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What is Social+ and why does it matter?

Oct 18, 2022

What is Social+?

If you’ve ever used an app or software which lets you collaborate or connect with others, you’ve experienced the power of social+. The term ‘social+’ was coined by former a16z partner, D’Arcy Coolican. In his words, “the best version of every consumer product is the one that is intrinsically social”. 

Simply put, social+ is any software product where people interact with each other, as means to achieve their goal. The goals vary and could range from entertainment to fitness, education and even investment in the stock market (i.e., social+investment). Social+ products cleverly integrate the social layer with the transaction layer. This makes the social experience of using the software a fundamental aspect of the software itself.

Why does Social+ matter?

The power of social+ is based on the fact that humans are innately sociable. It’s not just that we simply enjoy connecting with our fellow human beings: we actively need those interactions. This is why great products don’t approach the social experience as an add-on or an extra but as an integral aspect baked right in. The advantages of social+ over non-social are clear. As we can see from the diagram below, a social+ strategy outperforms a non-social one in every way:

The benefits of social+ include natural growth loops, uses-to0user engagement, high retention and competitive moat


Feeding growth loops

Social+ nurtures and supports healthy growth loops for both community and product revenue. Inviting collaborators actually makes the product better. A non-social approach is transactional and motivated by referral fees. It has no context, unlike social+ which creates and builds experience in a customer-orientated world. 

User-to-user engagement

The standalone non-social model offers very little engagement beyond the individual transaction, in contrast with social+ which is centred around giving individual experience a place within a meaningful community.  In many cases, the result is achieved by interacting with others.

Nurtures retention

Social+ nurtures user retention through ongoing interactions that keep bringing people back because of the value provided by other users, not just the product, instead of the greater effort required to achieve this with a non-social model. 

Competitive moat

The non-social model is vulnerable because it is based on just one level: transaction. The community that forms around a social+ product makes the product better, and harder to copy for competition.

The power of social+ in action

A social+ approach has accelerated the progress of products across many different industries. Whether it is event and community platforms or vertical social networks, leveraging the power of social features and the value of community has driven some to become leaders in their field. They are the products which allow real peer-to-peer collaboration – putting them ahead of their competitors and giving them all the power of community-led growth. Here are three of them:

Duolingo - Named on the App Store as ‘the world’s most downloaded education app’, Duolingo has excelled at making learning a language a social experience (i.e., social+language learning). In 2020 alone, Duolingo attracted 500 million total registered learners, 40 million active users, 1.5 million premium subscribers and $190 million in booked revenues!

Figma - Describing itself as a ‘collaborative interface design tool’, Figma made design social (i.e., social+design). It stands out from its competitors because of features which make it flexible and fully supportive of team collaboration. In fact it’s so good at this that it was recently acquired for by Adobe for $20Bn

Notion - There are plenty of productivity tools out there, but Notion has the edge thanks to its collaborative approach (i.e., social+productivity). Notion allows users to collaborate in real time and create custom page structures that will fit any team's requirements. It is this flexibility that makes it another winner at social+ strategy.

Don’t overlook the challenges of Social+

Social+ is big but this is just the beginning. Not every product category has had its social moment yet. Industries adapt in response to changes in tech and consumer behaviour. With more and more sectors recognising the value of social+, it’s inevitable that almost every one you can think of will move from an individualised model to a social one. However, while social+ is a powerful approach for many types of apps and products, it does come with some challenges:

Making the experience seamless: It’s essential to ensure the social experience is truly seamless and fully integrated into the product. Let’s take one small example of this: a platform which requires people to scour through its user directory to find the right person to connect to at an event. Human nature means that most users won’t do it, leading to the platform losing the kinds of users who value connecting to others.

Attracting - and maintaining - attention: As more and more industries are won over by social+ products, the competition for user attention grows. In the attention economy, getting people to pay attention to your product or service is the ultimate currency. The rise and rise of social+ will only make the battle for consumers’ attention more ruthless.

To stay competitive, products need to provide a relevant and personalised experience at scale. But how exactly can this be achieved? Find out in Part 2 of this series: How to build engaging Social+ products.

"image: Freepik.com". The cover has been designed using images from Freepik.com

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