Are you loyal?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Zach Tellman on social products:

In Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, he posits there are three possible reactions to the deterioration of a group or product someone holds dear: they can speak out against it, leave, or remain silent out of loyalty. Of course, there are degrees of ‘voice’ and ‘exit’. An honest discourse might be constructive, but outright rebellion is also a way of voicing one’s discontent. Similarly, an exit isn’t always final – Hirschman credits the stability of early America with the fact that discontents could simply travel west until they felt sufficiently freed from its rules and restrictions. Contrast this with Europe, where anyone trying to leave their nation-state would simply find themselves beholden to a different ruler, forced to learn a new language and customs. Small wonder that rebellions were commonplace.

To remain healthy, a social product needs to establish loyalty, and to mitigate the natural responses to discontent with the state of things. The early adopters will be interested in voicing their opinion, but typically these discussions are only interesting to the early adopters. Giving them a single place to have meta-discussions keeps them happy, and prevents them from disrupting the experience of users who couldn’t care less.

Similarly, creating mechanisms that allow a user to exit without completely abandoning the product are useful. There’s no limit on the number of possible subreddits, stack exchange sites, or wikipedia pages that can be made, so a user can always keep traveling west until they find something that’s worth sticking around to defend.

Loyalty is the most desirable response, but also the hardest to quantify and design for. A number of discussion sites have found success with social currency (such as karma on Slashdot, Reddit, et al), where users can reward each other not only for providing quality content, but for quality responses to the content. This means that it’s not only possible to create a public persona, but to get quantifiable feedback on whether it’s a good public persona. Good is a little subjective, though, so some sites make users specify why they’re rewarding someone – was the comment funny, insightful, or cool? By enumerating the reasons why someone can be rewarded, the creators of the product are describing what sort of content they value.

This social currency has no inherent value, but it is a quantification and reminder of the amount of effort expended on the persona, which makes it harder to leave behind. Yelp goes one step further by throwing parties for elite users, which is a constant and concrete reminder of the value of continued use of the product. Typically speaking, anything that requires effort will engender a certain amount of loyalty from the early adopter, since it represents an investment in their public persona. Higher quality contributions require more effort, which means that the best contributors will also tend to be the most loyal.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty – I would note that in my social circle, my friends are wrestling with their relationship to the USA, and these are the 3 responses: some want to move to another country, others want to fight for changes, others remain grimly loyal, almost without hope of reform.

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