In 2004, Facebook found its first major product breakthrough. College students could see personal updates from their friends and family, with a never-ending feed.
But, as our CEO Gina Bianchini told Packy McCormick on the Not Boring podcast this week, it was that first innovation of Facebook that also makes big social platforms irredeemable for the next generation of community building.
“The DNA of companies are set at product-market fit. Facebook achieved product-market fit by connecting friends. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of incremental changes from Facebook. But fundamentally every innovation is about trying to bring you back to the feed and trying to make the human cesspool of Facebook cool again.”
This is not only true of Facebook but also for Slack and Discord. Facebook was built for people who already knew each other. Facebook Groups, as a result, was built for people who already knew each other. Slack was built specifically for small groups of people who already knew each other, finding their product-market fit with small start-up teams. Discord was built for groups of friends playing video games.
“Facebook, Slack, and Discord are rooted in an older way of thinking about how people connect online,” says Gina. “As a result, when you want to start pushing the boundaries on community innovation, these platforms only offer a small part of what communities can become.”
“With Mighty Networks, we’ve created software specifically to help Hosts build online communities of strangers, helping them turn strangers into collaborators. Our bet is that software designed specifically for this reason is better than repurposed existing social media platforms."
These platforms restrict innovation as they are designed to keep you locked in closed circles of friends, rather than opening up infinite combinations of community experiences.
For example, think of Discord. There are millions of Discord communities. And brands can do light aesthetic customization. But they are all basically some variation of the same Discord feed whizzing by you. Or think of Slack. Every Slack feels like a digital workspace, which is good for teams, but not ideal for an effective community experience.
“I want to create a world where people are not just scrolling the same feeds. Rather, they’re moving from experience to experience. If they enter a new period of their life, there is a community for them to help them navigate that transition. Or if they are bored and need a fresh network of people that introduces them to a new way of thinking, there is a community for them. These communities need to feel different and be built differently.”
But—as anyone who has walked through the door of a party knows—it’s not easy to join a group of strangers.
In the past, a community manager carries this bag, manually introducing people, creating groups with relevant members, running weekly onboarding calls, and working behind the scenes to create a social experience that introduces the most relevant members so that they can learn from each other.
This creates too much manual work for Hosts. What communities need is for software to share the work and help to create what Gina calls “People Magic.”
“Our North Star is to create a platform that unlocks People Magic. We want to create those magical connections between people around their interests, their passions, their goals, things that they want to discover, and things that they want to come together and do. There is no reason why that needs to be done manually by someone running the community.”
For example, community software can suggest the right question or poll to launch to break the ice, selecting from thousands of questions that are proven to lift engagement.
Or community software can intelligently connect two people with similar interests, making that first introduction.
Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company trying to reach $100 million in revenue, you’d welcome being introduced to other executives working at that level. And you’d want the software to suggest more of those connections, whether for a new hire, a new perspective, or even a new job.
For Gina, software can not only help to break the ice between members, it can kickstart growth.
“To achieve growth without marketing, it’s about the software helping members to invite others. If everyone in your community invites two people, your community will naturally grow.”
This type of future is not possible within current social platforms.
“I don’t believe the big platforms of social media are redeemable,” Gina says. “Social media has a role to play in terms of dabbling in topics, consuming video content, and generating awareness. But I think we will look at the last decade of social platforms as just one chapter in how we connect with each other online.”
And while it might seem like big social media platforms will forever control our online lives, we’re now seeing the next wave of the internet roll into view.
“The worst thing that happened to Facebook wasn’t regulation by the US government, it was TikTok. I believe we will innovate our way out of this moment. And I believe there is a beautiful world on the other side. We have just scratched the surface with software innovation that is going to make the online world work better for us.”