UX Crash Course: Stupid Question 13 of 30

Everybody seems to automatically look for ways to make their products “more social” as if social sharing buttons are the cure for digital cancer. So let’s answer:

“Is social better than non-social?”


Just starting the Crash Course? Start here!


First, when people say “social” we are not talking about sharing buttons.

Sharing buttons do not make your product social. They just help social networks like Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr be social.

In a “social” product the main attraction is other users, rather than information (like Wikipedia), or a tool (like Photoshop), or content (like Spotify).

If you just thought to yourself, “Wait, but you can follow people on Spotify!” it’s time to get to the answer.


The stupid answer:

Is having friends better than not having friends? There you go. Social FTW!


The real answer:

Unlike gamification (yesterday’s lesson) making something social doesn’t always work.

So: no, social is not better than non-social.


Why this isn’t a stupid question:
Social can be the worst possible thing for your product.

I once worked on a community for a feminine hygiene brand. They had designed the community for young women to help each other with sensitive subjects, and also get answers from doctors and experts about… you know… lady stuff.

It was a good thing. And it worked pretty well. 

There was just one problem: even though thousands of girls were posting thousands of questions, Facebook sharing was almost zero.

The client had specifically asked for Facebook Like buttons on every post, because “social was better than non-social”. 

Then we asked them: would you share your first period on Facebook?

But when we changed those buttons to only give positive feedback to the brave girls asking the questions (within the community), it increased the overall retention of the site.

Even super social people need privacy sometimes.


Now look at me, now back to Spotify.

If you’re not aware, Spotify is a music service.

I love Spotify, and I know a bunch of people over there, and I am a loyal paying user. 

Everybody should use Spotify.

On Spotify, you can follow musicians and playlists and other people. Theoretically this should allow you to discover new music based on people you admire or artists sharing their stuff.


If you log in with Facebook then you can also share all your music with all your friends.


Although Spotify is a great music product, it’s a weak social product. And that makes it an interesting example.

Music is really personal, and I don’t want people to know that I listen to Pony by Ginuwine on repeat all day, every day.

But most importantly, the social features on Spotify are (literally) on the side. They are not part of the core experience, and you can have a great music experience without ever sharing, following, or interacting with other users.

Using Spotify by yourself: fun. 

Using Twitter by yourself: not so fun.

Therefore Spotify is not actually social, even though it has social features.

Soundcloud, on other hand, gets significantly more interesting when you follow people, and you actually do discover new music.


If you want to make your product social, just think: are we asking people to be social about non-social things, or are we taking something that is naturally social and bringing it to life?


Tomorrow we will answer: “What is the best gesture?”