We want our social media platform to grow virally.
We also don't want to spend a lot of time hand-holding users, especially new ones.
But we're finding out that a little effort in creating context can go a long way to easing the process.
What Do I Mean?
Imagine someone has flipped you a web link, and you go click to figure out what it's all about. You're looking for context -- what am I looking at, and how should I think about it?
Or you navigate to a space that you've been invited to -- same deal, right?
Or you'd like to sign up for the platform. Or start a blog. Or maybe start a community.
People will (usually) do what you ask of them. You've just got to ask.
We Thought About This A Bit
We made sure that our "Welcome" page had a clear, upfront message about what this is all about, and had an obvious link to follow if people wanted to find out more.
We wrote short docs on how to get an account, rules of the road, etc.
We made them link to each other. With just a smidgen of patience and curiosity, we felt that most people would get enough context to figure out what they wanted to do.
It worked, sort of.
What We Found Out
Some people would read these things.
Others simple started asking questions (in occasionally inappropriate places) and bounced around a bit.
Worse, there were a few characters who were trying to be helpful, but offered up less-than-helpful advice. I had to ask that to stop -- there was enough confusion around, we didn't need any more.
We knew where people would have the occasionaly usability issue, and we wrote up short sniggets to identify the problem and what to do about it, but it seemed like everyone bumped into the same thing.
We had our "figuring out avatars" day where everyone's picture made them very short and very pudgy. We had our "how do I get an account" day. We had our "I want to start a new community" day.
Thankfully, we had enough helpers (who were knowledgeable!) to chime in so people weren't frustrated for very long.
And then we got into another wave ...
How Come ...?
Then we got into policy questions.
How come I have to use my real name? Sorry, we think that's a good idea, we want everyone to know who they're talking to. And if you won't put your name to it, don't say it.
How come I can't upload massive video files? Because the default is 15MB and we haven't gotten around to extending it yet.
How come I have to be logged into the corporate network to use this? Because it's a secure environment.
There's this other project I've heard about that sounds similar, what are the differences? I dunno, I haven't heard about that other thing.
Why do we have to register? Because I said so. Oops, wrong answer, more like we have to pay for our licenses.
How come XYZ doesn't work? Thanks for letting us know. You're the 57th person to report this issue, and the workaround is here.
Etc. etc. etc. Lots of those. Once again, we spent a lot of time to make sure that everyone gets patient responses.
And People Tried To Use The New Tools
One big no-no we have is simply copying authoritative content from other systems into our Clearspace environment. We don't want two (or more) authoritative copies of information floating around.
Linking is OK, as is collaborating on improvements. We tried to be pretty clear with people on this, but .. well ...
Some people didn't really grok the idea of spaces -- we'd get things in weird places. Or stuff that was totally off topic and we had no defined space for.
Blogs that should have been wikis, or discussions. Discussions that were really blogs. And so on.
Nothing serious, but another administrative load as we patiently suggested to people how best to use the tools.
Now, the traditional answer would be to offer up some form of training. Yuch. Expensive, and a real barrier to adoption. If people couldn't figure out the tools on their own (albeit with a bit of coaching), we'd picked the wrong platform.
They seem to be figuring it out, though ...
And Sometimes, Answers Are Hard
We also got people asking deep, philisophical questions for which there was either no good answer, or it would take way too long to explain, or we really couldn't share what we knew, as it was a bit sensitive.
Those we quietly left lie. Can't be everything to everyone, can we?
But We're Keeping At It ...
We want our Clearspace-based environment to be a fun, friendly (yet a bit organized and disciplined) space. We don't want to be too heavy handed on rules, policies, procedures, etc. -- but a few ground rules make for a nicer experience, we think.
We spent significant time up front creating context -- from a user level, from a blogger level, from a community-builder level, etc. The work paid off, but it wasn't enough. People are, well, people.
The effort required seems to be tailing off as experience from our new users grow, and there's more community available to help out.
But it's a nasty bubble of work you've got to keep on right after launch, otherwise things could have gotten out of hand.