As there is a new wave of Indian companies building for the next billion users, I started thinking about the basic building blocks that will serve as a solid “engagement” foundation for these users. There are new companies built in every garage, but how can one ensure high user engagement, retention, and expansion, and avoid the hazards caused by every wave of new media or platform adoption?
Every industry has its critical value drivers. But the first step is to think systematically about it, and understand that engagement requires a set of building blocks that will feed into the critical value drivers.
Engagement platforms (as described by Mark Bonchek) are built from multiple engagement layers working together.
- The identity layer recognizes the customer.
- The data layer exchanges information to personalize the experience.
- The relationship layer enables connection among the brand and community members.
- The value layer delivers benefits to the users.
Initial models naturally gravitated towards “pure-play” platforms like Paytm and Flipkart that focussed mostly on commerce. But this value chain has to broaden to engage with a wider audience whose primary motivation to come on the platform is different. Some successful companies that realised and adopted these strategies much later are Apple’s iTunes Music Manager, the Nike+ running community, etc. In the forthcoming years, we will see platforms built with “network effect”-first engagement models that have a wider audience reach before commerce comes to play. For example, Kickstarter was built around collaboration, Pinterest was built around curation, etc.
Pull pull pull
Users don’t like to be pushed. The engagement models should be weaved into the product or platform, such that it “pulls” the customer to itself. Several companies like Google or Facebook are using the pull strategy to engage. Platforms that have the ability to create a gravitational field and attract customers into their brand orbit and drive engagement will eventually become successful.
The types of engagement strategies that are particularly common include connection, content, curation, conversation, collaboration, contribution, and commerce.
Indian startups building communities for 1,000,000,000 are mostly centred around these models. Take for example Sharechat for conversation, Vokal for collaboration, POPxo for content, etc. These platforms will be built to engage with customers outside the purchase process, and deliver value beyond the products being sold. The goal is to keep the customers in frequent orbit around the brand, and make it easy for customers to purchase a product or a service.
By defining the kind of relationship, companies can create greater engagement, differentiation, and loyalty.
Research shows that companies with platform- and network-based business models create higher value. These models have proven to grow faster, be more profitable, and be more valued than companies organized around products and services.
As you embark on your network journey, it is vital to understand the value in a network is about what (or who) you connect – not what your product or service is.
Disclaimer: POPxo and Vokal are 500Startups portfolio companies.
Shalini Prakash is a Venture Partner at 500Startups where she heads the India investments and portfolio.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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