Vanity is Good: A Hierarchy of Social Drivers

Vanity & Social Networks

Vanity [noun]: to care about the perception of one’s self. An effort to promote one’s self or have pride in one’s achievements or appearance. —

We don’t talk about vanity within product strategy, but I’ll argue that it’s fundamental to the success of social networks. How fundamental?

Vanity is the single most powerful driver for building a consumer social network. Dominant social platforms become so because they leverage human vanity within core product loops.

Social-1.0 introduced us to vanity distribution, posting updates about our personal lives, loved ones, and achievements. One-click vanity features reinforced these posts with likes, views, follows, retweets, and comments — making for a positive community experience.

Hierarchy of Social Drivers

All social networks are not created equal; neither are the underlying motivators that propel them. There’s a hierarchy for what drives and grows a powerful human network. The higher you are within the hierarchy, the stronger the glue bonding the network.

The drivers are: (1) utility & tools, (2) content & media, (3) community, and (4) vanity.

Networks based on lower level motivators, such as ‘utility,’ can more easily become commoditized and displaced. The further up the scale you go, the more difficult the underlying network is to replicate; the platform’s strength become an intangible “feeling,” not a clonable feature.

Platforms that feed a person’s vanity, within communities they care about, become irreplaceable within the lives of their users.

Vanity as a Product Strategy

What’s different about our current position within social network history?

Young folks still care about utilities, content/media, and community, which traditionally initiated social networks in Social-1.0. The key distinction now is that young people only care about these things insomuch as it helps them to promote themselves. The greater the resulting sense of local celebrity, the greater their affection for the platform.

Basic media, video/photo distribution ‘tools’, in and of themselves, no longer make for interesting standalone products. Media sharing utility has been commoditized and eaten up by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Takeaway: When building product loops, ask: does this improve on and increase an average person’s sense of personal celebrity?

Case-1: Rise of The Lip-Syncing Music Video App

Sharing music and video clips was a Social-1.0 driver. Dub and music video lip-syncing apps have simply layered on the power of vanity to surface new demand.

Now the music video clip becomes about the users, more so than the song, as if to say, “this song is cool; but look at ME, I’m the star.”

Young people are motivated to share media insomuch as it helps them to promote themselves. Enhancing local celebrity is the backbone of Flipagram and Musical.ly, who clearly lead the category.

Case-2: Vanity as Distributor of Ideas

Vanity is not just for kids; it’s even embedded in the intellectual corners of social media, e.g., Twitter.

If Twitter’s intellectual content unit is the “the idea” (yours or someone else’s via tweet or retweet), vanity is the motivating distribution mechanism. The champion of the idea seeks affirmation; promoters of the idea seek association.

— Case-3: Good through Vanity

A mechanism of vanity loops can be fun toys or it can be focused on specific communities for a targeted social impact. PumpUp uses vanity to reinforce a health & wellness support community, the results of which are quite inspiring.

The White Space

— Facebook: The Sleeping Giant

There’s a struggle within Facebook that’s opened the door for vanity driven apps. Users on Facebook are posting less and less about themselves and their personal lives. Vanity has plummeted.

Sharing of personal stories (rather than public info posts, e.g., news articles) dropped 21% year over year, as of mid-2015.

Facebook is maturing into a media distribution & content platform propelled by its success as a revenue machine. The compromise comes at the expense of personal vanity and connections.

Prioritizing vanity posts (over media) would dilute Facebook’s total available advertising impressions. Personal posts produce significantly fewer ad impressions.

This year’s F8 hardly touched on personal relationships. F8 announcements focused on pro video, native publishers, businesses, and bots.

— Snapchat: The Benefactor

Snapchat is not only eating Facebook’s personal content, it’s increasing people’s comfort & frequency with sharing vanity, thereby creating an even larger opportunity for itself.

Not long ago, recording videos throughout the day of yourself, alone, talking to your phone (as if hosting a live show), would’ve been absurd behavior. Not today. Thanks to Snapchat, previously dark corners of vanity have illuminated and our personal connections might be better for it.

Takeaway: gain from Facebook’s compromises. Study who and what incumbents neglects.

Evolving Social Zeitgeist = Opportunity

Rising social platforms figure out how to leverage vanity in creative new ways, exploiting trends in popular culture and social norms.

The line defining “socially acceptable” vanity is dynamic, historically evolving in favor of increased liberal acceptance and adoption.

It’s fun to look at how the line of acceptable vanity has changed over the past 15 years on social.

The graph below is an example of newly acceptable vanity posts and the championing social platform:

Takeaway: Changes in platforms & societal norms create opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Move up Limon’s Hierarchy of Social Drivers
  2. Innovate on how to leverage vanity within the bounds of your unique product and community.
  3. Take advantage of white space as incumbents mature and shift positions.
  4. Societal norms are in constant evolution, creating a river of new opportunities.