One of the great things about working at Greylock is meeting with entrepreneurs and discussing product strategies for virality and self-distribution. Recently, I’ve been struck with how many of these conversations have reflected back on another topic I’m extremely passionate about, the new user experience.
You only get one chance to make a first impression
Probably the biggest mistake you can make with your new user experience is to think of it as “registration”. Registration is a bureaucratic, painful process that everyone hates in real life. Your “new user experience” is your first and likely only shot at engaging your potential customer. More importantly, if you are successful at user acquisition and grow rapidly, your new user experience is likely the most prominent representation of your product to the world. Effectively, your new user experience is your brand.
Plant the seeds for future engagement
When people think of registration flows, they think of optimization. Click through rates. Conversion percentages. This leads people to cut their sign up process down to a bare minimum.
Don’t get me wrong – you should be critical of every obstacle you put in a new user’s path. If you lose that user on their first visit, odds are you’ll never engage them again. That being said, you do need to ask for sufficient information to ensure that your product will not only successfully engage the user on their first visit, but plant the seeds of their next visit to your site. (Zynga, bless their hearts, did this almost literally with Farmville.)
Most modern, social products end up minimizing their new user experience to three critical types of information:
Identity: getting enough about you to provide some level of personalization and relevance, so you can begin to care about your identity on the site.
Relationships: assuming the product has been designed to be intrinsically social, it should get better the more people you know who are using it.
Communication: some mechanism (email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) to facilitate future communication with you, and between you and other users.
Their first visit is likely your most powerful viral opportunity
This may be counter-intuitive, but your new user experience is likely also fundamentally important to virality and growth.
Remember, as discussed in my previous post on viral factor basics, there are a couple of simple facts about viral growth:
Growth only happens when a user somehow shares content with a non-member through your service.
Cycle time matters. The faster your cycle time, the quicker your service will grow in any given time period.
Literally by definition, a user’s first experience with your product and service is the first time you can help them start a new viral cycle. So if you want a short viral cycle, you need to include the opportunity for users to connect with non-users in their very first experience.
This effect is compounded by the fact that there are quite a few users you may never see again on your site. As a result, the new user experience may not only be your best shot at getting them to invite others, it may be your only shot.
In 2008, we officially said goodbye to registration at LinkedIn, and kicked of the New User Experience team. In the spirit of my original diatribe on why t-shirts matter, it’s worth noting that this was one of the most popular and sought after t-shirts in LinkedIn history.