It was a place without a single feature of the space-time matrix that he knew. It was a place where nothing yet had happened - an utter emptiness. There was neither light nor dark: there was nothing here but emptiness. - Clifford Simak
According to this report, last week Google+ had more visits than Pinterest, Tagged, and LinkedIn, making it the 5th most popular social network in the US (behind Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, and Yahoo Answers). There are many reasons why Google created Google+ but a ton of ink has already been spilt on that question. What I want to deal with today is the single reason why Google+ has not and will not be a mainstream social network in the US. Before I delve into that reason I will discuss two things. First, social networks success is very binary in the US unless they are complimentary. Facebook and Twitter can coexist because they offer different benefits and serve different users. Facebook and Google+ are direct competitors and can’t both be very popular. The reason for this is user fatigue. Users can only stay engaged in so many places. Second, I want to discuss how this is relevant to Talkwheel. Talkwheel, like Google+ (Note: Google+’s iPhone app is gorgeous and worth checking out) offers a tool that depends on many people using it for it to succeed. Social networks by nature are useless if only one person uses them (because who are you being social with?). This is the essence of why Google+ won’t succeed, I call it the Empty Dance Floor problem .
There is an inherent catch-22 in social networks and dance floors (think of your fifth grade dances). No one will go on a dance floor (social network) unless another person is there and that other person won’t be start dancing alone. Thus, like aspects of Game Theory you rely on cooperation. Ask anyone why they aren’t on Google+ and they will tell you almost all the same thing, “none of my friends are on there”. Individual people won’t use Google+ unless other members of their group is there. Facebook overcame this problem by targeting already established social communities (universities) one by one. If it had tried to grab the US all at once, it wouldn’t have succeeded. Google+ did not have a strategy for targeting individual pockets. It should have gone after Google Groups first, asking them and moving them to Google+ Circles. Then it should have gone and targeted the mass amounts of people in other Google products like Google Reader, etc. into circles. Instead Google+ targeted the web and shutdown those services without taking the targeted approach of already established communities. This is the solution to the empty dance floor problem.
Talkwheel also deals with this issue. In a group conversation platform, no one wants to make a comment if no one else has made one. How do we address this problem? We target talkative, already established communities and create conversations to partake in. By targeting these communities we ensure that we are placing our discussion platform among a group that has proven they already love talking to each other, we just help them communicate better. Unfortunately we can’t always find that group, so to transition them smoothly onto Talkwheel, we create conversation topics that we personally have populated. For example, in an upcoming launch we will be pre-populating the conversation with groups about the 2012 election, football, and LA (the launch will be in Los Angeles). We make sure that someone never sees an empty dance floor.
We read blogs for two main reasons. First to be entertained, second to learn something that we can apply to our lives. As for entertainment, I can only begin to quote from Puck’s speech in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “If we shadows have offended…”. But how does the lesson of empty dance floor apply to your business? First, if you are running a business and want your Facebook page to be less empty, call in favors from friends and family to participate in the beginning. This will encourage your customers to join the conversation because they don’t feel alone (read my previous blog post about what to do then). Second, in your everyday business, you already know that crowd mentality takes over. Part of the reason Starbuck’s has such a nice layout with so many chairs is that they realize that if you walk by a Starbuck’s and see it is crowded, you immediately want to join the crowd and get some coffee. I’m curious to hear in the comments from people who have built strong followings online or in business from the ground up and how they overcame this problem.
Patrick from the Talkwheel Guys and Gals