Friday, December 12, 2008

Critical Mass in the Social Media

The theory of critical mass is nothing new. I first came across said theory in Evan and Wurster's 2000 book 'Blown to Bits; How the Economics of Information Transforms Strategy' after it was recommended to me by my good friend Des Laffey. In its most basic form, the theory of critical mass states that once the level of service adoption has reached a certain point, the value available through competing services is drastically reduced. As the number of users of a given service continue to rise beyond the point of critical mass, the value of the community increases by the square of its users (see Metcalfe in Bernoff and Li's Groundswell), and it becomes increasingly beneficial for the potential user to join this ever more voluminous community over its competitors.

The theory of critical mass is invariably an important consideration within the social media. As new social media tools and platforms appear on a near daily basis, the importance of achieving critical mass before the competitor has quickly become an organisational imperative for establishing a position of dominance within the market. Interestingly enough, the competitive advantage afforded by critical mass within the social media appears significantly less sustainable than has been the case in earlier industries, with one social platform being superseded by new competitors in relatively quick succession. The most obvious example of this phenomenon to date is the case of Facebook and MySpace.

Despite the diminishing capacity for critical mass to represent a long term competitive advantage, the benefits of critical mass within the social media must not be ignored. Whilst the benefits afforded thereby may be significantly less sustainable than have previously been the case, the capacity to draw significant attention to the service in vogue remains a pertinent bonus of the recognition thereof. Remember that whilst surpassing the point of critical mass will invariably cause the number of users to multiply exponentially, to achieve an ongoing advantage the organisation must continue to add value.

As an organisation, you must ensure that value is consistently added for users. This will help to elongate the period of competitive advantage achieved thereby. If your organisation is fortunate enough to exceed the point of critical mass, make sure that you aren't caught sleeping.

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