So you have a great idea for a ground breaking web service (fill in your great idea here) where users will add content and share.
Problem #1 – Why would anyone join a service with no users?
Behind every social website success story is a dirty little secret – how the service achieved critical mass.
Most people don’t like to be the first person to arrive at a party, most folks want to arrive fashionably late.
If you’re trying to start a social website, this basic human tendency can be the kiss of death!
Reaching a critical mass of users is the defining first step.
3 Ways to Light that Fire
These are three techniques commonly used to kick start a social site:
1. Curate Content – Adding content to your own service is a “fake it till you make it” strategy. Curation is a very effective way of defusing the user’s sense that he/she is the first person to arrive at your “party” and it helps to define your service.
Curating content can backfire. For example in a recent case, a popular dating website was accused of having thousands of fake profiles designed to attract customers. The fake profiles created a false expectation among paying customers and damaged the site’s reputation when the revelation was made public. If you’re going to manually add content, make sure it’s useful to your audience and does not violate their trust in your service.
2. License Content – If you have tonnes of money burning a hole in your pocket, you can license an existing body of work. Google attempted to create this kind of synergy when it bought Zagat and Fromers (the guide book businesses) to add original content to its trip planning service.
Google subsequently sold Fromers back to its former owner, suggesting the transaction was less than successful.
3. Existing Community – If you can find a user community with a heightened demand for your service you may be able to enlist their help in exchange for special access to your system. This technique has the benefit of focusing your marketing dollars and efforts.
The main pitfall of this technique is the possibility that your service can become overly identified with the group you’ve selected. Imagine if you were selling a type of cheese and you decide to demonstrate the cheese on pizza. Shoppers who taste your cheese might be inclined to think it’s great cheese but decide not to buy your product because they’re not making pizza tonight. If you’re going to use this type of vertical market strategy, you need a plan for breaking-out to other markets.
The successful leaders in the social media industry have often used several strategies concurrently.
For example, Facebook initially curated student files from university databases and targeted its service to specific educational institutions. By simultaneously targeting a specific user community Facebook was able to limit the scope of its curation efforts.
As MondoPlayer enters the first phase of its journey, we will be engaged in a variety of strategies to build critical mass. For the moment, we are focusing on attracting users who want to add News, Sports and Music links to our service. As time passes, we expect to expand to specific vertical markets.
While there are many uncertainties in this process, we are certain that some of our efforts will fail. It is for this reason that we will be attempting to develop several types of content and focus on several user communities.
Photo Credit: Umair