Understanding social networks 1/6: Self expression vs. voyeurism

The past success stories of social networks, and the key to creating “The next big thing” has much less to do with technology or innovation, than it has with understanding the evolution of human behavior.

Inspiration for this blog article series came from reading an article about “Pinterest“. Further inspiration came from having seen Nicke Bergströms “Creative mornings” -video

Nickes presentation had one point that really marked me. The concept of being a bit naive, instead of engaging in eternal slide shows about corporate structure.

It really reinforced my conviction about SWOT being something that should be avoided in product development. It was all said in one picture.

His slide speaks for itself. Making money at the end of making smiling users, and making them feel rewarded is the bonus, but it won’t happen without the previous two.

What is the key then to creating new concepts, that instantly get happy users that feel rewarded when using a service? 

Two very important factors are 1. Self Expression and 2. Voyerism

There are many examples of service that try to create applications, that imitate all the winning concepts of another application, and just add that one extra thing that makes it even better.

Google+ has about 50 million users at the moment. Yet the amount of time spent on Google+ is marginal compared to Facebook. Diaspora is about to launch the public version, but the user amounts will remain very modest.

The different networks have their own traits, but it is easy to see why Facebook is so hard to dethrone.

Facebook = Chosen friends, more private

Google+ = Chosen strangers, more professional

Twitter  = Chosen content curators + instant communication

Diaspora = Will be a mecca of open source developers, but never reach main stream success.

Facebook offers the best eco system for both self expression and voyerism.

Likes are the essence of gamification

The system of likes, comments and shares creates a system with rewards. (just like in Nickes presentation)

Every status update is self expression, and reading other peoples status updates is in some way voyeurism. Even though the information is available to large amount of people, staying up to date with what friends are doing, can be done in silence.

Users of all the above mentioned services, and many others, feel rewarded when someone likes anything they say or share. They feel even more rewarded when discussion is formed.

Have you ever heard someone say “Wow, that is the most comments and likes I have ever received”?

The same phrase could be paraphrased for Twitter or Google+, or any other channel of self expression. The share-buttons at the end of any content (created or re-distributed) is always a measure of success.

Ask yourself… What is the point of self expression, if nobody can hear you?

The future success stories

Mark Zuckerberg is definitely on the right track when he speaks of “frictionless sharing”, i.e. sharing that happens without an explicit action from the users perspective.

Apple will launch the iPhone 5 today with the integration of the “Assistant”, based on the voice controlled service Siri that Apple acquired. The assistant in combination with a deep Facebook integration will create a flood of automatically shared content on facebook…

The consequences from an user integrity point of view is a different aspect, but the automatic sharing option will be widely used.

One of the ways that success is created, is to develop a system that allows people to new aspects of self-expression, but without the reward (affirmation) of the peers, success will rely on perceived benefits for the user himself.

It’s all about long tail

The ever increasing amount content creates infinite amounts of specialized information, which in turn creates ever increasingly niched pools of information.

By combining the increasing size of the niched pools of information and people, and allowing like minded people to become the sources of self expression and affirmation, new social network structures can be created.

The companies that build platforms that can leverage the available APIs, in order to create new social hubs, will succeed.

In any case, without a human behavior -aspect, it all easily becomes too much about the tech. Technology is vital to provide reliable, scalable and flexible services, but I strongly believe that we need to dive much deeper into understanding the non-technological needs.

By understanding the how a concept caters the needs of the user at a deeper level, companies don’t have to worry about copy cats, and will keep their competitive advantage for much longer times. 

There are other aspects to consider, like:

– Neutral interfaces where the user generated content creates the branding (but without going overboard in customization like MySpace).

– Effortless customization over content, yet with a sense of the user being in control.

– ATAWAD (Any time, Any Where, Any Device)

– Automatically taking into consideration time/place/relation to content for content relevance.

However, that is a completely new topic.

About Sakari Kyrö

Customer experience fanatic, looking for weak signals to understand the future of the connected economy.

One comment

  1. Great analysis. Jeff Jarvis talks about over-sharing and over-listening as two extremes of social media.

    But commenting is not on the same level as liking and sharing. Liking and sharing are pretty low social signals, whereas Commenting is a much stronger signal that means engagement. Relationships that come out of commenting can be formed, whereas there is no 2 way with liking and sharing.

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