Mike Isaac

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Socialcam’s User Retention Strategy, Part One: A New Look for the Web Interface

Socialcam’s spring has been full of ups and downs.

First, a successive series of ups: The app scored tens of millions of users via Facebook over a period of no longer than a month and soared to the top of the iTunes App Store.

Then, a few downers. Members of the press (including yours truly) started sniffing around after Socialcam (and rival app Viddy) rose so high up in the ranks in such a short time. Socialcam’s viral growth was due — in part, at least — to successfully gaming the system by incorporating YouTube videos designed to spread like wildfire.

I posed the question then: Now that Socialcam has millions of Web video users and at least a few million app installs, how will the company keep those users around?

The team’s answer is starting to trickle out. As TechCrunch reported earlier, Socialcam released a new design to it Web interface Tuesday morning, an update focused squarely on the social experience. It features everything you’d expect in a modern social Web interface: Friends-to-follow suggestions, user popularity leaderboards and recent friend activity.

But make no mistake: This is more than just a tacking on of better social features.

Think of it this way: With Socialcam’s initial Open Graph integration, Web traffic flooded into the Web app. Yes, that drove installs on the mobile phone, but what Socialcam realized is that it needed to keep its Web experience in top shape to keep its users coming back. That’s entirely unlike Instagram, the photo-sharing app to which Socialcam is compared almost ad nauseum.

“Ultimately, Instagram had an app-focused strategy,” Socialcam CEO Michael Seibel told me in a telephone interview. “Instagram was trying to get people who were using other photo apps to use their app.”

Why? It’s because photos are different; we “consume” them easily with our phones, requiring no more than a flick of the thumb to scroll through scores of snapshots. And if you nail the mobile app like Instagram did, you don’t need to worry about the Web interface (which Instagram, for the most part, clearly ignores).

Video, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely. We’re used to watching video via the Web interface, not our mobile devices. Over the seven-year rise of YouTube, Google has trained us in our streaming video viewing habits.

So as Seibel sees it, the challenge for Socialcam isn’t to compete against other mobile social video apps. It’s to compete against the Web.

“This is really a social video and mobile video vs. YouTube narrative,” Seibel said. “Theoretically, YouTube owns this space. But as our phones have grown into powerful devices for capturing video, YouTube has done virtually nothing to keep up.”

“We’re the first ones to attack YouTube’s flanks,” Seibel said.

Ground zero was getting the user base. Whether or not you agree with Socialcam’s user acquisition strategy is another matter entirely. The first step after that, according to Seibel, is nailing your Web experience — hence Tuesday’s timely update.

And it’s only after mastering the Web that apps like Socialcam can convert its users to a mobile-centric video world. If we enjoy watching mobile videos through our Web browser, Seibel hopes that will inspire us to start shooting our own. After enough of us do that, perhaps they’ll slowly transition to the mobile app.

It’s rather ironic that Socialcam seeded old YouTube videos in its plan to lure us away from YouTube and into fresh, user-generated content. But I guess they had to start somewhere.

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