The Newest Facebook Phenomena: Secret Cities like Secret Seattle

While most of us where scratching our heads wondering who our celebrity doppelganger might be, there was a second more fascinating Facebook Fad afoot. After the tremendous success of a Facebook Group called Secret London – which quickly amassed over 180,000 in as little as 18 days, similar groups such as Secret New York began cropping-up around the country. The idea behind the group was that members wanted to share and learn about “hidden gems” in their city – that hidden-away Thai restaurant above the warehouse, or the secret bar you had to enter from the alleyway. I had read about Secret London’s success on TechCrunch, and after a quick search discovered that there was indeed no Secret Seattle, and so I decided to start one.

I borrowed the format from Secret London and Secret New York, and then proceeded to invite all my local Seattleites. Unfortunately for me, Facebook had eliminated the city “networks” – so I didn’t have an easy way to quickly invite just my Seattle friends. Instead I filtered for Microsoft friends, then Google friends, and quickly created a list of 500 to seed the group.

Whereas the Secret New York and Secret London groups had robust message boards with dozens of threads, when I started the Seattle group, I opted to disable message boards, forcing people to post on the group’s wall. My reasoning in doing this was that it would surface all the content while the group remained small.

The day after I created the group, I checked-in on it, and found about 30 members. Then life got busy. I had four friends visiting from out-of-town, and didn’t log into Facebook for nearly three days. By Sunday night – less than a week after I had started the group – I logged-in to find that the group had over 6000 members. WoW.

People were messaging me asking permission to post their businesses. A local TV anchor added me on facebook. Someone even asked to buy ownership of the Facebook group from me. At this point, based on feedback from group members, I added discussion boards.

By Wednesday, it the group had 12,000 members. By Friday – perhaps 10 days after starting the group – it was up to 20K. Today – less than 3 weeks after starting the group – it has over 35K members.

I started thinking about how we could create more value.

The first idea that a friend suggested was an event. Perhaps a meetup at a hidden-gem bar – where anyone there for the Secret Seattle mixer should come dressed in a hat, or with a red armband. Some secret symbol.

My second idea was a “Top Secret Seattle” – a closed / invisible group – invite-only – with even genuinely hidden gems. I actually went ahead and created it. The idea is that every person who joins can message me one more email address to invite, and so the group grows very slowly but entirely organically.

My final idea was too look at what other Facebook groups were doing. Secret London built a site so they could break free of Facebook’s limited funcationailty. I think the downside with this is that you loose the network effects and intrinsically social nature of actions taken on Facebook. If they were to – instead – create a custom Facebook app – that might harness the power of social networks more effectively. Secret San Francisco created a email list – so that people could access to daily “secret spots” emails – this seems like an effective idea to create a “monetizable ad product” but not particularly innovative value-add for members.

Finally, after reading the SecretCities blog where the SecretLondon team is blogging about their new site, I discovered a Secret Cities Custodians closed Facebook group, where they are sharing best practices on how to drive growth and engagement. I’ll let you know what I find out once I get accepted.

Key Learnings:

People like the idea of secrets – of an insiders club. Putting “secret” in the name gives the group an intrinsic buzz to it. I recently read a Seattle Times article about a secret dinner circle – very exclusive – and I was instantly fascinated – wanting to learn more – to start my own. I think it’s human nature.

Reinforcing external factors. I have a friend who recently did his own social media experiment. When the “Pants on the Ground” American Idol video took-off, my friend remixed the Pants on the Ground song with another song, and posted on facebook. With almost no optimization, and minimal seeding, his video rose to fifty-thousand views within a week. What propelled it is that it wasn’t a purely user-generated video – it was a hybrid – where people seeing the Pants on the Ground video on American Idol on TV would search on YouTube and find the original video, but also his remix. Similarly, Secret Seattle benefited from the news coverage that Secret London was getting, as well as the fact that across everyones Facebook newsfeeds they were watching their friends join Secret New York, Secret Chicago, and were therefore turning to look for a Secret Seattle.

Short life Spans – one more thing I noticed is that after a meteoric rise – the group has levelled-off in size around 35K members. I’ve seen similar levelling-off with Secret San Francisco at 65K. I think that’s a function of the size of community. You’ll only get so much penetration organically – unless you find a way to offer additional value. And so now I’m searching for ways to do just that.


2 thoughts on “The Newest Facebook Phenomena: Secret Cities like Secret Seattle

  1. Pingback: specialized mountain bike | Easy Mountain Biking

  2. interesting you write about this … did you notice a similar leveling off of the activity? or dying down of how active the group members were? did they want to join when it was hot in the news and now disappear? or was this something they come back to?

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