Leveraging the network effect when designing services for the masses

Many of the worlds successful services, whether on mobile or on web, leverage the network effect where the more people use the service the more valuable it becomes. Facebook which recently went public in what has been touted as the largest IPO ever and Mpesa, the cash cow of Kenya’s largest mobile network operator are classic case studies of this on the web and mobile services front. The network effect can be both positive or negative resulting in explosive service growth or paralysis with the value lost without volumes attained.

How then can one jump-start a positive network effect? I will draw from a current project whose target is users of social networks who have a mobile phone. The nature of the service lends itself to a different integration model, that mobile network operators have had difficulties justifying. This led to the commissioning of a pilot to  test the waters with the key element being that of zero rating service access to gauge interest. Essentially, lowering the barrier to experience. Cost having been identified by research as a major hindrance to service uptake, this reduces any resistance a user may have as they will have nothing to lose.Segmenting the market is the next step to ensure you capture the “god particles”; those potential users whose social media analysis metrics of centrality and density set them apart. In our case this involved identifying heavy users of both target channels, who will act as service catalysts due to their influence, perceived or actual.  It also ensures a more efficient spend and measurement of an engagement budget as the targets offer a better return.

Lastly, the positioning of the service once some traction has been achieved is crucial. This can be driven by a number of factors as decided by the core service offering. In our case this is having the service perceived as cool and increasing the utility of a “boring” media such as voice while tapping into social networking ; stitching a new service that will allow users to do things they already love doing but in a different way

While not a scientific methodology in anyway, apply permutations of the thoughts to your mobile and web services development pipeline. It may just be the difference between an insanely popular service and an incredible flop.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.

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