When developing social networks, the biggest challenge for
start-ups may not be safeguarding against failure so much as preparing
for massive success.
The first commandment
for building a social network is: Thou Shalt Scale. A social network
needs to be able to cope with huge spikes in users – perhaps multiple
millions – and if it can’t, users will abandon the site in droves. It
is also critical to make a site ‘sticky’ by providing compelling
reasons for users to stay once they’re on the site; innovative design
and unique, robust applications are therefore an absolute prerequisite.
Users tend to flock to new networks – well, the good ones – but numbers
drop off sharply when critical mass is reached. The issues then become
scaling back down and, of course, retention. Networks employ various
methods to keep users interested, such as notification of applications,
alerts for new messages and new activity, and reminders to visit. These
all require users to submit contact details and, and for an audience
now wary of putting details online, very strong security policies must
be enforced across the social network.
If there aren’t enough users on the site at launch, it appears ‘empty’
and potential users bounce off, probably never to return. Start-ups
therefore must feed users onto the site prior to launch, either by
inviting beta testers to the site or by actively recruiting users from
their own networks of contacts – including employees.
Some organisations partner with specialist web site developers to turn
their vision of a social networking site into a reality. In this case,
start-ups should only seek developers with a strong track record in
developing social networks. This is because developing this type of
site requires specialist skills to both address the challenges –
including the rapid development of unique and robust applications,
coping with rapid change, creating fresh design and handling
exponential load spikes – and embrace the opportunities.
New Bamboo Top Tips
1. Get feedback early and often. Get people using your social
networking site during its development and act on their feedback.
Therefore you ensure that you consistently navigate your network
2. Go cross-channel if you can. Maximise your user numbers by making the site accessible via mobile devices.
3. Plug into existing networks. Including links to established
networks – Facebook and iPhone applications for example – will help put
you one step ahead of the game.
4. Create a Unique Selling Point (USP). No one cares if you provide
the same features as other established sites. Do something different
and focus on that completely.
5. Or….target a niche audience. A social networking site is only
useful if everyone you know is on it. Facebook initially targetted
individual colleges for example.
*Gwyn Morfey is an application developer at New Bamboo.