Social+: What industry leaders should know about the next phase of consumer tech
As it becomes easier and easier to build consumer products with some degree of utility, it gets harder and harder to create products that will stand the test of time. People are always looking for the next best thing—something that delivers faster results, provides better service guarantees, or offers more features.
So if you’re a brand that aims to build a long-lasting product with a community that’s vested in your success, what do you have to do to stand out?
Most of the time, the answer lies within appealing to human nature.
At the end of the day, creating a product that lasts is more than about maxing out its utility. People are drawn to like-minded people. Whether they’re explicitly or implicitly seeking connection, the products that they use the most are the ones that are social at the core.
Why even the most functional product isn’t invulnerable
Larger firms have the advantage of resources. They often have larger budgets, more equipment, and access to a wider talent pool. Most people would assume that these organizations are the ones able to design and launch market-leading products.
The truth is that no market leader necessarily has the upper hand when it comes to invulnerability—not if their product lacks an integrated social experience.
The statistics say it best: 66% of branded online communities believe that these social centers have a major impact on customer retention. And with 2 in 3 internet users spending more time on community platforms, there is more than enough opportunity to go around.
Even the most well-known product in the industry can grapple with their standing if a more social alternative is presented. The takeaway? Whether you’re the current industry leader or a bootstrapped startup in its early days, you need to be creating a product that immerses users in a social experience.
Social+: Where utility & connection unite
Our passions are meant to be shared. That’s why people with common interests—whether scuba diving, video games, or emerging stocks—exist in similar social circles. We gain confidence as individuals and as a collective, sharing advice and swapping stories as we build bonds.
It is this social phenomenon that product owners are looking to recreate within branded communities. However, it isn’t enough to slap a forum on the company website and call it a day. Modern consumers are looking for meaningful connections, and they’re turning to social+ products as a result.
“Social” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it’s a concept layered on top of a shared experience—an activity, a hobby, or even similar circumstances. Brands that manage to seamlessly layer peer-to-peer connection on top of a useful product are able to produce social+ products that marry community and functionality.
What makes a product social+?
Community is a fundamental part of social+ products. Social engagement simply cannot be removed from the product, or it would cease to make sense.
There are several advantages to having the community as a core component of your product: better growth loops, greater engagement, improved retention, and better defensibility. Since human bonds are difficult to replicate, this type of competitive advantage has significantly fewer vulnerabilities and cannot be overcome in a short timeframe. And because networks are the driving force of social+ products, the benefits only compound over time.
But what really makes a social+ product different from its social feature-enabled counterparts? There are three stipulations:
1 - The social aspect is built for and into the product
A social+ product places people that otherwise would not meet in the same room. By creating a space that brings people together through your product experience, you are building greater defensibility.
Keep in mind that it’s best to create a proprietary social graph that isn’t hosted by a third-party service. When you own your community, you also own the network and the data that comes with it. This gives you greater control over your brand community and ensures a closer community-functionality fit.
Another advantage of building and owning your own brand community is that customers are typically more committed to becoming value-adding members that spend approximately 19% more money. Communities on third-party social platforms like Facebook, Discord, Slack, or even Snap may be easier to set up, but they’re also much easier to replicate by other brands.
2 - The social aspect is permanently fused to the product
If the social dimension can be removed from the product with little-to-no impact on the user experience, it is not a social+ product. Peer-to-peer interaction has to be permanently fused to the product, to the point where if it were removed, the product would no longer make sense.
An example of a product that has social as a critical product component is Venmo. Unlike many other banking and fintech apps, Venmo is primarily used for peer-to-peer transactions meaning that if you were to remove users’ connection to one another, the app would no longer serve its purpose. And because members’ networks drive Venmo’s growth, its user base only grows over time and becomes more difficult to leave.
3 - Engagement organically occurs between peers
Communities truly start to take off when peer-to-peer connections are being made organically, with minimal interference from hosts or moderators. However, getting to that point is an arduous task—unless engagement is a core part of the product itself.
Take TikTok, for example. The video-sharing app is quite literally dependent on user-generated content being passed around and interacted with. Peer-to-peer engagement is an inextricable component of the platform, and without it, the product would no longer exist.
True social+ products do not rely on interactions being bolstered by prompts and driven by community managers. Because engagement is already baked in, they simply have to convince people to use their product—and interactions will occur on their own.
The most common social+ product pitfall
More often than not, product owners and other decision-makers see the tremendous potential of online communities and believe the ROI (return on investment) as high as 5,315% is worth investing in. And they’re right! The only problem: they fail to truly marry the social element with the product they are delivering. The result: a product that may have community features but is not truly social+.
Features like chat, activity feeds, and groups enable members to connect with each other, but they should be part of an overarching social strategy. If the approach is coherent and well-designed, the social dynamic will feel authentic rather than corporate and disingenuous.
Social+ products are made of two separate, yet uniformly merged layers: the interaction layer and the transaction layer. While the latter consists of functional and rational exchange, the former involves more emotion and personal ties.
Many product teams make the mistake of treating the interaction and transaction layers as two very different parts of the product. They separate the two not only in design but in distribution and marketing.
Unfortunately, neglecting to seamlessly bind the interaction and transaction layers makes for a clunky user experience that does not fulfill the social+ stipulations. When they are carefully integrated into one cohesive and mutually reinforcing package, however, the growth potential is enormous.
How companies build social+ experiences with Amity Social Cloud
As mentioned above, social features are a crucial part of creating a social+ experience, but they must be inextricably combined with the product. Users should be able to build meaningful connections with like-minded individuals within the context of the goal they’re trying to achieve.
Neither product functionality nor community can be compromised with a social+ product. Product owners and decision makers must deliver social features that make engagement fun and easy—and that doesn’t mean they have to build from scratch.
While social+ branded communities should be owned and custom-built for the product’s purpose, many key social features can be integrated using software development kits (SDKs). Doing so gives product and community teams more time to focus on seamless product-community fit rather than pouring weeks into making a chat feature work.
Amity is proud to power brands that deliver a social+ product to their users. Here is how some of our incredible customers have made our Social SDKs key parts of the experiences they create:
Perx Health: Finding strength in sharing chronic illness experiences
Living with a chronic condition can be extremely isolating. Perx Health, an Australian health tech company, brings function and community together by building a chronic condition management program with a built-in motivational community.
By gamifying habit tracking and social sharing, Perx Health users become part of a patient community that supports each other throughout their individual health journeys. A tangible reward system incentivizes not only personal health tasks but also online community support.
The Perx Health community is now a permanent part of their health management product, and given the importance of social support in overall wellness, it’s a brand strategy that’s here to stay.
Amity currently powers Perx’s social features and allows users to post to feeds, join groups, create profiles, and interact on the application. In the future, we look forward to helping Perx users share more intimate moments of their health journeys with Chats, Videos, and Groups.
Keyflow: Making nightlife even more social
As a Scandinavian digital platform created to connect party people, Keyflow can’t exist without social engagement. With just a few taps, users can explore, find, and get access to events and private parties.
The Keyflow Konnect features make it easy to share nightlife activity and discover people around who want to join the party. Users can chat and get to know each other—and if they decide they want to party together, they can then share plans and make the night one to remember!
Amity currently powers Keyflow’s chat features and makes it possible for users to connect with each other through the app. In the near future, we look forward to expanding their social capabilities with Videos, Feeds, and Groups.
To build a lasting product is to build a social product
If there was only one sentiment to consider in consumer tech, it’s this: products that last are products that connect people to one another. At our very core, humans are social beings—so much so that isolation is one of the deadliest things that could occur to us.
By layering emotion and connection on top of functionality, brands are able to create products that stand the test of time. These are the products that grow, that engage, that inspire, and that are difficult to replicate. These are the communities that are interactive, involved, and loyal.
Founders and product builders must take note of the slow and steady march towards social+ products. No consumer product category is truly won until there’s a social product that users resonate with. If you are able to thoughtfully design a product with unified interaction and transaction layers, you will stand out in your industry and have a greater chance of success.