The past few weeks we’ve seen some big players making inroads into the social scene: Google+ and Spotify. While they are very different platforms, they do have one thing in common: they’re both invite only right now. People have been reaching out to friends and complete strangers in hopes of getting a ticket to the big dance. Some have even gone so far as to buy an invite on eBay. High demand for these services, coupled with the yet-to-be-established social norms on Google+, raises a couple big questions about exclusivity in social media that are worth thinking about: 1) Is an invite-only model the best way to launch a new service and 2) Is reciprocal following (if you follow me, I’ll follow you) a good idea, particularly for brands and public figures?
A recent article in the New York Times chronicles the invite-only phenomenon, but focuses primarily on Google+. Launching a service this way has a number of important benefits:
1. People want what they can’t have. By putting up a digital velvet rope and granting initial access to “influential” users (like prominent bloggers and journalists), companies can generate buzz and make their service seem more desirable. People who are fortunate enough to be invited and have invites to offer feel a sense of privilege and will often brag about their new-found fortune to their friends.
2. Limiting the number of people onto a new platform allows companies to work out any bugs and solicit feedback before offering their finely tuned product to the masses. Launching a relatively untested service to the general public only to have it crash would be a PR nightmare.
The invite-only model doesn’t guarantee long-term success, though. The trick is being able to transcend the early adopter group while anticipating how the late adopters will use the service. Furthermore, once a product is available to the masses, how will it change and will the early adopters still enjoy it, or were they merely enticed by its exclusive/closed nature?
Google+ is still in its awkward infancy and people are trying to figure out how to best use it to interact with others. Chris Brogan has been writing a lot about G+ lately and raised an interesting question about the service in a recent blog post: Should you reciprocate following behavior on a social network? Meaning, if you follow me, should I follow you back, even if I don’t personally know you? While the article focuses on Google+, it’s something that applies to other social networks like Twitter and Tumblr too.
Chris maintains that it’s obviously a personal choice, but he points out that reciprocal following can simply be a kind gesture as well as a way to build a longer/larger broadcasting network capability. Basically, being followed back makes people feel good but it also increases the likelihood that they will listen to what you have to say because they feel a greater sense of connection. This is a big deal for brands and public figures. Having an audience that feels connected to the brand offers tremendous value, but reciprocal following can also be a lot of work if you have a lot of followers. Furthermore, following every single follower can potentially dilute the significance of following behavior.
So I have a couple questions for everyone: Is the invite-only model of launching a new service a smart move (and when is the right time to open it up to the general public)? Also, do you think it is beneficial or detrimental for a brand to reciprocate following?