What Your UGC Or Community Site Can Learn From Google+ And Quora

We have a lot to learn in the upcoming Clash of the Titans cage match:  Google vs. Facebook.

The nastiness has already started with Facebook blocking the chrome extension to download FB friends and numerous petty PR quips. Twitter further kicked the hornets’ nest by letting their data agreement with Google lapse. (This was a move that seems to have caught the Google product and communications teams entirely off-guard – check out Vanessa Fox’s post which broke the story.)

Every site that has some dependence on user generated content or community interactions can learn a lot about building a robust, self-sustaining market by watching the marketing of Google Plus during the upcoming months.

It was (ironically) a Facebook post from Online Marketing veteran Greg Boser that made me sit up and really take Google Plus seriously.

“OK I’m pretty much convinced my days on Facebook are numbered.  Google+ is what FB would have been . . .”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of the most impressive minds in technology have delivered an outstanding product. From superior functionality, to their trademark clean interface, Plus is a major step forward in social networking.  This is, quite simply, a better mousetrap.

Google’s challenge is that improved functionality is necessary, but not sufficient, to unseat Facebook. (I’m reminded of comments on my post “The Fallacy of the Superior Search Engine” which suggested that Bing’s search results would have to be amazingly better to push anyone to switch their default search engines.)

The Network Effect & Priming The Market

Every freshly minted MBA can explain the concept of the network effect – the value of some things increases exponentially with adoption. The common example is telecommunications – i.e. one telephone in the world is particularly useless, but the more people who have a telephone, the more valuable the network of telephones.

Companies launching new network-focused products have dealt with this issue by priming a market, exposing a core group of power users to the product in hopes that the network will build from there. We’ve seen this in private betas repeatedly.

Google has employed this approach with the launch of Plus. They’ve successfully used scarcity to develop a feeding frenzy among technogeeks desperate to get an invite into the temporarily walled garden. “Sorry, no more invites available today, we’re closing the beta for now.”  “Get them while they last!” I felt like I was at a frat party towards the end of the evening hoping to get my plastic cup filled before the keg ran out.

Interestingly, this “priming the market” strategy doesn’t always work in social. Quora, the Q&A site that had silicon valley VC’s acting like 14 year old girls lining up to get their picture taken with Justin Beiber’s hair, has been amazingly successful at building beachheads in the technology market. Yet this has never transferred to the mainstream public. How do I know this? Compare the volume of action for “Justin Bieber” with “SEOmoz” on Quora.

2248 People following the Justin Bieber topic:

Almost twice as many people following SEOmoz:


With all due respect, while Rand (might) outweigh Bieber on a bathroom scale, he shouldn’t outrank him on a large social site. This is hardly a mainstream audience. Quora’s technogeek beachhead simply has done nothing to translate to widespread adoption.

The Echo Chamber Effect

Four years ago, when we launched Avvo (an online legal directory) we faced this same challenge – the development of a very tech forward platform that required massive community involvement for it to ever catch on with the marketplace. We worked hard to build community to avoid what became known as “The Echo Chamber Effect” – a cool platform with no content.

There were plenty of existing directory sites on the market already and a massively overfunded competitor in Lawyers.com, whose annual TV advertising spend dwarfed our entire operating budget. Building a better mousetrap required not only vastly superior functionality, but a robust community that derived real value from our offering. This was accomplished in a variety of ways:

  • We called in every favor from friends and family asking them to rate their lawyers online.
  • We did painstaking and expensive research to ensure the data in our profiles was deeper than the IYP style listings of most other directories.
  • Provided lawyers with a reputation management opportunity in the Avvo Rating to set them apart.
  • Provided lawyers with products to showcase their knowledge.
  • Provided consumers with tailored guidance to their legal questions.
  • Literally called lawyers one at a time to introduce them to the product.

A platform with superior functionality is not enough if it results in The Echo Chamber Effect for your userbase.

When Avvo launched their Q&A product, it was a smashing success with over 50,000 questions and answers on the site every month. Many legal directories have since copied that strategy, bolting on Q&A functionality to a static, dull legal directory listing. None have taken off, because they haven’t been able to introduce it to an active, robust, engaged marketplace.

[Note:  I’ve recently moved on from Avvo to Urbanspoon. While I still have an interest in the company, I'm now less sheepish about tooting the Avvo horn at Search Engine Land. My next column is "10 Audit Questions When Starting in a New In-House Job". I’m taking (highly tactical) recommendations for this list and will provide you with attribution if you send me a good one.]

Despite the technology market beachheads, the problem that Quora and Google Plus share is The Echo Chamber Effect when it comes to the general public.

People are already asking, “should I post to both Facebook and Google Plus?”  We are talking about massive switching costs – the average consumer is simply not going to duplicate the time she spends on FB on yet another social network.

Until my mom can review a photo repository of her grandkids on Google Plus, she’s simply not going to take the time regardless of superior functionality. Google’s challenge is massive: avoiding The Echo Chamber Effect for the vast general public. Globally.

Now, if only Urbanspoon had that marketing budget . . .

Tips To Avoid The Echo Chamber Effect

  1. Who are the thought leaders who can drive engagement?
  2. How can I pare back my platform to display only robust content (i.e. no “read reviews” page if you don’t have any reviews for that particular restaurant, lawyer, sneaker, or book.)
  3. What is the minimal amount of content required to deliver a good customer experience?
  4. How can I pay for unique content creation to prime the pump?
  5. Can we use our own resources to build internal UGC (yes an oxymoron, but if you are a real estate site, you probably have lots of real estate knowledge, so it’s a good place to start.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is the founder of Atticus Marketing - a search agency dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. Prior to Atticus, Conrad ran marketing for Urbanspoon and the legal directory Avvo, which rose from concept to market leader under his watch.

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