Removing Critical Mass From The Social Networking Equation

July 3, 2008

Critical mass is a subjective measure of the point where enough of one’s friends participate in a social network to make it “valuable”. Facebook and Twitter have critical mass and the jury is still out on Plurk. However, we’ll set out in this post to show that critical mass has a dependency on a completely closed social network. If a social network is able to extend a set of tools, functionality, and value-add for its members outside of the closed network, wouldn’t it be possible for a social network to provide value if it has just as one member?

The value of closed web 2.0 social network aimed at general use (such as Facebook) is in the interaction of its members and the availability to other members. As a business oriented social networking user, I know that there are times when I want to get the best business return for time spent. The problem for the business oriented social network user is that many members do not self-identify as to the business needs that they have. So, although there is value is the social interaction itself – that value is less likely determined in terms of revenues gained as a function of time spent within the network.

Let think of it this way. Let’s define X as the arbitrary sum of business value gained from all activities, content, and available tools within a social network from all members of that network and Y as the arbitrary sum of business value gained from all activities, content, and available tools within a social network but from prospective consumers outside the social network. The total value (N) therefore is the sum of X+Y.

My premise is that the closer that Y is to zero, the more important critical mass in terms of X is to the value determination of a given social network in order to have a high total value. If a fledging business social network can raise the value of the tools that it offers to interact with non-members that happen to be active on the internet in places where they can self-identify as customers then the value of Y can actually exceed X for users of those external tools.

Can a social network with one member then have a chance of being considered valuable for that single user? Theoretically, yes if the business value brought by participation in that network in terms of interacting with non-members  is more valuable than what one might have from a more closed network. Some estimate that you need at least 40-50 friends in a  closed social network such as Twitter or Facebook in order to have “value” from that network. As the number of members rises, the value of membership is in a combination of the internal member relationships and the ability to gain value from non-members.

We are working hard in this space to establish a set of tools and activities for business oriented folks to interact with members and non-members using tools provided by our social networking platform. We’ve already added the capability to distribute user generated content across blog networks, attach supporting documents (Office, PDFs, and – later this week – other videos) to video widgets for the general public and later today will release a means to communicate with members through widgets and video player pages in a SPAM free way without having to be a member or reveal either the email address of either party. We’ve also added feedback about the performance of embedded widgets (even those grabbed and embedded by others)

Lots more coming at http://social.vidlisting.com – stay tuned.






  1. Excellent theory. Can’t wait to see it put into practice!

  2. Although this isnt the most recent article, i think it still holds true and the principles in it are as relevant as ever. Achieving critical mass is the key to success for all new social networks and its understanding is really important.

    For anyone that is interested in reading more about this, I wrote my thoughts on the CACI blog here: http://www.caci.co.uk/imblog/

    As regards putting it into practice, i have now worked with two national clients who are trying to overcome this exact problem.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

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