This post is written in context of – why consumer social products should never monetize without scale.
1. Because Users sign-up in context of Product –
Every social product is more about users and their connections / contacts together with a context (its product use-case). Users expect to interact with their contacts with this context.
For Zynga, the context is playing games; for Quora, the context is asking questions. At this stage – nothing is more important that making the context important. Focus on building the product.
2. Because Engagement is more Important –
Only value a social product should provide to users is engagement (both frequency and quality is important). Hence, the only metric that matters for any social products is engagement. That should be prime focus for any social product in its initial 24-36 months.
Over a period of time this engagement should evolve in to habit. Habits are tough to break. Facebooking, Tweeting, Checking-In are habits.
A QnA site like Quora with about 1 Mn ‘engaged’ users is more valuable that 50Mn+ users on Google+ who don’t talk to each other..
3. Because you need to Learn from Others’ Mistakes –
Learn from successes and failures of other products. All (successful) social products monetized at scale, till then they were just building the product and even continue to do so today.
Majority (if not all) of social products who tried to monetize early have hit the dead pool or pivoted.
Don’t want to name any specific failures, but look around – there are many social products that attempted to monetize in its early days.
4. Because your Users won’t like it –
You like it or not – large social products & platforms eventually monetize with advertising products but with its own product context. Facebook did with advts targeting by demographics; Twitter with promoted accounts, tweets & trends; Foursquare by local advertising deals for check-ins; with a exception of Zynga that sells virtual goods.
At early stage, users would expect a better product experience; not advts. If you plan to monetize with transactional services like eCommerce – think about it. Will users want another service that spams them through sms / email or advertisements? You don’t want to put off your users.
It is a tough decision with a simple answer – Focus on what users want; not what you want or what your investors want.
5. Because your Merchants or Business Owners won’t be happy with you –
This is strange but true. Let me explain this with example – Imagine a hypothetical social product for shopping with 100,000 registered users. You sign-up with the top-20 eCommerce sites in India for monetization through affiliate model – you pat your back and give yourself a thumbs-up.
– Assume decent engagement levels @ 50% user base (50% of users login minimum 2 times a month).
– That is 12,500 users per week logins
– Take standard 1% ratio of conversion at merchant end
– Gives you 125 transactions per week; 500 per month
– That is about 25 transactions per merchant ~ approximately less than 1 transaction per day for eCommerce partner.
Consumers will not do eCommerce transactions every month. Next month, this picture might be more difficult.
4 of these 20 eCommerce services says, “Sorry! its not worth our efforts on integration and time spent. Please delist us.” Community is small, people change jobs fast and the word spreads quickly amongst the partners – “This product does not work!”
Now, the same scenario at scale;
– On a 1Mn user base: 8-10 transactions per day to every partner
– On a 10Mn user base: 80-100 transactions per day to every partner
– On a 100Mn user base: 800-1000 transactions per day to every partner. OMG!
Exercise extreme caution when you decide to monetize your social product. The timing is as important as how your monetization plan.
Also because Sean Parker said so –
From the movie – The Social Network. When Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker and Eduardo Saverin discussed on TheFacebook’s monetization in its early days –
Eduardo Saverin: Hey, you know what? Settle and argument for us. I say it’s time to start making money from TheFacebook, but Mark doesn’t want to advertise. Who’s right?
Sean Parker: Um…neither of you yet. TheFacebook is cool that’s what it’s got going for it.
Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah.
Eduardo Saverin: You don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool.
Mark Zuckerberg: Exactly.
Sean Parker: “You don’t even know what the thing is yet.”
Mark Zuckerberg: “I said that exactly.”
Sean Parker: “How big it can get, how far it can go. This is no time to take your chips down. A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool?”
Eduardo Saverin: “You?
“A billion dollars.”
That shut everybody up.
This holds true for every social product. You don’t know really know how a product shapes up it its journey that starts from minimum viable product.
Note: Sean Parker has said that the movie The Social Network is work of fiction.