A couple of times, I’ve been invited by a major platform or a social network to provide strategic direction.
One of the overlooked considerations in these ‘mega’ projects is what will competitors do?
For example, you can use your audience research and intuition to determine features or activities which will prove popular with members. For smaller communities (or those without natural competitors i.e. most support communities), hitting a home-run here is good enough.
But at the ‘social network’ level, you can be sure if a feature proves popular, a competitor’s first move will be to copy and improve upon it. This is why the pioneers of a particular feature are rarely those who build long-term success upon them.
If the competitor has better resources than you do, having a head start of 6 months won’t help you much. You’re simply saving them some market research time.
So what can you do?
The best option is to integrate features with other features to deliver value that proves increasingly difficult to copy, i.e. adding disappearing images isn’t hard to copy. But combining this with a powerful and existing distribution system using a member’s existing connections is hard to copy.
Whatever feature you develop, you need to combine it with your unique advantages (unique focus, unique skill set, unique niche), in such a way that any major competitor will be unable or unwilling to copy it. This in turn should lead you to only develop features that can be configured in such a way that your competitor’s simply won’t be able, or willing, to copy them.
Of course, if you have better resources than competitors, you have to be ready to double down and constantly improve upon the feature quicker than competitors can catch up.
Don’t overlook what competitors will do.