Over the past four years Gnip has seen many social services come and go. Not surprisingly, a pattern has emerged in how they evolve, and the degree to which our customers need their public data. There are generally three distinct phases a social service goes through, and how the service does in each phase impacts how it ultimately participates in the broader public social data ecosystem which can complete a full commercial cycle. This cycle being one combining consumer use (often buying intent, or expression) with commercial engagement (identifying need in time of natural disaster, or ad buying).
Phase 1: Consumer Engagement
A social service must engage us; the end-users/consumers. Whether via a homegrown social graph, or leveraging someone else’s (e.g. Facebook Connect), in order for a social service to become useful, it needs users. From there, those users need to participate in self-expression (from posting a comment, to retweeting a tweet) and generate activity on the service. There are a variety of ways to compel us users to engage in a social service, but the social service itself is solely responsible for the first experience. The vision of the services’ founders yields a web-app or mobile interface that allows us to take action, leveraging the expressions laid out by the app itself (e.g. sharing a photo). If users like the expressions, discovery methods, and sense of “connectedness,” you’ve got a relevant social service on your hands.
Phase 2: APIs; Outsourcing Engagement
At some point a successful social service realizes the potential for outsourcing the expression metaphors that make the service successful & useful, and they construct an API that allows others to RESTfully engage with the service. In some instances the API is read-only. In some instances the API is write-only; sometimes both. What is key is that nine times out of ten, the API is meant to drive core service engagement via other user-facing applications. A classic example of this would the zillions of non-Twitter Inc clients that “Tweet” on our behalves everyday. One look at the endless number of Tweet “sources” that flow through the Firehose and you’ll realize this engagement potential.
The exceptional API is one that has broader social data engagement ecosystem consumption in its DNA. Typical social services consider themselves the center of the universe, and that not only will they capture all consumer engagement, they will be the root of all broader ecosystem engagement as well. However, success with Consumer Engagement does not guarantee commercial engagement; not by a long-shot.
Some services execute phase 1 and 2 simultaneously these days.
Phase 3: Activity Transparency; Commercial Engagement
Allowing other applications & developers to inject activities into the core service is obviously valuable, however it is only part of the picture. Social services with broad social and commercial impact have achieved this by addressing commercial needs for complete, raw, activity availability. For example, in order for someone to deploy resources in a disaster relief scenario effectively, they need to make their own determination as to what victims need, where they are located, and general conditions surrounding the event. The social service limiting access to the activities taking place on the service, by definition, yields an incomplete picture to downstream commercial consumers of the content. The result is a fragmented & hobbled experience for commerce engagement.
Another key component to commercial engagement is realizing that the ecosystem of data analytics and insights is well established, complex, and interwoven. Massive investments have been made in the market over the years, and brands want to leverage that fact. It is illogical for a social service to address the endless needs of the enterprise by building their own tools. Attempts to supplement this market comes at the potential expense of losing focus on building a great consumer experience.
The most impactful, useful, and valuable social services that Gnip customers leverage for their needs (ad buying, campaign running, stock trading, disaster relief), are those that acknowledge that they are not an island in the ecosystem. They complete the cycle by providing unfettered access to one of their most significant assets. In trade, the relevance of the social service itself is maximized because commerce can engage with it.
A good example of how impactful this transparency can be is Twitter. Consider how Twitter is used across new, as well as traditional, media. They’ve completed the cycle with a strong offering of Phase 3.
All three phases are not required for success, but all three are indeed required for success in the broader public commercial social data ecosystem.