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You can’t tell your audience how to use your product

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Video and mobile made a lot of sense as a business in 2012. If you were into sci-fi when you were a child, having a smartphone with a front-facing camera was your dream- become-reality. Steve Jobs announced FaceTime with the iPhone 4 on stage at WWDC in July 2012 and previously, at the end of 2010, Skype had announced the introduction of its video service. 

The advertising industry was investigating how video could be used more effectively for its clients. Three years later and with the expansion of operator networks and the quality of handsets available, video on mobile has become prolific, yet it’s often the case that how it’s used isn’t always as initially planned.

In order to give themselves the best chance at getting things right, start ups will often put a product or service in public beta before a full launch; it helps to understand exactly how users are using your service and ultimately what could be done to improve on it. With this data and feedback, you may find a very different picture to how you first envisaged your business and this is where the touch decisions on what feature to implement next come into play.

For example, Six3 created a two-way video communication app, which allowed users to talk to each other through video, the same way as they were using SMS. They discovered popularity among the deaf community. In another case, Flooved set up its online education platform with the expectation that its audience would be made up of students in the UK and US, but have found that it has a massive following in Iran and Columbia.

The big question confronting each startup is: “how do we react to this?” and “can we afford to ignore this sector and keep focused on who we intended our audience to be?” If not, the startup has to begin to pivot towards its customers.

Whilst startups should take on the feedback of its users and look to improve the product or service, it is important to look at the rest of the marketplace and the players involved in it.

Viddy and Socialcam were vying for users in the social video space so Six3 looked at both products very closely. These services were producing disposable video content – to quote Rory Sutherland ‘the user interface shapes the behavior’; by capping the length of the video to 15 seconds, those services were encouraging a ‘shoot-and-share’ mentality. 

We decided to keep the service mostly private, but we added the ability to allow creators of videos to share to Twitter and Facebook. What we discovered was that those public videos were being viewed more than twice on average and that they were a great mechanism for bringing new users into the service. Still,more than three quarters of our videos were still created and sent ina private context.

So, what did we learn? Interestingly, most users said that they actually weren’t very comfortable using video in a social context and liked the fact that that they had control over who saw their videos. Privacy is important. Users don’t always know what they want; most of the time they need to be told what they want.

Always ask for feedback and keep customers updated on changes – you can never know too much about your users. From properly looking at your user base, you can find numerous new opportunities. After all, users know what they want, to a point, but you should never lose focus of what you are trying to achieve as a business. At the same time, as with the deaf community example, by gathering feedback from your users and learning about how your product is being used you may find new opportunities in your business that you never knew were there and you can keep improving your service and product.

Leigh Middleton is co-founder of Six3.

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