The Fine Line Between Designing for Influencers and Early Adopters

A few days back, I tweeted:

There is a subtle but crucial difference between targeting a startup towards influencers, and targeting it towards early-adopters.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

I think that it needed some elaboration, hence this brief post.

It is generally well-accepted that a new service or startup needs significant traction from both influencers and early-adopters to succeed. But it is important to ensure that all users get the same level of experience and perceived benefit from using the service.

What do I mean? How can a service provide unequal perceived benefit? There are some typical ways this can happen:

  • Emphasizing numbers – followers, likes, etc. that make influencers with large followings prominent within the service
  • Content Filtering Driven by Influence – propagating posts with more ‘likes’ or comments to the top of users’ stream
  • Top User Lists – maintaining a dashboard that emphasizes users with large followings

And so on. You get the idea.

I have seen many services do this in order to attract influencer affection, and they’re pretty successful at that. But in the long run, this strategy isn’t sustainable and doesn’t work. Here’s why.

1. Only a handful of influencers can dominate any service. You aren’t leaving room for the rest.

2. Many early-adopters are soon dejected as the service seems to be geared towards those who get the most attention.

3. The exhortations from the influencers who dominate the service begin to fall on deaf ears and get a cynical response.

4. There’s a backlash from those dejected early-adopters and the influencers who were left-out, and this group starts making negative remarks about the service.

5. In some time, there are two splintered camps. A minority group that exhorts the virtues of the great new startup and the majority who doesn’t care about it.

The startup has no chance of being a mainstream success.

Key Lesson: Personalization.

The experience and perceived benefit is equal to all users if the service is personalized and tailored to each user on an equal footing. This is a more sustainable and long-term growth strategy that has greater chances of making it in the long run.

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  • Focusing on influencers delivers an artificial bump of assumed success through numbers, and the halo effect of those influencers. But I think as we know, numbers can lie. Ashton Kutcher doesn’t really impact 4 million (or 6 million now?) when he posts a tweet, and 30,000 don’t see my blog posts. The true success of a product is if it delivers value to the individual, regardless of their impact or perceived impact. Drive value, and the network effect will assist you, 1 user at a time or 100.

  • Very well said, Louis! I needn’t say anything more.

  • Mahendra, relevant points….what’s the best example according to you, of a service that’s adopted the personalization strategy and it’s worked.

  • The best example is in the above comment from Louis – check out my6sense! Ideal example of personalization.