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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Checking for updates on social networking sites, and deciding whether to go ahead with them or not ..

Around 15 years back, the ease of getting user feedback on a software product was not easy, even for the large ones such as MS Office, Adobe Acrobat, or Photoshop. The principle way of getting this feedback was through the tech support route where users would call up tech support or deal with the support through email, primarily to provide some sort of complaint in a feature or look for some sort of health. Through this process, the support team could also get some sort of feedback on the product and the performance of the product with respect to the needs of the users. As for forums such as social networking, there was hardly anything that was available.
However, if you look at the current day situation, the forums where users can report problems (or more rarely, come out in praise of a product) are widespread. There are user forums, there are Facebook pages, there are email discussion groups, there are Twitter accounts that are used by users for reporting their feedback. When you consider a large product such as the ones in the first paragraph, the number of such forums and comments within them can be awfully large. Even for a team that puts in dedicated attention to looking, consolidating such feedback and respond to feedback that may not be so positive, it can be hard to catch up and respond to such feedback.
And therein lies the danger. When there is feedback and yet no reaction from somebody from the product team, it can seem odd, and lead to complaints that the organization and the product team do not care about user feedback, and so on, leading to something that is negative in terms of perception. Does this mean that you should put in a lot of effort on monitoring and responding to such kind of feedback ? Well, it sounds good, but monitoring and responding to feedback across different social networking forum can be pretty difficult and time consuming, and you might not have enough resources dedicated for this work (and resources with some amount of expertise in such new generation forums can be expensive, since it is not just monitoring, but actually feeding them into a system that lets the team figure out responses and strategies).
The idea situation would be where you have a broad user base that takes on most of the work of responding to such feedback. If you take Photoshop, complaints and criticism from users are many times responded to by other users, which also has a high ring of authenticity to the responses, and shows the commitment of members of the user base. In that sense, a committed user base is worth a large amount of effort and money.
However, there does need to be effort put in for building up such a committed user base. The team needs to be prompt in responding to issues that are gathering track (it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to respond to each and every issue) and show some quick responses. The team also needs to make the users feel that the product and support teams are responsible and geared towards the needs and concerns of the users (this may seem subjective, but it is necessary for this kind of feeling to be generated, as projecting such a feeling through actions inspires confidence in the team from the user community and every satisfied user can then become another committed member of the user community).
Other actions would be for the product to have its own specific Facebook page and Twitter account, maintained by somebody who has an appetite for the kind of enthusiasm and social skills that are required for social networking (if there are no tweets for many days or no Facebook updates, it tends to put off users and also seems to show the product and organization in a poor light). Further, members of the product team who are more well know can also have their own social profiles and send out updates of their own, and these also help.

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