First User Advantage is not First Mover Advantage. Being first isn’t just about new markets. Businesses can the “first users” of emerging social networks, i.e. don’t assume early users are just consumers. Being an early adopter can be a business advantage, a business strategy.
First User Advantage : The benefits of being an early user on a social network.
First Mover Advantage: The benefits of being the first to create a category.
Early Adopting Businesses and Individuals win, that’s the hypothesis of this post. First let’s square First Users against its sister term.
First Mover Advantage
Much debated, first mover advantage has clear pros and cons. As a business, being first has advantages, but it depends on how you act to hold your lead. MySpace would be a good example how not to be 1st. Facebook a great example of how to be 2nd. In photos Flickr, then Facebook. Mobile photos Instagram, then Facebook. See a pattern?
Acquiring the first place vendor can be expensive. Why? Moving first is expensive. It’s all about education. It’s about creating/defining categories. Look at Groupon’s massive investment to hire to people locally to drive small local businesses into social media. Groupon displacers won’t face those challenges.
First Movers is a fun topic, but it’s time to focus on early adopters of Social Networks. There is a huge difference between the two terms. I feel this is widely unappreciated.
Large Following = Status
We’re humans. Size matters. We love status. Right or wrong, we love fame. We love other people’s fame. We live vicarious lives. “Average Joe” assumes influence and power come from a large following. Or rather influence brings a following. The chicken and eggness of it does not matter. You can’t fight it – it’s human nature.
Social Media empowers anyone to become a celebrity. Building a following is a step on the route to fame and/or fortune. It’s not understatement that big networks are hard to build. Unlike First Mover networks, a First User’s networks is highly defensible, but more on that in a minute.
Social Network Adoption.
Subconsciously we have become more willing to adopt new networks. Look at the rise of Pinterest for example compared to the rise of Twitter. We have become trained to adopt networks faster. We’re learning to trust technology more, to question things less, to just try new stuff.
Chart via redmondpie.com PS I’d discount G+ data is this totally forced via their network. FB and Twitter are surprisingly similar.
13 people, 15 months, 35 million users – Instagram – Facebook – 1 billion dollars. The case rests!
Pinterest’s growth story is impressive too.
What are the Benefits of First User Advantage?
Each network has its own culture. Culture gets formed early by users as much as by features. The @ and # symbols on Twitter are well cited examples of this practice in action.
Being early lets you drive and understand culture. In some ways, you can craft culture to suit your needs. There are stages to being early. You can be too early to see the benefits or too late.
Each network has its own thought leaders, sub-networks and niches. New networks = new opportunities.
I learned from Megan Berry via #toolschat that early user receive bigger/better perks eg Yelp/Klout. It makes total sense. Networks crave validation and success stories. Early user’s should be aware of their power and leverage. Here’s some examples:
First User Avantage - Examples by Social Network
- crowd rank
On Linkedin Connections = Reach = Power. More connections means you can see more for free.
It also means you get found more.
Early Linkedin users didn't know the culture. There was no punishment for approaching strangers. So people could aggressively grow their networks. There were also no limits to invitations in the early days.
Look at Zynga, they totally abused sign-ups via Facebook. Zynga used aggressive tactics to become gaming gorillas. Zynga were first users.
First users can be businesses. Don't forget that! When Facebook changed the rules, they simply increased the value of Zynga's position. The created a barrier of defence for Zynga.
Early users find it easy to pick up a massive following. First users have many dormant followers, who they can unfollow, but who will never unfollow back, adding further to perceived status. Regardless of what you feel or say, the majority of people map connections to influence.
Empire Avenue - It’s a social game and as such exhibits poor game design - Many such systems emulate this. Great games give loopholes to help later users to catch up and keep things interesting. See PowerGrid as an awesome example. In Social Networks, you cannot catch an early user. See this quote from Michael Todd
"Empire Avenue. I have a lot of eaves (Over 180 million in my main account and around another 700 million in 4 others) and a lot more each day too. Still far from too late as we are just starting but the earlier you get into it the more influence you will have"
Actually in EA you can catch someone. It just takes real cash.
Feel free to add vote or comment.
A Social Network’s Culture Changes over Time
You can’t see how the culture forms and changes over time. You can only experience culture by being an early user/adopter. You can’t read about it until it’s over, but you can live it. The profile of users change over time too per the diffusion of innovation model. The focus on this model is the changing needs of the user-base over time. It doesn’t focus on the benefits to the user. My sense is that’s an oversight and a missed opportunity.
As an example you may have heard of or experienced “Facebook App Burnout Syndrome” or “Like Button Burnout”. We ruthlessly churn and burn attention. Being an early app on Facebook had massive advantage. People were willing to try new things – eg Virtual Gifts. Later people become jaded and insulated. We filter more and faster. First users live in a window of opportunity.
First users connect fast and furious. It’s a living thriving experiment. Later, it’s not just the network that clamps down with rules and restrictions. All users become intolerant and less experimental. The culture cements around early practices and early users. Older networks protect a first user’s advantage. That is a major distinction.
Catching “First Users” is almost impossible. You have to defy the force of networks. You cannot deny Metcalfe’s Law. Apply simple percentages. User growth typically runs at a percentage of following / activity. This is simply a function of exposure. People explore other people’s followers and lists. If you exist in more places, you’ll get found / followed more, e.g
A user with a following of …
- 10k , growing by 10% will acquire 1k new users just by being there.
- 1k, growing by 10% will acquire 100 new users just by being there.
Over time the gap widens. Less-well connected users have to work hard even not to lose ground. It’s like swimming upstream.
Social Networks Abuse
People push networks/systems to find the chinks, the easy rides. It’s human nature . Gamification in action. The first law of gaming is people will game any system. Sales reps and commissions is a well known use case. With social networks early aggressive users (who see the future value of the network) will push all rules fast , early and hard. New social networks are a game of cat and mouse. Users seek to gain advantage by pushing limits. Startups respond by placing limits and controls. Early users are often grandfathered benefits other users never see.
First users get more stuff for Free
This is certainly the case. If you arrive before any premium offering you may be grandfathered use of features others will later pay for. I’m certainly aware of this in the context of considering premium options for List.ly.
Early users also become connectivity hubs and promoters, so networks will do very little to fight these powerhouses. Eg Facebook & Zynga. Networks want users to push and break the system. Being hit by spam is simply proof you have enough traffic to warrant the attention. Yes, there are early adopters even in the spam camp!
Other Benefits of Early Users
I’m sure there are other benefits, but those are my initial thoughts. How about you? I’d love to hear your stories, your experiences. I sense I’m just scraping the surface here. Do you agree?
Thanks to everyone who gave me feedback and suggestions for this post.