Facebook was founded in February 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010.
Social media channels rapidly increased their popularity and became places where people started to interact with each other. It didn't take long as the tech companies started to leverage the high concentration and engagement of users to provide them seamless ad experience. The official statement for all of this platform is that they are providing the platform to businesses so they can reach their desired customers, and customers, in turn, will get highly customized ads that are highly tailored to their needs.
Well, tale as old as time...
All of the social media giants Medium, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (let's review Instagram separately for this matter), have introduced their algorithmic approach to their feed. All of them are focused on the same things:
When Mark Zukerberg announced that Facebook should be a place for friends and family, the algorithm changed again, and marketers started to adjust to new rules of the organic reach and reach in general. If you search for algorithms of all social media, you'll find a lot of information on how they evolved. It's a very straightforward route in general:
In all platforms, algorithms are inevitable. As the user-base grows, the platform's primary focus is becoming to create an environment where the user is getting the content much faster. We, as consumers and content creators, should see the platform on which we're operating, not as our but as a business.
Social media is, first and foremost, a business whose main rule is to keep users coming back and gain profit. So the main reason for their existence is to push the popular content out to the most active users. Of course, in some cases, this highly algorithmic approach can be taken too far. With the case of Tik Tok their moderators are asked to suppress the content of "ugly" or "poor" people. Algorithm == centralized power.
Let's see how this flow-chart worked for Facebook.
Facebook is launched, and it's just a mishmash of your friend's posts and some profiles.
2006 - newsfeed showed up. It' exciting that on this stage, facebook's newsfeed was filled with posts only from your friends, as the business page feature was added much later. Also, no photos were on the platform until later that year.
2007 - Like button was introduced, the ultimate engagement sign. Now you can vote with the button and show what kind of content you're interested in.
2009 - newsfeed sorting order feature was added. This is a turning point for each social media platform. This feature is the start of the basic algorithm - you see the things that are the most popular, not the most relevant.
2015 - facebook started downranking Pages that posted a high volume of overly promotional organic content.
2016 - facebook started prioritizing content based on how much time or interaction happened with it (likes, comments, shares).
2018 - The primary algorithm changes the prioritization of content from friends and family and also the posts that receive most comments. Now you see content that is ranked by:
1. Who posted the content
2. When was it posted
3. What time is it now
As a result, the ad's costs spiked up.
2019 - facebook started to do fact checks and remove the fake news from the feed.
Each algorithm will be a work-in-progress. So brands will always try to find a way to trick into the game.
So how communities became a thing?
When I started this blog, I had no idea how to grow an audience and find readers. So people suggested to go to Reddit and try to promote the content over there. When you go to the Reddit for the first time, it can be really frustrating, but should you join any of the subreddits, the first thing there's mentioned in the rules is "No self-promotion" or "No ads." Reddit has already invented the concept of community gathering a very long time ago. Why did communities start to be the new buzzword? And what it means for the future of product growth?
Human run communities (yes, that sounds as strange as it is :) ) are different from social media platforms by the main characteristic: there are no algorithms present. The only thing that is gathering people is the interest in the sphere that covers the community, and also the importance of collaborating with new people. The "algorithm" in this case, is organic and is driven by curiosity.
How can this be used for product growth? Each day there a new community born, people are gathering based on all their multi-faceted personalities, so there is literally a group of people for everyone. If you type "beauty" in the search bar of Facebook, you can find a lot of communities of makeup enthusiasts and for people who like homemade skin care treatments. You can practically join any community you want. The golden rule, however, is to follow their rules. Most communities have the rule of "No self-promotion", however, they also tend to have "Introduce yourself Thursdays" or "Share your thing on the thread" kind of activities.
Yup, no paid promotions. This is the main holy grail for me when I join any kind of community. I know for a fact that I won't see yet another Digital Ocean promotion or a new event that I absolutely need to go to in my feed. Communities are self-regulating the advertizements through the introductions. However, that doesn't mean that they don't do ad ever. The primary source of income for communities are mainly:
- Membership fees - pretty straightforward fee for joining a community and getting access to the resources. This is also a way to filter people who just want to come, stand by and spam their copy-paste text of bitcoin website (yeah, I've seen a lot of it).
- Sponsorships - also a great way to maintain a community by taking sponsorship from a company that is aligned to the area of their interest.
Maintaining a community is not an easy job, and accepting occasional promotions is not a bad thing if done right. For example, you can use Intravert, as a privacy-focused ad widget for your website or community.
Yet another excellent tool to get control back. As I mentioned, there's no back end that is gathering all your data (at least I hope so :) ). So the information that is presented fully belongs to the community owners and the presenter. Which is refreshing after getting news about privacy breach again and again.
Interaction is the thing that many social media platforms are striving to provide. The slogan of social media is "Go to place X because all your friends are there, but we'll get your Y and Z." In the case of communities, the slogan is, "We are gathered for the same cause." For product growth, it's the best thing ever, as having a lot of people center for the same interest is the place full of opportunities to find early adopters, co-founders, hire people and useful feedback. Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint, making connections is the main goal.
There's life at the end of the tunnel. A lot of companies that are created these days are starting to embrace the community values.
Gruv - is a startup for the playlist and music lovers that is fully community-driven, where people create communities to share thematic music.
Fathom Analytics - is a privacy-focused analytics platform.
Proton email - is a privacy-focused email provider.
So the future is for the startups that are creating a new wave of algorithms driven by human curiosity.
Of course, social media platforms are here to stay, and the algorithms are not going to change over time. The thing we need to think about as creators are how to use the existing capabilities to grow our brand in an organic and manageable way. Overnight growth can happen for anyone; it doesn't matter how they created the company with ads or without ads. However, taking that organic approach, in my opinion, opens the doors to better customer communication and service. At the end of the day, the main thing why people start companies is to solve someone else's problem.
Good luck and shoot me a message if you know a great privacy-focused startup or community.