Some moments become a part of history books and a topic of people’s conversations. One such defining moment was when we all witnessed Elon Musk’s not-so-hostile takeover of Twitter in the month of April 2022. I’m sure reading this would have brought memories of the exact happenings in your mind.
He says that it is his attempt at bringing true free speech into the world.
There is a large faction that however believes that with this acquisition, Elon’s power will increase manifold because now he can inject any narrative globally.
Sometime back, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post and caused the whole world to speculate if the publication read by millions will now become Jeff’s mouthpiece.
In both cases, the trend is clear. Billionaires (including Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani, etc) see it critical for their business to establish a foothold in the eyes of the people. Elon, however, did it differently - he didn’t go after a news media house, but went on to acquire a social network platform instead. Why?
I use my last 4 years of experience of being a content creator and then running a community - to make sense of this move, from a business standpoint.
- Why would you want to own a social network?
This is a question that tends to confuse most people out there. A social network brings together a community - Twitter brings together a community of elites & intellects (at least that’s how the platform started), LinkedIn brings together a professional community (with all conversations revolving around work), etc. Whereas, a media publishing brings together an audience.
What’s the difference? Are there any differences? Or are they one and the same?
An audience is characterized by a constantly eroding influence that is topped up by producing content - which is why a media house is always producing content. Whereas a social network, on the other hand, is characterized by peer-to-peer interaction. Your audience interacts with themselves, and doesn't require you to constantly produce content.
And why would you pick one over the other?
The answer depends on what your priorities are. If you’re thinking long-term, then acquiring (or building) a social network is probably your best bet.
Don’t get me wrong. While it makes sense for Elon to go after Twitter, since his target market (and arguably, ambitions) may be that large - it doesn’t mean you can’t have a niche social network for your business.
- What is a niche social network?
A niche social network is a place that houses a community of people with a shared purpose. To give you an example, think of it this way. A group of people who support their favorite sports team all form a hangout spot online where they can chat, discuss and do things together - this becomes a niche social network.
They eat, breathe and live for discussions about their favorite team. They dissect strategies on how the team can win, fanboy over certain players, buy merchandise and sports cards of their team, and go to watch matches.
Each member in a community adds some value to every other member. This results in social capital, which is the only way you can get a bunch of humans to stick together (and with you).
In simple terms, the concept of social capital, states that there is positive value (at times, financial) in fostering relationships amongst people who share the same purpose.
A niche social network builds social capital whereas a media company is usually a one way thing where members just consume content. My bet is that Elon Musk understands this and hence, the move to acquire Twitter.
- Why is a media company (or audience) not a long-term bet?
If you’ve not been under the rock, I’m sure you understand the importance of creating content and building an audience for your brand. In fact, you’d have also thought of building a media entity for your brand. GaryVee has preached the same for the longest.
But, is there merit to his words?
Your community is in fact a part of your audience. In fact, your community is where your most engaged audience members go to connect with each other. Your audience is the top-of-the-funnel, how someone discovers you. But your community, the peer-to-peer connect and the belongingness is why they stick with your brand.
An audience alone is an incomplete and a temporary solution.
If that’s clear - let’s get down to actually setting up your very own social network site.
Steps to create a social network platform:
1. Pick the right platform
When you first get the idea to build a social network, you’re bound to start thinking about the right platform to build it on. There are a slew of options available - Scenes, Slack, Discord and dozens more. So, how do you even begin to choose?
The most important deal breaker in my opinion is whether the platform is built ‘mobile-first’. A mobile-first approach means that when we design a product, first we build a version for the relatively lower browser (like that on a mobile phone).
This is because 65% of internet users use the internet primarily on their mobile phone in 2022. If you don’t build for these users first, you are compromising on user experience for a large chunk of users.
At Scenes, we began with a mobile-first design approach and battle-tested the platform across different phone specifications and network bandwidths. This might have cost us in terms of product launch, but ensured that the platform is much more robust and adaptable.
Another deal-breaker when it comes to choosing the platform for your niche social network is white-labeling capability.
White-labeling simply refers to a platform built by a company that you can rebrand and customize to make it appear as your own.
Using white-labeled platform you get to create a dedicated virtual space for a group of people with shared motivations, and help those people build connections with each other. But you also get to skip all of the hard work that comes with building a niche social network from scratch.
That makes Scenes a good solution if you’re looking to create a social network under your own brand, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months of development, trial, and error on creating (and maintaining) a custom-made app.
2. Choose a purpose
LinkedIn has a purpose. It exists for you to manage your professional network. You need a purpose for your social network too. Thriving social networks demand a shared purpose, an answer to the question “Why are we coming together?”. Your purpose needs to be something that your people will want to work on with you, not a selfish or one-sided idea hatched by a single leader.
In order to make sure that your purpose is grounded in your people’s needs, and that it expresses what you can accomplish together, consider:
• What do my people need more of?
• What’s the change we desire?
• What’s the problem only we can solve together?
3. Seed the first few founding members
The first members to join your social network should be handpicked. They’re very critical as they set the tone for the space. You could run a wait-list to the audience and interview the applicants.
Only pick responsible people who agree to share the load with you. While starting with a small, intimate set of founding members (say 10 of them) is key, ensuring they have the skills you need early on is also crucial. You should be able to work together to get down to the nitty-gritty of seeding content, working together to respond quickly to member posts in the early stages, identifying bugs and issues with member experience, as well as sharing brutally honest feedback about how things are going.
4. Icebreakers for new members
Don’t let new members enter the social network by themselves, there are higher chances that they’ll churn soon. It’s daunting to enter an unfamiliar social setting all by yourself. Solution? Let them enter in batches and organize some sort of an icebreaker (or freshers) when they do. If it’s your first set of members coming in, the onus is on you and other founding members to make this happen.
The best way to do this is via breakout audio rooms. Create breakout channels on Scenes where new members can closely interact with older members in groups of 3-4.
Typical ice breakers come in a variety of styles, such as fun games to initiate lighthearted conversation or questions that help you feel more connected with your new environment. All this is now made possible virtually on platforms like Scenes.
5. Focus on moderation
Handling a social network with a bunch of people can get really taxing. Conflicts are inevitable, and these issues can be a pain to resolve. If you don’t manage a conflict the right way, you might face some serious repercussions. No, we’re not just talking about your run-of-the-mill arguments; you can actually get sued.
The best way to deal with a crisis is to have an escalation matrix in place which involves various levels like warning the person, muting him/her, banning that person, talking to that person to solve his/her conflict and to ensure an OTP verification so that the person doesn’t enter back from fake accounts.
At Scenes, there is an extensive pool of moderation tools at your disposal like roles systems, customized permissions for different members, otp verification, ban/kick ability in stage channels and much more.
We understand that one explosive individual can ruin your entire niche social network. You might think this is a rare event, but it isn’t. So better to be equipped with the right moderation tools rather than face a sorry situation in the future.