I clearly spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about social media platforms and explaining them to others. Part of this involves pondering why some catch on easily and others don’t — a combination of factors defying a simple recipe. Yet I’d propose at least five key factors driving user adoption of any social media platform: usefulness, usability, user interactivity, sharability and sustainability.
Usefulness: Is it clear what you can do with it? You don’t need much of an elevator speech to explain why folks use Facebook. Not everyone gets the appeal of Twitter, even in more than 140 characters; you have to learn by doing. Proponents would compare LinkedIn to a powerful, interactive rolodex. On YouTube, you share and watch video. Geosocial services like Foursquare and Yelp that offer reviews and tips make plenty of sense for those visiting another city, whereas Gowalla makes more sense if you just want to know what’s around. Innovative tools like Yelp’s monocle — a visual augmented reality layer that shows metatags of what’s around it — could serve as true differentiation as the market shakes out.
Usability: How easily can you take a desired action? Honestly, this is a huge key to why Facebook is so large a juggernaut it’s worrisome and MySpace a punchline. I could never find anything easily on MySpace, and other user pages were run-screaming-from-the-room horrible. Facebook offers a clean and consistent look with commands brilliant in their simplicity — “Add As Friend,” “View Photos of ____,” “Comment.” Twitter offers great ease of use (unless there’s a fail whale sighting). The often-poor user interface, clunky navigation and various glitches among the geosocial services (as described elsewhere) may hold them back at this point. Communities like YouTube and LinkedIn could use some navigational streamlining but are overall fairly facile.
User Interactivity: How easily can you interact with other users? No problem on Facebook — you can comment on photos, comment on status updates, comment on comments, etc. With Twitter, it’s as easy as replying with an @ or DMing for more privacy. Comments and replies are easy on YouTube. In terms of LinkedIn, since I use other connective media more, I have yet to find any reasons to interact with anyone (YMMV). With geosocial services, interaction is often more passive at this point, users more likely to read tips and reviews in Foursquare and Yelp. Although I guess ousting someone else as a Foursquare mayor represents an unusual wrinkle on interactivity.
Sharability: How easily can you share information within the community or export into other communities? Facebook and Twitter are on a different plane here, as not only is it easy to share or retweet within them, but the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp rely on appearing in Facebook or Twitter feeds for their introduction, visibility and viability. Indeed, the main backlash on Foursquare is the annoying flood of checkins, badges and mayorships into other users’ Facebook and Twitter streams. I’m not sure how to share anything from LinkenIn, nor can I think of any reasons I’d want to. YouTube exports anywhere and everywhere.
Sustainability: Why would you want to stay engaged with it? Again, with Facebook, ongoing interaction is self-evident. With Twitter, this creates a quick divide and pundits note how many people abandon it. But this isn’t entirely bad: Those who want to use Twitter as a megaphone will not find it sustainable (fortunately), while those who understand it as a party-line telephone will keep using it. A challenge I’ve had with LinkedIn is that I find content from my contacts on other platforms already. Foursquare’s sustainability gains a boost from its mayor function, as people check into places to try to gain mayorship of that establishment. And with 24 hours of new video uploaded per minute on YouTube, there’s always something new.
Across all these runs an additional factor toward any platform’s tipping point: critical mass. A key reason people adopt Foursquare over Gowalla or Yelp is the simple fact they see more of their friends on Foursquare (and sharing this via Twitter and Facebook). After all, a key draw of social media is the ability to interact with others, so knowing friends are already there will increase adoption of any given community.
What do you think? Did I miss any key factors?