It’s easy to create a social network website these days. We’re partial to our own software, of course, but you have more than two hundred other options. However, having social network software is not the same as having a social network. For that you need people.
We recommend the five step recipe below to everyone who uses CrowdVine. They’re simple, common sense steps that reliably lead to launches with high adoption and active members. We also see many networks try something different, and we can see that missing just one step reliably leads to a dead, lifeless, failed network no matter how much work the creator puts in. But have no fear, these are easy.
#1. Your network must be member-centric
Many social network ideas we hear are variations on “I can make a lot of money if I had a social network with millions of people talking about X.”
Yes. You would. But no members are going to join a network for your benefit. They’re going to join for their own benefit. You need to find a reason that’s compelling to your potential members.
For example, with event social networks, the first thing we tell potential members is “Meet other attendees on the event social network.” That’s a clear and direct appeal to one of the major reasons people go to a conference. Our adoption rate with this pitch is usually between thirty and seventy percent.
In comparison, there was an initial wave of event social network products that were transparent attempts to get attendees in front of exhibitor sales people. The pitch was, “Come get harassed by sales people.”
Not surprisingly, these networks saw very little adoption. Their pitch was a classic example of the “I can make a lot of money” approach. If the network was full, you would make money selling the opportunity to exhibitors.
The problem is that those networks were empty and so nobody got any value, not the creators, not the exhibitors, and not the attendees. Pretty much the only significant difference when we started working with events was that we’d flipped the value proposition around enough that we actually got adoption.
#2. Seed people in the network
There is no value in a social network that has no members. That means you have a tough sales pitch at first. Potential members will experience your pitch as, “Join my completely worthless social network about X.” One hundred percent of your potential members will ignore any marketing or communication requests to join that type of network.
You need to get around the empty-network syndrome by getting some early members. Then your launch pitch can be “Come join these awesome people on the social network about X.” Here are some ways you can get early members:
If you don’t have an organization with members, don’t have friends, and don’t have employees, then you aren’t ready to launch a social network.
#3. Invite people via email
Just like there’s no value in an empty social network, there’s also no value in a social network that nobody knows about. Email is the most effective way to let people know that your social network has launched. It’s several orders of magnitude more effective than a blog post, twitter post, or website link. By all means, use websites and social media to promote your network. They help, but they’re not sufficient.
What we see when a network is promoted without an email list is that visitors dribble in but that there never develops a sense of activity. Members want to be able to find other members but they also want the sense that if they contact someone or start a discussion, they will get a response.
With an email blast, all potential early members visit on the same day. That gives a sense of activity and that activity increases your adoption rate.
#4. Set the tone
There’s a learning curve for people who join a social network, but it’s not about learning software, it’s about learning social etiquette.
In the real world, some people have learned etiquette from a book like “How to win friends and influence people” but the vast majority of people learned how to behave by copying other people. It’s the same with an online community. Some members will read your community guidelines, but the vast majority will wait to see what other people do.
When you launch your network you need to play the role of community manager, break the ice, and model every behavior that you want from other people. Add new members as contacts. Send private messages welcoming them. Start discussions. Comment on discussions that other people post. This role is crucial at the beginning and can tail off as your community members get more active.
#5. Send a reminder email
The goal of the first few steps is to create a network that’s good enough to draw people in and spark activity. Once you have active members your network changes from good-enough to great. Nobody gets 100% adoption out of the gate. Some people will miss whatever initial email you send. Some people will get the email but decide the network is not compelling enough (yet). Some people will join right away and miss the members and activity that comes a few hours later. Once your network is launched and more active, you should send at least one more email blast.
For our event networks we recommend that the reminder blast comes about a week before the event. This is the peak moment of interest (rational behavior for many attendees is to procrastinate until as many event details are settled as possible). For permanent social networks there usually isn’t a peak moment of interest but there are often high points. Send regular emails highlighting discussions or activities.
These tips are about the difference between success and complete failure. We like dreamers and we like to experiment with different techniques, but when I ran this post by other people at CrowdVine one response came back “Tell them they’re an idiot if they don’t follow this advice.”
I think that’s too strong for people who have already launched–we came to this recipe through trial and error. But, at this point, there’s enough experience out there to launch your network the right way. Let us know in the comments if you have your own recipe or other tips.