Guy Nirpaz is the CEO and co-founder of Totango, which provides a customer engagement platform for software companies.
In the world of cloud computing there are no longer "mega-releases" shipped to customers on a CD. Instead, new features are launched into the cloud for user consumption as they are ready. At the same time, getting end users to fully utilize your new features is more mission critical than ever. Why? Because in the absence of perpetual license models, when end users stop using your product they will also stop paying sooner or later.
So, how do you get new features used and adopted? Here are six tips on how to solve this.
Salesforce.com was one of the first to allow the customer community to suggest and vote on new features in a public forum through their IdeaExchange. These days it’s easy to incorporate a user feedback system into your site, as this functionality is offered off the shelf by a number of vendors including GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, and Zendesk.
The purpose of having such a forum is, of course, to receive valuable ideas and feedback from as broad an end user base as possible. However, engaging end users in a discussion has a second purpose, too. People that get their voted feature implemented are more likely to use the feature, more likely to share the feature with their friends using social media, and they are more likely to have a deeper connection to your company.
If you use an agile development process, a demo of the upcoming feature is likely available early in the development process. Involving users throughout the development cycle will significantly reduce the risk of releasing a feature that misses the mark. Even after releasing a new feature, continue to improve it.
User actions speak louder than words. Knowing which features are being used will help you decide on the future direction of the product. A famous example of a company, which monitored features being used and ignored, is Yelp.com. Yelp initially was an email recommendation service. As they developed the site, they found that the reviews feature — initially a small feature on the site — was being actively used. They eventually built a whole company around this discovery.
Another great example is Flickr. It started off as a multi-player online game with a feature to ‘post photos.’ The founders were smart enough to recognize this feature was very popular and brave enough to follow the signals to morph Flickr into what it is today: one of the most popular sites for publishing photos.
Before users can start using a new feature, they first need to know that it’s there. There are two good ways to do that.
1. Allow for self-discovery by notifying users within your application about the new capabilities in much the same way that Google did when introducing Events for Google+.
2. The second way is to notify your users via personalized emails. Segment your user base by their usage and find those that are likely interested in your new feature. This is so you don't bombard all users with every new feature. Tell those specific users why you think they will care: “As a veteran user of our Reports page, we thought you’d want to know we released a brand new report designer!”
It takes a certain personality to participate in a public forum. Not all “heavy users” will identify themselves. You may need to go and look for them but this is well worth your time, as these users can give you most the valuable feedback. Fortunately, for cloud-based services and other digital experiences, it is relatively easy to track usage and identify “top users.” When you have identified your “top users” surprise them with a thank-you gift for their patronage. It will delight the users and increase their loyalty to your brand.
You’ve spent all this time getting their feedback and monitoring their usage so of course you want your users to tell their friends once a feature is live. Give them a low-friction way to share with pre-populated tweets, posts, or social sharing buttons.
Originally published at https://mashable.com/2012/09/19/develop-launch-features/#ONIVScJqrgq2