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Does a good user experience help to attract more people to become part of your community? Posted in Community Management, Social Media, Website Design, Website Usability, Concocted by Sachin Ranchod, 7 comments
Published on 13 October 2010
  • User Experience (UX) describes the subjective feelings a person has when using a system (in this case, a website).
  • UX Design aims to influence the user’s emotions, perceptions and behaviour by designing a system where the user interface (including images, wording and components), workflow, information architecture, help, performance, marketing, accessibility and the general ease-of-use are all designed with the user in mind.
If you think about why UX design is important, you’ll get to a pretty obvious answer: designing for the user’s needs ensures that the user can fulfil their goals, in an easy and confident manner, when using your system.  UX design might seem like common sense but it’s frightening how often it gets forgotten because people are quick to pass over the user’s needs and instead, focus only on what the business’ goals are.
User Experience plays a vital role in building an online community because it ensures that joining and interacting within a community is easy to do.  In a world where almost everyone is faced with the burden of information overload, UX design can help the user focus on the parts of the web that they enjoy.  From a business’ perspective, UX design can persuade users to contribute to the community, create content and share information with others.
This all sounds fantastic but you may still not understand what exactly is involved in UX design and how it relates to building an online community.  Let’s look at a simple example: Think about a user who has just joined Facebook – how do you think they should feel after registering in order to start participating within the community? A new user should ideally feel like they understand how everything works, believe that belong on the social network and most importantly, they should be excited to see what happens when they start getting involved.  In order to facilitate this, both Facebook and Twitter make finding friends one of the registration process – this way when the user is ready to get started they are immediately more comfortable because their social circle has been identified and they are ready to start participating.
Helping a new user find friends is just one example of UX Design in action.  Some of the other UX Design features that are common in online communities are:
1)  Allow users to create their own profile
Building trust in an online community can be a difficult task.  If users are given a way of representing themselves in the community and to earn rewards for participation, they can start building a reputation for themselves.  The online ego is a vital user experience that will encourage users to keep coming back to gain respected.  An example of this would be on the popular social bookmarking community, Reddit, where users earn “karma” based on the quality of their posts and comments.  Here (http://www.reddit.com/user/QGYH2) is a good example of a profile page on Reddit for a user who has racked up a significant amount of “Karma”.
2)  Always encourage conversation
Place your users in a conversational mindset by always communicating with them as a human instead of a website – think of Twitter’s “What’s happening?” or Facebook’s “What’s on your mind?”.  The content strategy of the website plays an important role in preparing the user to enter a social environment where they are free to view their opinions and safely engage in conversations with other users.
3)  Understand the personas within the community and cater for their needs
There are different types of people who will be involved in an online community.  There are those that will be highly involved in content creation, there are others who might take it upon themselves to actively syndicate content and; there are those who just want to lurk and consume content.  The user interface and work flows need to accommodate all the different personas so as to allow each to meet their goals as easily as possible.
4)  Filter out the noise
An online community can be filled with all sorts of noise that if not filtered out, will drive users away.  There are many different ways of filtering out noise but the most effective are the ones which give users the power to moderate themselves.  Tying this process back to the users’ profiles allows reputable users to have more influence within a community.  A great example of a moderation system that works can been seen on Slashdot (read about it here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slashdot#Administration))

User Experience Design needs to become a lens through which you see all parts, processes and people within an online community.  However, it is important to remember that UX Design is not a once off event; it is a continuous evolution of the entire ecosystem within an online community that is always driven by what the users’ needs are.

User Experience (UX) describes the subjective feelings a person has when using a system (in this case, a website).

If you think about why UX design is important, you’ll get to a pretty obvious answer: designing for the user’s needs ensures that the user can fulfil their goals, in an easy and confident manner, when using your system.  UX design might seem like common sense but it’s frightening how often it gets forgotten because people are quick to pass over the user’s needs and instead, focus only on what the business’ goals are.

Maze

User Experience plays a vital role in building an online community because it ensures that joining and interacting within a community is easy to do.  In a world where almost everyone is faced with the burden of information overload, UX design can help the user focus on the parts of the web that they enjoy.  From a business’ perspective, UX design can persuade users to contribute to the community, create content and share information with others.

This all sounds fantastic but you may still not understand what exactly is involved in UX design and how it relates to building an online community.  Let’s look at a simple example: Think about a user who has just joined Facebook – how do you think they should feel after registering in order to start participating within the community? A new user should ideally feel like they understand how everything works, believe that belong on the social network and most importantly, they should be excited to see what happens when they start getting involved.  In order to facilitate this, both Facebook and Twitter make finding friends one of the registration process – this way when the user is ready to get started they are immediately more comfortable because their social circle has been identified and they are ready to start participating.

Helping a new user find friends is just one example of UX Design in action.  Some of the other UX Design features that are common in online communities are:

1) Allow users to create their own profile

Building trust in an online community can be a difficult task.  If users are given a way of representing themselves in the community and to earn rewards for participation, they can start building a reputation for themselves.  The online ego is a vital user experience that will encourage users to keep coming back to gain respected.  An example of this would be on the popular social bookmarking community, Reddit, where users earn “karma” based on the quality of their posts and comments.  Here is a good example of a profile page on Reddit for a user who has racked up a significant amount of “Karma”.

2)  Always encourage conversation

Place your users in a conversational mindset by always communicating with them as a human instead of a website – think of Twitter’s “What’s happening?” or Facebook’s “What’s on your mind?”.  The content strategy of the website plays an important role in preparing the user to enter a social environment where they are free to view their opinions and safely engage in conversations with other users.

3)  Understand the personas within the community and cater for their needs

There are different types of people who will be involved in an online community.  There are those that will be highly involved in content creation, there are others who might take it upon themselves to actively syndicate content and; there are those who just want to lurk and consume content.  The user interface and work flows need to accommodate all the different personas so as to allow each to meet their goals as easily as possible.

4)  Filter out the noise

An online community can be filled with all sorts of noise that if not filtered out, will drive users away.  There are many different ways of filtering out noise but the most effective are the ones which give users the power to moderate themselves.  Tying this process back to the users’ profiles allows reputable users to have more influence within a community.  A great example of a moderation system that works can been seen on Slashdot (read about it here)

User Experience Design needs to become a lens through which you see all parts, processes and people within an online community.  However, it is important to remember that UX Design is not a once off event; it is a continuous evolution of the entire ecosystem within an online community that is always driven by what the users’ needs are.

Read more posts by Sachin Ranchod

Sachin Ranchod

Sachin is an Account Manager based at the Cape Town office of web marketing firm World Wide Creative. Sachin is a true web-geek with an unhealthy obsession with Google-ing everything (Do you know what the longest word in the English dictionary is?) Sachin works with some big brands, ensuring delivery on digital marketing projects and providing consultation and strategy on how to grow online communities.

You can catch up with Sachin on Twitter  by following @sachinr

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  5. Brand-owned Online Community for Movie Buffs

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  1. ajnel says

    Have seen moderation gone very wrong, so am not a fan

  2. Sachin Ranchod says

    Hi AJNel,

    There are definitely cases where heavy-handed moderation can kill the conversation, especially if it’s done by site administrators without the backing of the users.

    However, one only has to take a look at the comments on some local news sites to realise the importance of a user-based moderation system. User-based moderation gives the community as a whole the power to decide whether a comment is good or bad. If the community is given the responsibility of moderating the conversation, then no one person has the power to delete or promote a comment on their own.

    Without a good moderation system, the conversation can often land up getting side-tracked by users who incite fights. This is not to say user-based moderation systems don’t have their own set of problems – people will often down-vote a comment because they don’t agree with it even through it might have respectful and on-topic.

    I highly recommend you read the Slashdot Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slashdot#Administration) and go check out out their site to see a good user-based moderation system in action.

  3. KirstySharman says

    An interesting read… thanks.

  4. zibuka says

    Great article Sacchin. It’s definitely will help with developing a strategy for creating an online community. Understanding the different personas reminds me of the Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen that Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book, The Tipping Point – he describes the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants.

  5. Rory Berry says

    Great Read!

    @zibuka the Tipping Point is a great read! Helped me to change a few things about our adventure.

    If the moderation is only to remove something that is HIGHLY offensive or Hate speech, surely that is enough? That could be a stupid question I know. :)

  6. Sachin Ranchod says

    Hey Rory,

    Yip – if the moderation guidelines are clear and the moderators are consistent then that system can work. However, it can become difficult for a moderator to objectively decide what is highly offensive and what is only mildly offensive (I might be highly offended by something but you might not be). Also, removing an offensive comment might kill the conversation and prevent someone from posting a clear, logical and important rebuttal.

    Moderation is very difficult task and I don’t think there is a perfect solution. From a UX perspective – maybe the solution is to give the user the power to decide what they think should be hidden from their view of the site?

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