Having researched, designed, and tested various social media platforms for different types of businesses for the past year, I’ve learnt one valuable lesson – when it comes to asking the average website user about what they think about a new social media related concept, most people aren’t able to imagine it without making references to existing popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
The reason for this is simple, social media content is about communication. In its simplest form, a 2-way interaction between a person and another has to exist in order for this to work or make any sense. In other words, social media technology cannot exist without someone responding. In the case of testing prototypes, this interaction is difficult to simulate, and given the personal nature of such content, it is often difficult for participants to relate to fictitious content.
For that reason, asking participants during usability testing sessions about what they think about the functionality of prototype social media platforms usually ends up with references being made to existing, familiar social media technologies – the most popular being Facebook and Twitter. Many participants that I’ve spoken to try to imagine the social interactions taking place using Twitter or Facebook as their reference points.
Some participant quotes include:
- “I think it will be useful if it’s like Twitter feeds ”
- “Oh, is it like being so and so’s friend on Facebook?”
- “I don’t think I will find it useful because I am not on Twitter or Facebook”
- “I think I will use it if it’s like Twitter or Facebook”
See the problem with the above? What if the concepts you’re testing are neither like Twitter nor Facebook but share some elements of the two? Or even better, what if the concept you’re testing is completely revolutionary and is nothing like Twitter or Facebook?
Hence, there are a few things to bear in mind when interpreting participant feedback on social media functionality:
- You won’t know how people will use it until it’s launched and used
- User generated content determines the value of the product itself
- User generated content can change the intention of the product
- Users might not know what the product can do until something’s happened
- Constant monitoring and analysis is important to understand what works and what doesn’t
- Clear explanation to participants on how it works during testing is important to get valid feedback
- This can include explaining how it is similar to or different from Facebook or Twitter if relevant
- Provide scenarios of the social interactions by using fictitious characters when possible
- Even better, use fictitious characters that people can relate to as shown in this brilliant example by Matt Biddulph http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/7407629996/in/photostream
- Produce enough realistic dummy content for the prototype to aid understanding of a particular user journey or scenario
- If interaction components are key, make sure they are included in the test prototype and explained clearly to participants
Social interactions are complex and difficult to imagine or predict. It takes time for a social media platform to generate enough content to encourage adoption. As a social media platform evolves with continuous use, new ideas and needs will arise, creating new design opportunities.
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