Social What?

Chicago night  skyline  05072009

In two short weeks, I am going to Chicago to pitch my business idea at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization conference. To prepare, several students selected to go on the trip have been meeting with a professor each week to collectively work to improve our pitches. While listening to one of the pitches tonight, something one of the students said really struck me. When talking about the competition for her planned business, she mentioned that her site’s main competitive advantage was the “social connection” it inspired. Now this got me thinking: I know social is a hot topic, but why exactly is this enough of a competitive advantage to differentiate yourself on?

According to Wikipedia, there are over 150 active and well-known social networking sites out there at this very moment. Obviously, social networks are popular and there is huge demand for them, but how does this translate to a competitive advantage? In the case of this business pitch, the website would match composers with those who needed a custom composition. On this site, getting social would allow composers and individuals to talk and interact with each other. In such a context, I have a hard time understanding how this benefits anyone. Composers and individuals would only talk to facilitate a transaction, and afterward, have little to no incentive to socialize.

Social to many students and entrepreneurs (at least those who I have spoken to) is something to work towards. Rather than being a way to add value to their customers, it is a milestone you strive for. It is also clear where this thought process comes from, as almost every site my generation uses on a daily basis is based around some form of online sociability. I would argue that going social is a feature that could add value to your business/website, but could also end up being an enormous worry. With social aspects comes complex code, privacy concerns, the stress of building a large and active community… all from something that is quite possibly unnecessary.

This is something I have struggled with as I try to build my business: trying to separate the truly essential from stuff that adds little to no value. For example, several months ago I was told I should build a large website and begin an online marketing campaign. This was at the start of customer development, before I had a real product offering or an idea of who my customers would ultimately be. Building a website, doing online marketing, checking analytics and optimizing my landing page would have all been beneficial, but at a huge cost. Instead, I have focused on speaking with almost 100 potential customers, building the product, and getting several customers on board as earlyvangelists for my product. Had I spent time focusing on stuff that is not essential to my business, I would not be in the position that I am today.

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