Product

Building a Successful Social Network

You would like to build a social network or integrate a social aspect to your app, and you are not sure where to start? Here are our key takeaways that will help you understand the foundations of a successful social network and how to create one.

David Zhang
Vice Chairman

Network effects are at the core of every successful social network. To leverage this phenomenon effectively, we found out some repetitive patterns have proven essential.

If you are interested in this topic, check our article about the rules of 5C's!

On top of those established rules, two fundamental factors come into play when building a social network: content and interactions.

These two elements need to be in symbiosis if you want to get the most out of the network effect: having the right content and enabling the right interactions to generate and consume the content is crucial.  

Content

The community's network effect is hugely dependent on the amount and quality of content that the community offers to its members.

Referring back to the core tenets of communities - a great community must provide great answers.

Once created, great content's value is long-lasting. Content does not depend on other users being online and does not expire. Content will always be engaging.

The general principle of content is the more, the better (of course, we assume proper search & discovery mechanisms are in place to find the right content).

Generating more content is what spins the network effect flywheel.

Not all content is created equal, and both types of content serve a specific purpose in sustaining the community.

Some content is made to be transient, while some are permanent:

  • Permanent content is often long-form, more thoughtful, and presented, so the main message is broadcasted to many people. Blogs or forum posts are good examples of this.

Permanent content is what builds long-term value for a community and will retain its users. This type of content almost serves as a community's memories in a way, and the more content, the more interesting the community becomes.

💡 The product implementation should encourage creative expression and ensure that the content creator has all the tools needed to express his/her ideas.

  • Transient content has the opposite property. It is often pleasant, short, and contextual to the current events. Transient content is presented in a way that no content has a higher priority above other content. A good example is a live chat about news or sports.

Transient content is excellent for building the initial engagement. It offers the user a way to chime into the conversation right away without getting any initial context.

💡 The product implementation should feel lightweight and should prioritize quick interactions and short-form content.

Interactions

Content is essentially the stories users tell.

There are three main ways of telling stories in social products today - chats, feeds, and forums. Each type of interaction optimizes for a specific type of storytelling.

Chat

A chat is a real-time stream of short messages that are sorted chronologically reversed, with the latest content on the bottom of the screen and older content on top.

The reverse chronological order is essential because chat messages are optimized for short-form content. Each chat message is unlikely to stand by itself; instead, the full story is told through multiple messages sent by potentially multiple people.

The reverse chronological ordering allows any user to start at the oldest message at the top of the screen, then easily read down to consume the story, eventually ending up at the latest message on the bottom of the screen. The user is then prompted to contribute to the story via a compose bar on the screen's bottom.

Feed

A feed is a type of interaction that prioritizes individual standalone content. Feeds have lists of posts based on user preferences. These posts are organized chronologically or algorithmically. The one common attribute of all feeds is that each post is a standalone piece of content that tells its own story.

Feeds are designed to show the most relevant posts on the top. Opening the feed, the users start by reading the most engaging and relevant posts (and only see less relevant posts if they keep browsing).

The post engagements should be integrated into the post itself.

When users want to engage with a post, the product should allow them to choose their preferred option, e.g. via a simple "like" or comment.

Forums (Discussions)

A forum is a type of interaction that focuses on long-living discussions. In some ways, forums are similar to feeds. Both have a series of standalone posts chronologically or algorithmically ordered. However, there are a few crucial differences.

Of all the interactions listed, a forum is the most suitable feature for producing permanent content. The stories told in forums often start with the initial post, being enriched and expanded in the comments on the forum post. Unlike feeds, the value of a forum is not in its initial posts but the quality of the comments. Great forum products have one thing in common: they encourage engaging discussions following the initial posts..

To sum up, feeds should prioritize the initial posts, while forums — the entire discussions.

If you intend to create a social network or add a social aspect to your platform, it is crucial to understand the value created by the network effect and how to leverage it. Because there are so many options on the market, you will only make a difference and stay ahead of your competitors if your product is well-built and includes all the essential elements of a social network.

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