Andrew Chen, one of the thought leaders in growth hacking, recently wrote a blog post that framed the three key feedback loops to make social products habit forming. Given the central role retention plays in lifetime value, and how lifetime value determines whether a product fails or thrives, these loops can be your key to success. If they are all working, the users in your ecosystem create valuable content for the network, creating habitual usage. When the feedback loops are not properly structured, your entire product can break down.
Chen comments that the industry mantra, “the 1/9/90 principle,” only talks about the distribution of users, not their motivations. This principle states that for a community or social network, 90 percent of users are lurkers, 9 percent contribute and only 1 percent contribute most of the content (more than 50 percent). While this rule shows the different types of users, Chen suggests you think of why these feedback loops are able to create positive emotions and develop habits. If you look at each feedback loop individually, you can then understand how to innovate by adding a twist in content creation, consumption or how people are networked.
A feedback loop that rewards content creators
First, you need to focus on the 1 percent and 9 percent of your users who post content. Users may post a game action, write a note on your fan page or tweet about your product. Regardless of how they create content, there is an impact on everyone’s content-consumption experience. The feedback loop critical here is to reward content posters with social feedback. Users publish content, social feedback trickles back to them, drawing them back to your game or product. If creating the content is easy and the social feedback strong, then users will do more, continuing the loop.
There are crucial elements to succeeding in this loop. First, ensure the content creator creates content that others find useful, what Jonah Berger refers to as “social currency.” Second, it must be easy to create the content and finally the creator needs to get value in return.
Creating social currency is not automatic; for example just posting where you are or what you are doing is not interesting to most readers so would not be particularly effectively. Conversely, a restaurant review provides much greater currency. This situation creates a potential conundrum: It is often more difficult to create compelling content. Chen listed some keys to making it easy for users to post:
- Post content that has already been created, like photos or links.
- Be able to create it in seconds. Snapchat and Foursquare are two examples of tech that enables this ability.
- Ensure users can do it frequently over a long period of time
- Users do not feel self-conscious posting it. Anonymity is a way to achieve this benefit.
- New tech makes it easier to post.
As discussed above, what makes the ease of use tricky is that the content needs to be compelling to the recipient, and it needs to be compelling over a long period of time. The latter is why tricks do not work; you can get someone to read or click on content once with a cheap gimmick, but there needs to be inherent social value if people are going to be engaged over time. Chen uses the example of Yelp as a product that encourages users to create useful content.
Meaningful connections between content creators and consumers feedback loops
The second social feedback loop is connecting the right user-created content with users who find it relevant and thus are more likely to give feedback to the creators. The first phase is to let users decide what is relevant for them:
- Picking friends or individuals (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)
- Picking topics (Quora, Stachexchange)
- Leaderboards (Reddit)
- Algorithmic/machine learning curation (Flipboard, Prismatic)
- Location (Foursquare, Highlight)
- Anonymously matched (Secret)
The feedback loop about building meaningful connections must reward the network when authentic connections are made. Allowing people to customize their content consumption based on people and topics is the most scalable, but the hardest to accomplish. You need a critical mass of content creators who are making the kind of content that might attract a passive audience. Other issues you need to deal with are quality (a thousand useless comments does not create a meaningful loop), whether the feedback is user generated or editorial and the pressure to add meaningless contacts to show growth.
A feedback loop that rewards passive content consumers with useful content
Since 90 percent of your users do not create content, you need to create loops that benefit them and encourage them to engage with your product. In many ways this is the most important group because it is the biggest group, in absolute terms. Thus, you need a social feedback loop that keeps them engaged with your product.
The feedback loop for the content consumers is straightforward: Every time they play your game or open your app, they see compelling content. That builds a habit for them to check regularly, thus increasing retention and engagement. Although it sounds easy, Chen points out four ways that this loop can be broken:
- Feeds that lack content.
- Feeds with stale content.
- Feeds with too much content.
- Feeds with irrelevant content.
The first two issues (insufficient or stale content) come from not having too few content creators. The third issue deals with product design; you need to encourage people to create relevant content and then curate the content to what would be interesting to the consumer (another machine learning application). The fourth issue largely comes from not connecting consumers to the right content creators.
Verifying your feeds work
Once you understand the three interconnected social feedback loops and build them into your game or product, you need to verify they are working properly. Chen suggests a checklist to ensure you are optimizing your social feedback loops and then optimizing based on where your results are falling short:
- Are people posting content getting feedback every time they post?
- Is it high-quality feedback that creates positive emotion?
- Are they creating sufficient content?
- Are users getting high value, meaningful content?
- Is the content too random?
Overall, the feedback loops described here are interconnected and necessary for a successful social product. To succeed, you need:
- A feedback loop that rewards your content creators when they post good content.
- A feedback loop that connects people with other relevant connections.
- A feedback loop that gives consumers content to keep returning to the product.
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