Approaching Re-Designs in the Age of Social Media: A Lesson from USA Today

Ken Yarmosh, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

Earlier this week, USA Today re-launched its online presence with a larger emphasis on engaging readers. They launched a handful of new features, including being able to create a personal profile page that tracks a reader's contributions. Parts of the site definitely have a social network feel to it a la MySpace or Facebook. You can check out all the new features they list via their Quick Guide.

USA Today's re-launch included: 1) adding social media elements to the site (mentioned above); and 2) changing the look-and-feel and organization of the site. Neither element of the re-launch was well received. You can browse the comments of readers on the announcement post To our readers.

Don Dodge, a member of Microsoft's Emerging Business Team, had some good initial take-aways from the re-launch:

So, I would have introduced the new features, but applied them to the existing layout and design. I think the 92% of readers with negative comments were reacting to the layout changes, not the feature enhancements.

The lessons for entrepreneurs?

  1. Test changes carefully with a test group of users before implementing a design.
  2. Don't change features and UI design at the same time. Do one or the other, not both.
  3. Communicate with your users well in advance about coming changes
  4. Listen to user feedback and respond immediately

I'm assuming USA Today didn't simply push this re-launch / re-design on its readers. They hopefully tested and incorporated feedback from all important stakeholders through the re-launch process. The key is having the appropriate representation of those stakeholder groups.

You cannot please everyone through as massive an undertaking as this one. But, from the comments, it's obvious that there is a large group of readers whose voices were not heard at all. And, in the Age of Social Media, people are eventually going to be heard (whether on your site or their own). It's better to hear them sooner, rather than later.

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