The secret to understanding member feedback

by Martin Reed on 8 October 2007 in Articles

Loud members greatly influence your community

Regular readers of this blog will know that I always talk about the importance of making your community website feedback friendly. If people are afraid to offer suggestions and feedback, your site is missing out on its most effective method of evolution: becoming exactly what its members want it to be.

Inviting and receiving feedback is not the end of it, though – you need to be able to understand your members’ feedback and realise just how indicative it is of the thoughts of the community as a whole.

All communities have vocal ‘leaders’

Every community includes those who like to make themselves heard and those who prefer to be a little quieter and only get involved when talk is of a subject that particularly interests them. Quite often, your quieter members are amongst your most valuable – they may not create content each and every day, but when they do contribute their posts are often of a very high quality.

Unfortunately it can be all too easy to overlook the quieter members of your community, or even forget they exist. I am often only reminded of the presence of particular members at the Just Chat message boards when I have read a post that was of such good quality I wanted to know who submitted it.

If you take the time to write down ten of your community’s members, I am pretty sure the only ones that would make it on your list would be those that are the loudest – they make themselves and their opinions known every single day. They are noticed and noticeable, and that is just the way they like it.

Consider the bigger picture

It can be all too easy to think that the opinions voiced by the more vocal members of your community are shared by other members. Very often though, you need to look at the bigger picture and consider the amount of members who aren’t voicing their thoughts.

When I make changes over at Just Chat I often receive a barrage of complaints – even when genuine improvements have been made. At first I thought that I must be totally disconnected from the community, as every single improvement I made was shot down by a number of very vocal members.

On reflection though, it was apparent that the people who complained were often the same members over and over again. You can never please all of the people all of the time – you can only aim to please the majority, and this is always my guiding philosophy when developing my websites. Unfortunately it can be easy to think that what the minority of your vocal users are saying is a reflection of what the entire community thinks.

It is easier to complain than offer praise

Most of your members will not see a need to comment or offer feedback about a feature or upgrade that they like. By nature, people are most vocal when they don’t like something. Always bear this in mind when you start to consider feedback from your members. If you have 1,000 members and ten are complaining, remember that 990 members are not!

Of course, you should still take any constructive criticism and feedback on-board; just because it may be the same old members complaining, it doesn’t mean that they will not have any valuable ideas for you to consider.

Stats don’t lie

If you are ever in doubt as to the real success of your website, there is one fool-proof way of being sure – your traffic statistics. Quite simply, stats don’t lie. If you introduce a new feature and see page views and traffic rise, then you are on the right track. If you can improve things further thanks to member feedback, then all the better.

Just remember that the member feedback you read may not be a reflection of the opinions of the entire community. Just because your vocal members shout the loudest, it doesn’t make them right. Just because they like to be heard, it doesn’t mean they speak for the entire community.

Never forget this when you are considering member feedback.

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Hirsutism October 9, 2007 at 6:55 am

Very nice and informative post.
‘Quite often, your quieter members are amongst your most valuable ‘
I totally agree with this. As it’s rightly said Silence speaks better than words.
Being silent does not mean one is inactive.

Amish Handcrafted Furniture October 9, 2007 at 3:34 pm

I have no problems with giving feed back. A community by definition will mean that people are in discussion and not in command and obey mode. What is the point of visiting a blog site if I can not make myself heard?

I like your approach and you will see a lot of comments from now on.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 11, 2007 at 12:44 am

Hirsutism – Thanks for your kind words. Yes, silence can speak louder than words, but that’s no good when it comes to an online community! You want people to get involved but it is a balance between huge member involvement and low quality posts or low member involvement but with posts of a fantastic quality.

You’re right though – just because a member is quiet it doesn’t mean they are inactive.

Amish – It’s good that you enjoy providing feedback; we need more people like you around! I look forward to reading more of your comments.

Smiley October 16, 2007 at 2:40 am

I rely heavily on member feedback to improve the site, and myself.

What I do is host a “weekly question” which is changed every Sunday.

People are much more likely to give you feedback if you…. ask for it! Don’t ask, you don’t get.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 18, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Smiley – You are exactly right, if you don’t ask then you don’t get. By hosting weekly questions you are pro-actively inviting thoughts and opinions from members who may not have otherwise let their ideas be known.

Online furniture store October 19, 2007 at 7:55 pm

We all seem to be in agreement here, that feedback is the way forward towards a better site, better content, better service. For it is feedback that will make the product or service evolve towards that which the consumer wants. And smiley added an important point, ask for feedback. There are actually some of us who shy away from offering an opinion unless it is sought.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 23, 2007 at 5:32 pm

Online furniture store – Feedback is hugely important, and you know what? So many people fail to actually ask for it! They are missing out on the most valuable opinions available to them.