Is being first to innovate an advantage?

social network Nov 04, 2020

In the years 2000, this social network valued at over half a billion dollars

In 2005, a famous social network, with more than 25 million users, was bought out for more than 580 million dollars. The platform was famous, and the number of users was growing continuously. You think it's Facebook? Well, it's not. Several social networks existed before Facebook, including one with a bright future. It had started with a niche user base by targeting its customers, and then word of mouth did its job, so its reputation was growing.
However, this social network, which was among the first to make a breakthrough, was about to lose its lead by trying to go too fast.

Being first, really?

Is it enough to be first to succeed? Perhaps you've already launched an innovative or daring project, thinking that you had to go fast and be the first. Or maybe you want to launch a project, but you tell yourself that the market is already taken, that competitors are already there, so there's no point in getting started. In fact, it is not enough to be the first, and there is no fatality for the second.

The 2 rules to respect

This social network, bought for more than half a billion dollars in 2005, is MySpace. Everything had started well for MySpace. Drawing inspiration from emerging social networks, it offered a more complete experience, and was based on the community of musicians, who, at the time could not get started without creating their MySpace account. But with success, MySpace made several choices, which proved decisive for its future. And here are the lessons we can learn from them:

1) Put the customer at the center of everything

MySpace had a great innovation in its hands, "the social network". But instead of developing this innovation, the site wanted to earn cash very quickly - too quickly. A 3-year advertising partnership was signed with Google, pushing MySpace to multiply ads on the site. Meanwhile, Facebook was pushing the logic of social networking, offering an enhanced experience with a notification wall, allowing users to know in real time their friends' activity, all without ads, at least at first...

Let's go back to March 2007 (screenshots from the very good site Wayback Machine :

The MySpace homepage was the following:


The Facebook homepage was the following:


The contrast between the two sites is striking:

  • Facebook is clear and simple compared to MySpace
  • On the Facebook site, the promise is clear: "connect with people " and "share information", while MySpace only says "a place for friends".

Pushing the logic of the social network, the great strength of Facebook compared to MySpace was also to propose to users and developers to co-construct the site. Any user could now create a specific group to share his or her interests, whether these interests were sports, music, literature, etc... On MySpace, the user had to join a category predefined by the site in order to find passionate people. The experience was therefore much less interesting, and above all much less personalized. Finally, Facebook developed a platform, to allow developers to offer applications. While MySpace made all the applications itself. It goes without saying that with this strategy, MySpace did not benefit at all from the leverage that the social network could bring.

This is what your profile on MySpace looked like in 2007 (image from Reddit)

And on Facebook (image from Shareaholic)

  • Facebook offers a wall with recent activities of friends
  • Facebook has no ads while MySpace offers un-targeted advertising.

2) Once the customer is served, help yourself to

As we said, Facebook didn't have any ads at the beginning, it was only later that the site made very targeted ads, and therefore much more interesting both for advertisers, and for users who were offered useful ads. Thanks to these targeted ads, advertisers were now sure to reach their customers. You wanted to target people who love shoes, and who live in Paris? Facebook allowed you - and still allows you - to send advertising to such people. And the craziest part is that most users were happy to receive such an ad, because it was in line with their tastes.

Don't be the first, be the best

If MySpace was the first large-scale social network, Facebook was the first social network in people's minds. On Facebook, you could create communities with groups, you could create applications, you could share photos easily. The very good book "The 22 Laws of Marketing" by Al Ries and Jack Trout says it in its third law, you have to win the first place in the minds. Once the minds are conquered, people will think that you were the first to innovate. This is the case with Facebook; most people think it was the first social network. Don't be the first, be the best.

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