Wednesday, May 12

Closing Out Cows: Final Lessons From A Dead Network

Once upon a time there was an increasingly popular social media network that resembled Twitter. It had a memorable name. It had a lovable mascot. And its member base seemed to have a mission to make it a "Twitter killer."

Truth be told, very few network knock-offs, even with slightly enhanced services, ever have a chance of supplanting popularity. While it may change one day, numbers attract numbers. But even so, we had placed the network on a watch list because the application did have something that Twitter didn't. It had better multimedia functionality.

But then something happened. In September 2008, Utterz changed its name to Utterli. It traded in its mascot for something resembling a Sprite logo. And its members were surprised, and then disgusted, by the lack of communication about the change. It was a disaster and I had no problem calling it as such.

"As much as you might characterize it as a 'disaster,' our customer base has grown substantially since the change - and the growth rate is rising," said Michael Bayer, CEO of Utterli. "That's GREAT! I call that a success."

Bayer went on to say that I was fishing for attention. He said I insulted him. And he insisted that despite community feelings, it was his decision to make. Besides, he implied, my round-up of member feedback wasn't enough. I wasn't a member anyway.

After that, we tracked the steady visitation decline that followed in the six months after its claimed "successful" name change. We almost followed up on the post then too. But it didn't seem worthwhile to re-engage a defensive CEO. So I promptly forgot about it. So did everyone else.

In fact, I hadn't thought about Utterli again until reading Doug Haslam's post that Utterli was dead. In truth, it had died in September 2008. And, almost sadly, a short one-and-a-half years later, Utterli didn't even have time to say goodbye.

As for all those promises that Bayer made about enhancements that would carry the service forward? According to the ByteMonkey Chronicles (which is also credited with the image accompanying today's post), it was very much the opposite. ByteMonkey says even then there was an underlying feeling among the users that the company wasn't quite doing so well.

Lessons For Networks And Participants.

Networks. While seeing what could have been a successful service come and go is never pleasant, there are a few lessons that can be taken away. For network owners, it' simple. I've said it before. Unlike product companies, you are only as successful as your members. And without them, you're nothing.

So abrupt change is bad. Sure, Twitter and Facebook can get away with it nowadays because they've reached a critical mass of sorts with no clear alternatives that support the numbers. But in the case of a brand like Utterz, improper communication with the community is a killer. Never mind what Bayer said in response to my critique on his company's rebranding roll out, the truth was that they didn't do any of it (and if they did, then they did it all wrong).

Add to that knowledge that anything done for investment capital or with the hope of being sold is generally a bad idea until you have the cash in hand. And even then, the guidelines for operating a successful venture after a sale or infusion of cash doesn't replace the community commitment. There are scores of social networks that have failed. And, there are more that will eventually fail or fade away too.

Participants. If you continue to rely on network tactics alone, one day you may find yourself with nothing. As reported by ByteMonkey and Haslam, Utterli isn't just dead. All of the member content and contributions are dead too.

So too is any need for Utterz tips and Utterz tactics that are useless because that community is no more.

In other words, don't fall in love with any network unless you can back up your content. Case study closed.

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