You know when the technology itself makes the most difference to how much engagement you get on the social web? In the very beginning, when it’s brand new to everyone. That’s when the alpha geeks, the 1% of the people that produce the most content online, temporarily ignore their other social networks to focus all their attention on the shiny new object. For just a few weeks following any major launch, you can build lasting relationships with the true online influencers by being a part of the action as they congregate on the new service in an excited feeding frenzy. If you’re there, and you’re as enthusiastic, helpful and engaging as they are, you’re seen as part of the tribe.
The engagement cycle is almost always the same on new social networks with a lot of hype (Google Buzz is a perfect example). The alpha geeks “follow”, listen and interact a lot early on when the community is still a small, tight-knit group of early adopters. They amass large followings quickly, and while they develop dense networks of influence, they are also less discriminating about who they interact with and “friend” because the frenzy is highly social.
Eventually they all hit a saturation point, though. The numbers get too big, their sense of true community dissipates and the initial excitement wears off. The second the enthusiasm for the shiny object disappears, they start spreading their attention out evenly again on the tried-and-true social spaces where they get a real sense of intimacy and personal connection. That’s why, in the long run at least, the technology doesn’t matter much and why focusing relationships to achieve long-term social goals is so important.
I’ve made these observations from interacting online and joining and leaving social networks for years, but I don’t have any hard data to back this up. It’s just a hunch, so I’m really interested to hear other people’s opinions and ideas on this or get pointers to any good examples. It’s sound long-term strategy to focus on relationships over technology, but if it’s the early adopter crowd you want to notice to you, there doesn’t seem to be a better time to get their attention than on someone else’s launch day. What are your thoughts?