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How Path is Making 'Small' the New 'Big' in Social Media

Path resized 600Revolutions don't happen overnight. Look at inbound marketing. It has been the better part of a decade, and the movement -- while HUGE -- is still gaining momentum. Something similar has happened with a little known social network called Path. Path launched in November 2010 to some buzz but little mainstream adoption. Founded by Dave Morin, an early Facebook employee and expert in online platforms, Path set out to be something different, a network in which you and 50 of your closest friends interacted and shared personal messages and photos. The idea was novel, but in the first year, the service only added about 10,000 members per month. A failure by social networking standards.

Commoditization vs. Scarcity

The idea behind Path was right from the beginning. It is important to understand that changes in society cause polar reactions. At one pole is commoditization. At the other pole is scarcity. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have all commoditized online interaction. These networks have made it easy and free to share whatever you want with whomever you want. As this commoditization happened, real meaningful interactions between a close group of friends become scarce. When you have 1,000 Facebook friends, the type of information you share with them is drastically different than what you would share sitting around a small kitchen table with your closest friends. Path's key idea was to take advantage of this scarcity, and create a new market.

Revolutions Need a "WOW" Moment!

Again, revolutions don't happen overnight. Morin and the folks at Path weren't out to create another social network. No, they were out to change the way people fundamentally interacted with their strongest personal connections online. But changing people is hard and slow.

When you are out to change a person's fundamental behavior, you have to give them a "WOW" moment. You have to do something for them that is so amazing that life as they knew it just changed a tiny little bit because of what you did. Path did that for me in December 2011. A few weeks earlier, Path had launched a completely redesigned application and increased its friend limit from 50 to 150. The largest pivot this young social network made was to understand that a social network that is about embracing the scarcity or intimate connections is much more like a social journal than a traditional social network.

The concept of the social journal combined with brilliant software design provided a "WOW" moment that's rarely achieved in social media.

Path - Introducing Path 2 from Path on Vimeo.

Since the launch of the redesigned application, Path has gone from adding 10,000 active users per day to 300,000 active users each day. How?

Design > Features

The "wow" from the new Path is partially due to a clearer and more refined purpose, but the real impact is design. When it comes to features, Path isn't that different from other mobile, photo-based social networks. Instead, it is the design that has transformed Path into a rapidly growing social media success.

Look at the demo above, and you'll find a couple of key design elements that make Path different from the competition. The first is a time and date slider that makes Path feel much more like a journal than a social network.

Path Screen Shot 1 resized 600

Feeling like a journal is important to the Path's mission, but the bigger design choice you'll notice when using the application is that the home screen is clean and clear. The only thing besides information from your friends that you care about is a small, red, plus button that, once touched, brings up a series of action icons.

Path Screenshot 2 resized 600

In Path's case, design is more important than features, because the design is used to simplify a user's experience. Path took commoditized features and made them exponentially easier to use through de-cluttering and simplification.

It took Path more than 6 months of work and research to build the new application, again reinforcing that a revolution doesn't happen overnight.

Marketing Takeaway

Change is hard. No matter what business we're in, we're all either trying to change something about our target audience's perceptions (which is difficult) or their behaviors (which is even more difficult). Many marketing lessons are buried in the work that Path has done over the past year.

1. It isn't just your ideas, but also how you present them. From your blog to your ebooks to your presentations, and to all your other marketing communications -- how you organize and present ideas matters. Think about how you present your content. De-clutter simple parts of your inbound marketing mix like your homepage, blog side bar, and your ebook template. Make it easier for the message you are working so diligently to communicate to actually resonate with your target audience.

2. Ask for feedback. Researching Path, I have learned that a big source of its success with its software's second version is based on listening to users. Path looked at data and interviewed users to see how they were interacting with the software. The business didn't make assumptions or force features onto users. It had one goal: make customers happy. As a marketer, take the same path. Survey leads and customers. Understand key problems, and curate and deliver information that meets the pain of your target audience.

3. Don't give up. The folks at Path didn't give up, and they were rewarded with an emerging niche in the social networking industry. Inbound marketing takes time. Don't give up after a couple of months. Keep going, and you'll see the rewards of your effort and persistence in terms of new leads and revenue.

What other marketing lessons can you learn from Path's success?