Friendships: the Not-so-secret Solution to Increased Customer Engagement

For consumer-facing companies, one of the most influential predictors of user engagement is user friend counts on your site.  Customers who have many friends also using your product tend to be significantly more involved and engaged than customers who have few or no friends supporting your company.

Learning from the Best
If you are trying to increase customer engagement, your number one priority should be to get them connected to other customers. The clearest examples of this are social networks and services that heavily rely on social networking. The success of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and social gaming companies like Zynga can all be traced to their ability to connect their users.

This seems fairly obvious: the more friends a user has, the more people he can interact with. And with these interactions comes updates, online activity, and overall higher engagement.

But friend connections work for much more than social media companies. In any scenario you want people to engage, it is important to build connections.  Retailers, travel sites, review sites, service-oriented companies, and others can all benefit from an increasing number of customers growing their friendships.

The Friend Curve

In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between friend count and engagement.

Through our working with dozens of social sites at Rapleaf, we’ve found that for users with little to no friend connections, engagement tends to be low.  However, as friend count increases, engagement also grows quickly before leveling off later (the elbow of the curve is generally between 3 and 25 friends). The reason the rate of engagement per friend (the slope of the curve) drops with high friend counts is because users with hundreds and thousands of friend connections only yield marginal value from having a few more friends.

Numbers are Important, but Speed Matters More

For consumer-facing social companies, your goal is to push users along the friend curve by helping them build, sustain, and improve the quality of friend connections.  And the faster you can get customers up this curve, the more engaged you can expect them to be.

In a recent analysis of the site engagement of new Facebook users, Mira Burke, Cameron Marlow, and Thomas Lento found that newcomers who built friendships faster were not only much more engaged, but engaged for far longer.

With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to increase user activity and retention rates quickly:

Ways to Build New User Friend Connections Quickly

•    Friend Acquisition Promotions

One way to help users build friendships is by offering them shareable discounts that increase in value based on the number of their friends that also sign up. This way, they get friends and more benefits while you get new customers and increased engagement and retention.

•    Email address book imports

Another way to find friends for new customers is to see who they’ve been in contact with.  Many social networks have used this to effectively help new sign ups connect with existing users.

•    Friend suggestions right after sign up (using services like Facebook Connect)

Instead of just finding online connections, the social graph of social networks may be better indicators of actual friendships. With Facebook Connect now allowing developers to import Facebook identities and friendships into external sites, connecting your users has never been easier.  (Circle of Moms, for instance, grew to nearly 1 million users in under 2 months leveraging Facebook Connect.)

•    External sources

For companies looking for friend connections in addition to Facebook, there are other services (like Rapleaf) that also allow social network friend connections to be imported and used in external sites.

Special thanks to Michael Hsu and Michael Hard for their edits. 

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