There’s no denying that people have great ideas. But not every idea is worth implementing. That’s especially true when it comes to your school’s online presence.
While everyone thinks their idea is the best, it’s your job as the communications director, marketing strategist, or web manager to distinguish the good ideas from the not-so-good ones.
It’s easy to get sucked in to the latest craze, trend or hype, but regardless of an application’s popularity, unless it adds value to the user experience, their integration can prove to be more of a distraction than an asset. Yet, how can you be sure that what you decide to implement is serving the needs of your audience? Here are a few ways to help guide you.
It’s the most obvious question to ask, but it can also prove to be the most useful. The answer should reflect a need to help users communicate, share, or engage with others or to help solve a problem on their behalf.
Ideally, it will be easy to weed out good answers from the bad. But some may sound more convincing than others. Colleen Jones, content strategist and author of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, suggests that you should also ask yourself “what would be a bad answer?” She writes,
[a] retailer wants to start a blog to keep pace with the times. That’s bad because it doesn’t connect content, business results and user needs. The answer also specifies where the content will be (in a blog) before you’ve had a chance to consider the options.
Ask Why Now?
When one person asks for an app to be added, it’s a request. When several people within a short time frame request access to one, it’s necessity. Knowing the difference between the two is essential. As well, it’s important to understand the reason behind the requests. Asking “Why now?” will help you determine if it’s a case of follow the leader or a legitimate call for access and collaboration.
In his book, Getting Real, Jason Fried, founder of 37signals writes,
Make each feature work hard to be implemented. Make each feature prove itself and show that it’s a survivor. It’s like “Fight Club.” You should only consider features if they’re willing to stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in.
That’s why you start with no. Every new feature request that comes to us — or from us — meets a no. We listen but don’t act. The initial response is “not now.” If a request for a feature keeps coming back, that’s when we know it’s time to take a deeper look. Then, and only then, do we start considering the feature for real.
Empower, Not Overwhelm
An application should be implemented because it serves a purpose or solves a legitimate issue. Just because your brand can live across multiple platforms, doesn’t mean it should. Having too many features is not only hard to manage; it can dilute your school’s message.
In her book How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, Debbie Millman interviews Massimo Vignelli, the infamous graphic designer. She asks him about how he accounts for users’ needs through market research. He says,
The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants. People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible.
Similarly, having too many choices can overwhelm users rather than empower them. Limiting the number of ways users can engage and interact helps to streamline and maximizes users’ access to information. If you really understand your user, you know that they need few options and want more direction.
Don’t Make It More Complicated, For You Or The User
When choosing to integrate with a third-party app or engage with users on social media platforms make sure that both the user and the manager will benefit. If an app simplifies work for the user, but creates more for the person or team managing it, then it’s not adding value. Social media and other engagement tools, though free to download, still require time (and money) to oversee. Conversely, if something it easy to manage, but causes users difficulty, that doesn’t help, either (and will wind up causing more time on your end at some point).
Ultimately, a school’s presence online should promote its value. Everything from its design, user experience and engagement should be strategic and not haphazard. Recognizing that good ideas can come from anywhere doesn’t mean that every idea is worth promoting online. Take the time to listen, think and ask questions that seek to determine its value, online and off.