Should businesses be backing exclusivity when it comes to social networking?
It’s hard to believe it now, but when Facebook first started in 2004 its entire usership was limited to a single demographic: American university students. To prove that they belonged to this group, potential new users needed a “.edu” email suffix in order to set up an account. Fast forward to today, and the social media giant has over 1 billion daily active users—a huge, almost unbelievable proportion of the planet for a company that’s just over a decade in age.
Facebook of course would have never grown so big if it had retained the restrictive entry requirement it started out with. When it opened up to international university high school networks in 2005, then for general usership in 2006, it was banking on the idea that mass adoption would eventually make Facebook a hugely powerful social force to be reckoned with—and what a strategy that turned out to be!
However, this is not the only strategy to gain prominence in the digital and hyper-networked times we live in. Though it’s been said that in the modern “eyeball” economy you’re only as powerful as how many people’s attention you can hold, that’s not necessarily the entire picture. Many new social media and networking startups are realising that mass adoption on the scale of Facebook might not be possible. The social networking marketplace is far more crowded than it was in 2004, and potential users don’t have the time, patience or mental bandwidth to start a new network. So what’s a company to do if it wants to make an impact but can’t go global? The answer is go exclusive.
There’s been a marked trend in the tech networking space recently of social networks with restricted or invitation-only userships. This may seem counter-intuitive, as why would anyone go to the effort of joining a network that’s exclusive when there are so many other open networks available? The answer is status. If these new tech companies can create an illusion of scarcity or exclusivity, they can follow a model of being important rather than big, and thereby attract a higher echelon of users. There are numerous examples of this happening all over the social scene; here are just a few of them:
THIS: Similar in style to Facebook, THIS is a social network with a single, important caveat: users can only share one thing a day. Why limit its users? The idea is to create an exclusivity around content so that people’s feeds are not clogged with everything from cat videos to comics to complaints (unless those things are really important). Inspired by the internet-speak tendency to denote something’s significance by just posting the word “this” and a link, the network hopes to streamline people’s feeds and deliver more quality content.
Raya: Raya is a dating app for creative professionals that works on referral and approval. In order to join you have to fill out a form that includes your occupation and social presence, and whether you can use any existing members on the app as a “reference”. It’s notable that most users have a significant social following on other networks like Instagram to begin with. The idea here is to create an elite usership to attract daters.
Ello: Launched in 2014 to much fanfare, Ello is an invite-only and ad-free version of Facebook. Created in direct response to a lot of the aspects about Facebook that people hate, it offers two feeds: friends and noise, allowing users to filter who they really want to hear from, and who they want to tune into, when they choose to. Though the company had some early missteps (tons of web traffic when the media picked up on its launch nearly crashed the site), it’s still very much in operation and providing an alternative for users who can’t cope with the overstuffed feeds of Facebook and Twitter.