Don’t Be Social Until You’ve Grown Up A Little

March 30th, 2010

I’ve been meeting with a lot of people lately that are launching their own web businesses and hearing about even more. Naturally, they get very excited about what the site’s going to look like, all of the features it’s going to have, etc. There’s just one problem. Their site isn’t live yet. And it doesn’t have a launch date. I’d be much more impressed by them if I could see something, anything really. Reid Hoffmann, the founder of LinkedIn and a serial entrepreneur/investor once said, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you launched with, you waited too long to launch.”

I’m going to take this thought a step further.  One of the most common features people will talk about in these cases are all the ways you’ll be able to interact on the site. They’ll talk about how they’re going to have a blog, a comment system, a forum, a social network, rss feeds – a myriad of ways their audience will be able to interact with the site. But, there is just one problem: they don’t have an audience yet. So when people do start to show up, they’re going to see an empty forum, only one blog post because they don’t have a blogger yet, no comments on the launch blog. Basically people see a site that’s dead or unpopular instead of a site they’re dying to interact with.

Social aspects to a company should be added over time as a company builds an audience that requires those interactions. It is best to wait once you have an audience or a community that wants to interact with you more before you suggest ways to do so to an audience that doesn’t even exist yet. Then, when you add these aspects, you can be seen as responding to the needs of the community and be confident that they are things that will actually be used. You may find that customers want to interact with you the company, but not others that use the service. You may find the opposite. Those outcomes require completely different services. It may be a forum you need, or it may something totally different.

These are things that are important to learn over time instead of predicting at the start of a company. You’ll end up with a company that grows with its audience, is responsive, and understands their needs. This is a relevant for a website as it is for a brick-and-mortar business. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment, but it does mean you should understand your audience before you determine how they’ll interact socially with you and with fellow customers.

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