Think of the Internet as a simple economy of users—acquired and retained. For decades now, creators of digital products have constantly been innovating how they interact with the end users of those products. Learning from users is perhaps the most important part of being a digital creator, regardless of product & its purpose.
So, what does it mean to know your user? I spoke with the creators of Explica for the answer.
Knowing your user is the only way to effectively develop toward your user.
At any successful digital product company, the practices in place to track user experiences and data play a pivotal role in molding the direction of product development. Over the last few decades of iterations, the industry has produced a list of ‘best practices’ to learn from digital consumers.
These practices can be traced down to individual features that appear in final products. Take social media for example: Buffer’s annual ‘State of Social Media’ report for 2017 is a great preview at what these ‘best practices’ amount to. Innovative discoveries peppered amongst a fragmented market of billion-dollar digital media companies.
Build Experiments, Not Projects
Interestingly, many of the largest tech companies in the world organize their projects into studies, rather than product launches. The convention of versioning in development is cohesive with the concept of a constantly evolving, fluid product.
That’s the beauty of creating a digital product as opposed to something tangible: the result can be tweaked with the click of a button. This naturally allows for constant multi-variate testing to improve and test a product. From that perspective, some of the world’s largest tech companies are but the result of a series of experiments.
Tracking vs. Talking
With a ballooning market for big data analytics, most user experiments can be hinged upon real-time audience metrics. Existing tools already provide a full range of granularity: from lookalike audiences to recordings of a single session.
In other cases, however, the Airbnb approach is best: going straight to the user. Luna explained, “Edge cases that may hamper the product’s performance are often hidden in the data and appear in anecdotes and small samples.”
Either way, basing product development around user feedback and metrics precludes inefficiencies and feature creep.
Pivot with Your Users
Even giant companies are forced to evolve their product along with their users. The ‘tweet’ was a micro-blogging platform before Twitter made a social media app. Snap, Inc. went from a social media app to a camera company. Successful companies are built from tracing a core discovery to a market need.
Luna explained, “When Explica first launched as an infographic site, we found the bulk of our traffic was mobile, meaning many of our users were having to zoom in-and-out. For the next version, we set out to build a mobile-first, visual product. The result: our bounce rate dropped to a fraction of a percent of industry average.”
Automate Your Insights
Assimilating product and insights are usually a manual and people-intensive process. However, with digital products, the conclusions of most experiments can often be built into features, thus automating the insights you learn.
For instance, Dropbox fueled much of its early growth upon discovering an acquisition funnel through email sharing. This can be simplified to focusing on individual features: for instance, at Explica, the team uses a tool (a content management system – CMS) to help writers write articles that are already optimized to perform best.
By following simple product development guidelines, any company can build a product optimized for their users.