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The social Internet is fundamentally a game changer. Unlike the web-link driven Internet, the social Internet connects people directly to one another and the resulting social graph essentially provides for a brand new, highly scalable distribution mechanism. The early adopters of the Facebook platform such as Zynga leveraged the platform’s social distribution to reach scale relatively quickly. However as the platform is restricting notifications to the users, a number of newer applications are finding it hard to get user traction and sustain engagement. In the competitive world of Facebook and other social platform applications, applications have to be fundamentally social to survive and get user attention. My acid test for an application leveraging social graph – “is the application useless in the absence of the social graph”. A “No” answer indicates a mere social layering on top which is not sufficient.

The Hierarchy of Social Interactions

A social application’s user interaction model should be around discovery and handholding users from “lookers” to “doers”. The discovery is essentially bringing together emotional, impulsive, curiosity, and other inherent psychological needs, and delighting users every time they engage with the application. The discovery aspect of a social application is what brings users back into the application and sustains engagement levels.

The hierarchy of interactions from lookers to doers is core to the discovery mechanism. A well designed social application must provide value to users who are just lookers and make no input. Such users make the majority of an application audience. The next up in the hierarchy is “one click” interactions. With this mechanism a user can vote up or down on any object created by other users. This kind of low-touch interactions help users get over the hurdle by reducing the cognitive dissonance arising out of “what to write or comment”. The next step up is “responding” to a question or comment from other users. This, again, is low hurdle activity since users have the needed context to respond with. Users who ask or comment in the first place are still next level up in the interaction hierarchy because they are dealing with low to no context resulting in higher level of cognitive dissonance. At the top of the hierarchy are users who upload or generate content. The effort needed to generate/upload content and the social approval anxiety make this step the hardest for the users. A successful social application essentially handholds users up the social interaction hierarchy and creates stickiness and high level of user engagement. As a general rule of thumb, the distribution of users in different position on the hierarchy are 80% lookers, 10% clickers, 5% responders, 3% askers and 2% creators.

A social application by its very definition involves social approval, recognition, and emotional fulfillment, and application developers should focus on reducing social approval anxiety and cognitive dissonance by creating an easier path for users to convert from lookers into doers.

  • http://twitter.com/galica Matthias Galica

    Good post. Can you give some insight on where the “general rule of thumb” usertype distribution percentages originate from? Trust but verify right :)

    Also quite curious whether there’s been any notable systemic shift over time. Ie whether the progression by which all aspects of the web’s UX became more inherently “social” might have changed user behavior itself over the last, say 10 years. Or whether these breakdowns are more simply delineations of human personality types translated into the social web, and therefore pretty immutable.

  • http://twitter.com/Max Max Mullen (@Max)

    I’m curious too – where are those numbers from? Also, what’s the difference between an asker and a responder? Aren’t both just commenters?

  • Bipul Sinha

    I feel the big shift is really about the social web with real identities. The social web allows for expressions which influence how we view and interact with the online world.

    The usertype distribution is directional and mostly based on anecdotal evidences from mobile/social applications usage.

  • Bipul Sinha

    Askers experience more social approval anxiety than responders.

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  • http://keyworddn.com anton adams

    Great insights. love the conclusion or success pivot: converting lookers to doers

  • http://techceo.wordpress.com techceo

    Great article! We are seeing 90% consumers and 10% producers pattern on our social network. I like your test if a service is truly a social service. Like dot com era, many non-social services are rechristening themselves as social to participate in the latest boom. We are seeing increasing resistance from users to go to yet another social network due to proliferation of social sites. I believe the Zynga model is more relevant now to lower the bar to get users on a new network. We are testing this new strategy and would know results soon.

  • http://bidwebsites.net/ Kristiyan

    Well a social media traffic converts less, but it can get really big so the Social media is the way to go in 2012.

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