By Lisa Price
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Web 2.0 Expo, which looked like an tremendous event (in the truest sense, there were thousands of attendees!). We were hosting our own event in London, called the Future of Web Design. This was an interesting one for us – the web conference calendar is loaded with events all vying for similar attendees, with FOWD we tried to mix up the various factions in the ‘web design’ industry and bring together some of the web standards crowd with more traditional agencies and individuals.
Was it successful? Definitely – overall reaction to the event has been immensely rewarding. People got that FOWD was about creativity, techniques and ideas in all aspects of the industry. But this wasn’t the view shared by some – they wanted more on the ‘future of web design’, or their idea of ‘web design’ didn’t tally with someone else’s. We had expected that, and in truth it was one of the reasons for putting the event on – to break down some walls and get these various factions together to find out what unifies us all.
We’ve learnt a lot from the event, both by speaking to people on the day and reading the various blogs and comments that soon ensued, and already have a huge to-do list of things to improve on for next year. It can be crushing to read negative comments about something you’ve spent months working on. Feedback is the lifeblood of any successful venture, but surrendering yourself completely to the comments, blogs and twitterings of the web is, for the uninitiated, a daunting prospect. Which is why I was interested to read about one session at Web 2.0 Expo on The Social Media Revolution: You Oughta Be in Pictures (and Podcasting, and Vlogging) at Web 2.0 Expo that attempted to explain how web 2.0 traits (you know, social networks, tagging, blogging, that kind of thing) can help your business. I like these kinds of sessions – sometimes we get so wrapped up in technology that we often forget about its practical application.
One of the takeaways was that businesses can use these tools to stay on top of how their customers feel about their products. As event organisers, content publishers and web app developers, we’re acutely aware of the power of the web for both promoting, trouble-shooting and developing our products.
It’s not uncommon to find me keeping a watchful eye on Twitter, Technorati and Google Blogsearch whilst one of our events is going on to find out how people are responding to the presentations and the organisation. In some cases we can even make adjustments while the event is live. The same goes for our web applications, and of course Vitamin, which really is just one big user-generated exercise: comments and clicks soon tell us what people like or don’t like.
But despite the obvious benefits to this real time R&D and customer feedback, it’s crucially important to know when to tune out*. There is a time to not listen to customers, or the blogosphere at large, to turn off comments, and to keep things private. Why? Control. And vision. And goals. We host events for upwards of 800 people at a time. We crave their feedback, and regularly call for it, but if we acted on every negative post and comment, we would soon end up losing what we originally set out to do, and where it fits into the larger plan.
We love being so close to our customers that we are in constant dialogue with them, but you have to bear in mind that people are more likely to make a noise if they’re unhappy than if they’re satisfied (it’s fact of business life). It’s incredibly easy for someone to let you know that you’re crap – a few taps of the fingers, and there it is. If they had to phone you up, or write a letter, and justify their reasoning, would they be able to substantiate their argument?
You cannot be all things to all people – not unless you have a very simple-featured product that does one thing and does it supremely well. If you’re scaling a product, there will be people for whom it doesn’t deliver on what they expect. You can work around this (and this is what we’ve learnt for our events) – you need to be crystal clear in the way you communicate, make it blindingly obvious who you are and what you do. You need to manage people’s expecations from the outset – whether it’s the copy on your site, or what you say to someone on the phone.
When it comes to feedback, the skill is to keep your channels open, make yourself approachable and stay connected, but align the negative comments and recommendations with things you already know or suspect to be not working and let them help shape your critical path, not dictate it.
*Brian Oberkirch is taking an almost hermitic approach, editing down his varied connections with the web at large to focus on the task in hand and to operate on his time, rather than global web time (GWT) – you know, the zone where you’re always online, always responding to people’s mails, IMs, looking at their pictures…
Regular readers of Carsonified will know about our 4-day week. Another recent thing we’ve done in order to battle the daily deluge is to simply set our emails to manually send and receive at certain points in the day so we’re structuring our own working day, rather than slavishly following the edicts of the inbox.