Mingling With The Cool Kids

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?

Invite-Only 

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?

Reciprocal Following

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?

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5 thoughts on “Mingling With The Cool Kids

  1. I think the invite only model is an interesting one that has shown success in other online forums with shopping and travel sites. Although Google+ is invite only, it didn’t seem to take too long for invites to spread. It seems as though there is a level of “hanging with the cool kids” when these sites initially launch, it doesn’t take too much time before everyone is a cool kid. Has anyone else found that relatively quickly – within a few days/weeks – invites were sent to you from sites such as this?

  2. I agree with the previous comment. Using the invite only method, at least in the beggining, allows the new G+ member to have a breath of fresh air and not be over loaded with business. I believe that G+ is focussing on quality not quantity. Witihin a short time everyone will have their chance. Being that I have received a few invitiations, I am not worried about other users being deprived.

    Personal reciprocal following is kind of creepy to me. I don’t want to have to be polite or polictically correct in my actions. Why should it become the social norm for me to follow a person out of kindness?

    If the recipocal following is for fans of certain products or groups, then it could be a different story. It would be beneifcial to the company’s/group benefit to make their fans feel inclusive.

    Facebook is now bogged down with adverstisements and tons of news feed. G+ seems to be refreshing new form of social media. Cheers to new social media adventures!

  3. Even on my facebook news feed, I saw millions of comments asking “does anyone still has Google+ invites left?” . certainly, invite only feature is making it sound cool, on top of it being an interesting new product. reminds me a little bit of Gmail when it first launched.
    I heard that UI and designs are just like beta, I think there will be a lot of progress there. I read that facebook’s customer satisfaction is going down especially after introducing millions of ads… I feel that users are sensitive to new platforms with good potential (esp knowing it’s Google). Personally, I’m looking into G+ a lot, now that I’m continuously annoyed by spams on facebook

    Takeru

  4. I agree with the above comments – using invitation only initially is a great way to generate buzz and create the perception that the service is an exclusive club. I think for Google specifically, they may also be treading lightly until they generate some excitement for the product. They saw a huge backlash when they tried to launch Google Buzz and automatically signed people up to share their information. There were all sorts of privacy concerns. Also, I believe Gmail was initially invite only when they first launched, which seems to have worked in their favor. I think it’s best to open the service to the general public after they’ve worked out initial bugs and implemented feedback from users over the course of several months.

  5. It is exactly the same way Spotify started in Europe (sign up with invitation only) and it worked really good. People really had the feeling that they needed an invitation, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to enjoy an exclusive service. The feeling of being part of a selective club is a powerful one.

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