I have written before about the importance of working with your community members before redesigning your website. By involving your members in any decisions that need to be made over the future direction of your site, you are encouraging their loyalty by making them feel valued.
How one online community failed to involve members
Hot UK Deals is a huge online community – they have almost 80,000 members and 1.3 million posts. For such a large community to consult its members during a redesign process would have been a challenge, but I believe it is one the site should have taken.
I have been a frequent user of the site for a number of months. I have never registered there, but often use the site to see find latest shopping deals. About three weeks ago, the site was completely redesigned without any consultation with its members.
The old Hot UK Deals website (click to enlarge)
The new Hot UK Deals website (click to enlarge)
Of course, the management of the site could never expect to receive feedback from all its members, but by posting information in its own ‘Feedback’ forum, the site could have used the opportunity to strengthen its relationship with its members. When the newly designed site launched, it was a surprise to everyone.
Within a couple of hours, numerous threads and posts were made by members demanding the old site back. It is important to note that community members are very often resistant to change in the short term. Over the long term though, very often members will soon learn how to use the new features and recognise the benefits of a new design (so long as the benefits are truly useful). Such an initial backlash could, perhaps, be expected to some degree – although I would argue that it would have been significantly reduced if members were consulted or at least forewarned of the impending redesign.
A petition to bring back the old site was soon started, and soon saw over 1,200 posts made in support of the motion. Other threads with titles such as ‘admins too arrogant to listen to their public‘ soon cropped up. Whilst the member who started the petition soon changed their mind as they learned how to use the new features, the initial damage had already been done – many members felt alienated and unvalued by the administrators of the community.
Hot UK Deals – The response
It took the administrators of the site a week to explain the reasons behind the redesign. This was a well thought-out post and addressed many of the issues that members were not happy about. It is unfortunate though, that this was not posted at the time of the redesign – one week in Internet time is a very long period.
In their post, the administrators commendably stated that they, ‘… underestimated the scale of change for long time forum users.’ It is a shame that this could have been avoided by simply involving their members in the redesign process or at least advising them of the pending redesign. Ideally, the site could have made the redesign process more progressive by offering both interfaces for a limited time to enable people to learn how to use the new site in their own time.
There is no doubt that Hot UK Deals will continue to be successful – it is already a large site with a strong, loyal userbase. A smaller site cannot afford to take such an approach when it comes to such a significant redesign, though. A younger, less well-developed community could alienate many of its most valuable members by acting in this way. You should always consult your members before significantly altering your community website. Make your members an integral part of your community’s development and you will encourage them to remain loyal members well into the future.
Your thoughts and experiences
What are your thoughts about how Hot UK Deals redesigned their site? Have you redesigned your community website? Did you consult your members before undertaking the redesign? To what extent did you involve your members? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.