I find myself saying this quite often these days to entrepreneurs and their product teams. It’s something that I’ve noticed working with leading social platforms like Etsy, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. Services such as these have a large number of their users accessing the service regularly on a logged out basis.
I can visit my friend Daryn’s tumblog without logging into Tumblr and often do. My son can visit LeBron James’ Twitter without logging in and often does. My daughter can check out vintage items on Etsy without logging in and usually does.
At some point, if you want to deeply engage, or in Etsy’s case transact, you’ll need to log into social services. But you can get a lot of value from them without logging in. And without divulging confidential information about our portfolio companies, I can tell you that a huge number of regular users of these and other services don’t log in because they can get a lot of value without logging in.
I got into a comment discussion on Steve Rubel’s blog this morning on this topic. Some social services, like Facebook, require login to access most of the content you’d want to consume there. They don’t have to think so much about the logged out user. But other social services, the ones that are public by default, have to think very carefully about the logged out user because they logged out user base is huge and valuable.
I think that social services that are public by default and have huge logged out user bases, should “phantom register” their logged out users by storing activity against their cookies and building user profiles on their logged out users. This does two things. First, if those logged out users eventually register and become logged in users, this “phantom profile” can help the user get a lot of value from the service right away. And second, this “phantom registration” might allow the service to permit lightweight engagement without logging in. Lightweight engagement might be favoriting an item on Etsy, hearting something on Tumblr, or starring something on Twitter.
There is a 100/10/1 “rule of thumb” with social services. 1% will create content, 10% will engage with it, and 100% will consume it. If only 10% of your users need to log in because 90% just want to consume, then you’ll end up with the vast majority of your users in the logged out camp. Don’t ignore them, build services for them, and you can slowly but surely lead them to more engagement and potentially some day into the logged in camp.
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