to foster adoption for new products & features they introduce. Some examples are –

  • Facebook attempted to take on Foursquare with Facebook Places – but did not make much headway. Interestingly – there might be an 100% overlap of Foursquare users with Facebook.
  • Twitter struggled with getting usability for Lists feature. Users have added people to lists – but not following them for tweets. Twitter acquiring TweetDeck might be another sign of product usage norm.
  • LinkedIn struggled with its product LinkedIn Answers – while Quora scaled.
  • Google launched Google+ through GMail, but now struggles to keep continued engagement and adoption of Google+.

Because the Social Mindsets and Product Norms are difficult to break, products that leverage Social Graphs outside them become successful. (Facebook abandoned deals, but maybe it should acquire Foursquare as it is more valuable than Groupon, & LinkedIn should acquire Quora)

Some Perfect Examples of Social Products:

  1. Zynga – Leveraged social graph of Facebook and introduced Social Games like CityVille, FarmVille and others as a Social Application.
  2. Foursquare – Leveraged social graphs of Facebook & Twitter to introduce a location based check-in product on Mobile.
  3. Quora – Leverage social graphs of Facebook & Twitter to introduce a Questions product as a destination website.

The 6 Basic Principles of Building Social Products:

  1. Social Graphs are already Established.
    Do not reinvent the wheel and try to build social graphs again from scratch on your product.
  2. Social Graphs get built over a period of time.
    a. Over years – Users have made friends on Facebook, added professional contacts on LinkedIn or followed people on Twitter
    b. It will take loads of time, effort and patience if you try to build them again.
    Google+ is attempting this – we can wait and watch if it succeeds.
  3. Don’t build Social Products for sharing content & driving additional traffic.
    a. Most social products are built with this intention – sharing content and hence driving more traffic
    b. Existing social graphs are powerful and already allow sharing of content to drive viral traffic.
  4. Build Social Products that add value to users.
    There are many tasks and products that can be built outside existing Social Platforms which can add value to end users. While existing social graphs are established, users have a Usage Mindset about them, this is biggest incentive to build innovative social products.
  5. Don’t arbitrage value through your product.
    There is immense value in integrating directly with social platforms like Facebook & Twitter, do not try to arbitrage this value through your product. Users (if it is a B2C product) or Merchants / Publishers (if it is a B2B product) will at some point of time realize this and abandon your product to integrate/use directly.
  6. Don’t build – but leverage Social Graphs!
    Rome was not built in one day! And so are Social Graphs. Choose the one that fits most with your product use case and leverage it.

Building your Perfect Social Product:

Foursquare, Quora, Zynga did it, so can your product. Introducing established social graphs to new products. Key is understanding what you manage and what you don’t – Social Graphs are not owned by you, your product is – seamless integration with your product makes it scale up virally.

It helps you in –

  • Viral User Acquisition
  • Introducing your product to user’s existing social graphs
  • User activity on your product generates updates for Social Graphs, which acts like contextual marketing.

Identify what are the validation use-cases for your product, allow consumers to share the same with his Social Graphs. Few examples are – Foursquare checkins, Questioning & Answers on Quora, reaching a level completion milestone on Zynga while playing its games and others.

Solving the Chicken and Egg problem:

Social Products have more than one first users. Every initial user who registers to your product has his own social graph, he is the first user of his social graph.

The Chicken & Egg problem here is – what do you show to such first users who do not have any friends or activities to look at. Ask hard questions and look around for examples of successful social products.

First User Questions (FUQs) –

  • Facebook’s first user question – “Whom do I add as a Friend? Who will see my wall-post?”
  • Twitter’s first user question – “Who will read my tweet? Whom should I follow?”
  • Quora’s first user question – “Who will answer my question? How can I quickly get a answer for my question?”
  • Foursquare’s first user question – “Where should I check-in? Why should I check-in?
  • Zynga’s first user question – “Whom should I play CityVille with? How will my City grow?”

Try to figure out how these platform solved the first user question. There are multiple ways to do it, but idea is doing this right. The biggest challenge for any social product is solving the First User Questions – the approach and execution here makes or breaks your Social Product.

Validation Cycle of Social Products:

Defining Validation Cycle for your Social Product and reducing the time to validate it is the key goal for Product Managers. Validation cycles are reduced when you are at scale – thats a easy task cause at scale most of the things you do is just optimize based on data/feedbacks.

Take example of Quora – product validation cycle means getting answers from people with best knowledge about it. Since Quora has scale & adoption today – you will see few questions getting answered within minutes or hours of submission, while few take days to see first answer. But in its initial days – the validation cycle was not so short.

More crucial moments are in the first 10,000 users scenario. Have patience, learn from initial user feedback and pain-points; validation will be slow and takes time in initial days of adoption. Also to due slow adoption cycle in early days – the early adopters of any social product, don’t necessary get the best experience.

Example – My twitter profile (twitter.com/pulkitarora) was created in December 2007; I had the First User Question syndrome. Same was the case with my profile on Facebook, LinkedIn or Orkut (Orkut showed me – “Bad, bad server. No donuts for you” 1000s of time).

Should it be an Application on Facebook or Destination site:

“Why is this not a application on Facebook?” is also a question you will hear from Investors. While there are different answers for this question when it comes from Investors, but for a product decision make your judgment based on –

  1. Your product idea or concept or product use case should deliver real value. The value should not equate to addition of features on Facebook.
  2. There are Social Graphs outside of Facebook that you want to explore.
  3. Facebook would want people to interact with people; not with applications.
  4. Product or Business use case qualifies to be a destination site outside of Facebook – like a Quora or Foursquare.

Remember again – Social Mindsets & Product Norms on Facebook are difficult to break. If your product requires to explore Social Graph and is outside the Social Norms of Facebook – it can be a destination!

The Key Questions to answer before getting started:

Have good answers to all of these questions before starting with build your Social Product:

  • The task your product is planning to solve – do people do it in real world socially?
    Social Products are reflections of user behavior in real world – People play games together, People want to hear answers from persons with best knowledge about it, and so on. If people don’t do such tasks in real world – they will not do it on a Social Product as well.
  • Is it a feature on Facebook or Twitter or any Social Platform?
    Feature products don’t last. Identify if your product can be a feature on Facebook or Twitter.
  • If B2C product – Is there a value to do this task outside of Facebook?
    Check and check again – Is your product idea meant to be a application or destination.
  • If B2B product – Is sharing and driving traffic to merchants / publishers the key aim?
    There is no harm if it is one of the propositions, but this should not be the key aim of your B2B product. Many social commerce products on top of Facebook project sharing & driving traffic as their core benefit. Marketers are smart, at some point of time they will self-integrate this on their Facebook pages.

Always keep these things in Mind –

  1. People drive Social Platforms & Products. Not features!
    Features are how you want users to drive your product. But it is always people who drive it – make your features people-centric; not people feature-centric.
  2. Engagement should be People to People
    People don’t login to Facebook everyday cause it is Facebook, it is cause there friends are there. Same will hold true for your Social Product.
  3. Don’t arbitrage on User Value
    Consumers & Businesses will eventually figure this out. So don’t do this in first place.
  4. Don’t be Evil
    People love their Friends & Social Circle / Connections more than they love your product.
    Don’t mess with them. Don’t spam. Don’t be evil.

Happy Building your Social Product.

[Guest article by PJ]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s