Cohort Analysis

In a recent post I recommended watching the startups for insights into UX. One example of a useful UX technique that came out of the startup space is the cohort analysis. 

A cohort analysis is a tool that helps measure user engagement over time. It helps UX designers know whether user engagement is actually getting better over time or is only appearing to improve because of growth.  

A cohort is a group of people who share a common characteristic over a period of time. In a user engagement cohort analysis, we group people based on their join date. The people who joined our service in January make up the January cohort, the people who joined in February make up the February cohort, and so on. We then investigate how each cohort stays engaged over time, comparing the cohorts against each other to make sure that the people who joined in February are more engaged than those who joined in January, for example.

One reason why the cohort analysis is valuable is because it helps to separate growth metrics from engagement metrics. This is important because growth can easily mask engagement problems. If you’re successfully adding lots of users to your service, your overall engagement numbers will look positive because those new users are relatively well-engaged, spending lots of time on the site in the beginning. If you only looked at overall engagement numbers then you would think that your service is continuously getting stronger.

In reality, however, it may be that people stop being engaged after a couple of weeks on the service. They might leave for any number of reasons: it’s not useful, the novelty wore off, they added all their friends and now have nothing to do, etc. But the lack of activity of these users is being hidden by the impressive growth numbers of new users…there are enough people being added to the service that the lack of engagement from a small number of folks just doesn’t show up.

This is where the cohort analysis proves valuable. By bucketing people into the month (or week) they started using the service, you can keep track of their engagement over time. You can now make assessments like “the March cohort is engaged better than the February cohort” and the like. If your numbers are flat month over month, which is often the case even if the face of impressive growth, then you have not improved user engagement over that time.

Twitter investor Fred Wilson suggests that every startup uses a cohort analysis:

“I’d encourage everyone doing a web startup to adopt the startup metrics methodology and within that methodology, make sure you are looking at cohorts of users, not just all of your users in the aggregate.”

And this goes for most businesses as well. The cohort analysis can be a valuable tool for UX professionals who need to measure user engagement over time.

May 22, 2010
by Joshua Porter

10 Key Principles Behind Digital Community

by Neil Perkin

Countless blog posts have been written about digital community practice, usually containing words like ‘open’ and ‘transparent’, and phrases like ‘be human’. But what does it all really mean, in practical terms? Here are 10 key principles:

1. The community should have a purpose
A community without a purpose is not a community. Purpose gives people a reason to be there, provides common ground, motivation, and helps them to connect with likeminded people. And it’s not necessarily what you assume it to be. When asked about how you build a digital community, Mark Zuckerberg famously answered that that was the wrong question: “Communities already exist. Instead, think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do”

2. Put community at the heart of what you do
“A business without engaging and nurturing its community is like a village, a town, or a city without a population” said author, Alan Moore. Community can bring businesses to life, keep them close to their market, and be an invaluable source of customer insight.

3. Select the right tools
Rather than think about the shiny new technology that everyone is talking about, think about where your audience is, and select platforms that they are using and are familiar with.

4. Dedicate proper resource
Remember that this is direct interaction with your most loyal and valuable customers (or your fiercest critics) so hire someone who knows what they’re doing. A good community is vibrant, fluid, always on, so the brand needs to play an active part, be available, and show that they are listening to feedback and more importantly acting on it. When problems arise, you need to be there to step in. Community is a long-term, not short-term investment – your resource is your investment in building, growing, and getting it right. So don’t short-change it.

5. Understand that your users are not all the same
Step away from broadcast thinking. Community is a two way process, so it’s a good idea to identify those at the centre of your community (the 1,9,90 rule is a good enough rule of thumb, but Forrester’s Social Technographics research goes further) who are high authority, and highly active, and build relationships with them – they are your advocates / champions / moderators. The trade off with higher levels of interaction is more data, but take care to treat your user’s data with the respect it deserves.

6. Don’t broadcast at your community
People are interested in what you have to say but it is a conversation, so don’t over do it with messages. Instead, interact and don’t only create content about your company or your brand, but try creating content about your community as well – the people , the stories. Don’t forget, your community are creating lots of value through their interaction, so shouldn’t you think about what value you are adding and how you can add more?

7. Remember that community members are people
Jimmy Wales once described the Wikipedia community as: “One part anarchy, one part aristocracy, one part democracy, one part monarchy”.  Community can be fun, and sometimes slightly dysfunctional, so don’t be too uptight about how that reflects on your brand, or try and over-manage it, or set too many rules and boundaries. Many communities self-regulate very well, so where possible it is better to facilitate than direct, let disagreements and debate happen and only use admin powers as a last resort.

8. Share control
In ‘We Think’, Charles Leadbetter said: “In the past you were what you owned. Now you are what you share.” It’s important to remember that the community belongs to everyone, not just to you, and that shared control leads to increased engagement, involvement, and a sense of ownership. This in turn leads to more contribution and advocacy. The more you share the more you get back.

9. Recognition and reward are important
People’s media motivations are not always about entertainment and relaxation. Being part of a vibrant community is a motivation in itself, and recognition, supported by attribution and acknowledgement is a critical part of this. Small things matter. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. But it encourages positive behaviour, so reward the things you want more of.

10. Encourage advocacy
Seth Godin called it ‘Flipping the Funnel’. Instead of marketing spend shovelling traffic (aka people, remember?) in the top of the traditional marketing funnel, in the hope that some make it through to the bottom and buy your product, users are inspired and enabled to talk about your product and they spread the message around their network. In other words, referrals are a good way to grow the community, so enable people to spread the word, make it easy for them, and reward them for doing it.

Original column on Mediatel here.


Why we trust Stephen Fry, with nearly everything

Among Stephen Fry’s greatest feats of understatement has to be describing himself in under 140 characters. From his Twitter bio: “British Actor, Writer, Lord of Dance, Prince of Swimwear & Blogger.” The silver-tongued cultural icon’s fan base long predates social media, but to demonstrate his incredible influence in real-time, we need only look at Twitter, where Fry has more than 1.5 million followers. His digital counsel is sought on nearly every conceivable topic, from iPhone apps to relationships, existential crises and matters of faith.

So why do we trust Stephen Fry?

He’s not a broadcaster. Twitter is a conversation platform, and Fry uses it as such. Few celebrities engage others to his extent, and those he does “ping” aren’t typically other influencers. He simply responds to tweets that interest him, and this ostensibly minor act of reciprocity makes us adore him even further. Each reply from Fry is an endorsement of sorts, increasing the recipient’s social capital in the eyes of his massive audience.

He’s one of us. Fry shares generously, and through Twitter he reveals himself to be thoroughly, approachably human. He laments. He celebrates. He gets excited. Just like we do! We are intrigued and refreshed by this; Fry seems to have found the perfect balance between sharing the public and the personal in an era where celebrities tend to gravitate to either extreme.

He uses his powers for good. Fry actively promotes charitable causes through Twitter, often yielding astonishing results. In fact, his calls-to-action are so well received; he has added a disclaimer to his site:

WARNING: When Stephen tweets a URL to a given website, up to 500,000 people will attempt to visit that website within one hour. Very few websites can manage that intense traffic. If you wish to ask Stephen to Tweet about a charity or special event which points to your/a website, it must be capable of taking 1200+ calls per second to the website’s server in order to be able to stay live once Stephen’s Tweeted.

A typical request (among hundreds per day): “@stephenfry hi im starting a #RescueCancer Movement would you mind following > @rescuecancer.”

At a time when our ability to differentiate between canned and organic messages is increasingly acute, Stephen Fry’s authenticity is central to his appeal. He has earned the trust of his community of followers by helping where he can, always engaging them as fellow human beings and refusing to be anything other than his genuine self.

Andy is Vice President International (EMEA & APAC) at Bazaarvoice.


Web editor vs content strategist

  July 12, 2010

The Breakdown: Is ‘content strategist’ really just a new name for ‘web editor’? This tired question needs to be put to rest.

While it’s exciting to see interest in content strategy grow by leaps and bounds, the rapid addition of new people taking part in the conversation means that many well-hashed out questions are getting asked again. And again. And again. Sometimes we Content Strategists smile and answer patiently, but sometimes the gloves have to come off.

The one that never ceases to make me shudder is “Isn’t this just a new name for ‘web editor’?” This is kind of like asking “What’s the difference between a car maker and a race car driver?” The car maker has to understand mechanics, physics, and aerodynamics in order to design a vehicle for speed and efficiency. The driver puts the car on the track and makes it perform. They each have their own set of skills, knowledge, focus, goals, and problems to solve, even though they both play with the same machines.

It’s not an exact analogy. A content strategist may perform some tasks normally completed by a web editor, or, conversely, some CS work may fall in the web editor’s lap in absence of having someone officially in a CS role. This is natural because both roles are heavily invested in the creation of content, and in web development many people find themselves wearing multiple hats.

But Content Strategy is, at its core, a discipline that sits at the intersection of Editorial, Business, UX, Design, and Technology.  There tends to be a lot of emphasis on the editorial segment because – believe it or not – content has long been a neglected aspect of web design. But the real goal of the content strategist is not just to write good content. It’s to make sure that the content:

  • Is aligned with the brand and business objectives
  • Meets the user’s information and experience needs
  • Supports designs that in turn present the content in optimal ways
  • Can be implemented and managed using technology that enables a sustainable workflow

Do web editors generally do stakeholder interviews & user testing? Annotate wireframes with content specifications? Create content models, DCTs and workflows? Design metadata schemas and build taxonomies? Probably not, because they’re busy planning, assigning, researching, creating, editing and/or producing the actual content of the site.


Reinventing Customer Relationships

by Holly G. Green

Have you taken a serious look at your customer relationships recently? If not, now would be a good time.

Recently, IBM polled more than 1500 CEOs, general managers, and public sector leaders around the globe on a variety of topics, including customer relationships. This cross-section of executives represented organizations in 60 countries and 33 different industries.

When asked how they saw customer expectations changing over the next five years, 82 percent of survey participants said they expect customers to demand a better understanding of their needs. Not ask for, but demand. Seventy percent said their customers would expect new and different services.

So it’s not surprising that business leaders are putting customer intimacy higher on their list of strategic priorities. In fact, 88 percent of those polled identified “getting closer to the customer” as the most important factor in realizing their strategies over the next five years.

Keep in mind that these are not consultants, keynote speakers or “thought leaders” making these statements (although we do make valuable contributions every now and then ourselves). These are leaders of highly successful multinational organizations saying, “Here’s what we need to do in order to achieve our strategic goals.”

Like many things in business, reinventing customer relationships is much easier said than done. Based on what they learned in their survey, IBM recommends three specific strategies:

1. Make customers your #1 priority.

Every employee in the company needs to be responsible for customer satisfaction. Not just those who work directly with the customer, but every employee.

Make it easy for customers to do business with you. This requires giving employees the information and authority to solve customer problems without a lot of red tape. Measure all employees on a customer satisfaction metric. And most important, make sure you know (don’t guess) what customers value and what motivates them to buy your product or service.

2. Use two-way communication to strengthen relationships.

The old days of sending out a customer satisfaction survey once a year are long gone.

Make customers part of your team. Find new ways to communicate (i.e. social media) and new ways to evaluate and leverage what they tell you.

Get customers involved in your R&D or new product development efforts. Involve your customers before and beyond the sale, including care and service. Make doing business with you as transparent as possible. Ask customers how you can make it easier for them to do business with you.

3. Turn customer data into customer information.

Develop new ways of gathering, analyzing and using the information customers provide about how you can help solve their problems and achieve their goals. Make sure this information gets to everyone in your organization who needs it.

These strategies seem right on target. But I would strongly recommend one critical action step before implementing any new customer relationship initiatives – unlearning what you think you already know about customer relationships.

Our assumptions, beliefs and “thought bubbles” about the way things work are so deeply ingrained that we often don’t realize how strongly they affect our thinking and decision-making processes. Until we identify and discard outdated ideas, attitudes and assumptions about customer relationships, any efforts to move forward with new approaches will feel like walking up a down escalator. Reinventing customer relationships starts with challenging everything we think we know about them.

This involves asking questions like: When was the last time we thoroughly reviewed our customer relationships? What has changed in our world since then? What has changed in our customers’ world since then? What assumptions are we making about our customers that may no longer be true? What assumptions are we making about how to deliver value to our customers that no longer may be true?

These questions help people to break away from the attitudes and assumptions that keep them stuck in the past. The following exercise encourages people to start looking ahead and thinking in new and different ways:

Imagine that you’re starting the company over from scratch, so for the moment put aside everything you know about running your business. Imagine also that you have no constraints or resource limitations. With that in mind, ask the following questions:

  • How would we go about defining customer wants and needs?
  • How would we serve this market differently?
  • What new technologies would we use to communicate with customers?
  • How would we organize internally to better serve our customers?
  • What things that “have always been done this way” would we do differently and why?
  • If we could solve one customer problem that would put us so far ahead of the competition that they could never catch up, what would it be?

Obviously, no company has the luxury of unlimited resources. So not every idea you come up with will have practical application. But the goal is to jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking so they can begin the process of reinventing customer relationships without the burden of potentially outdated thought processes. So first get very clear on what you are currently thinking. Then define what your new customer relationships need to look like. Then get to work on reinventing them.

One final finding from the IBM survey: organizations that excel at extracting previously undiscovered insights from vast amounts of customer information will enjoy a huge advantage in deepening existing connections and creating new relationships. So if you believe (as 1500 CEOs around the globe do) that customer relationships represent a key component to strategic success, it ultimately comes down to three critical tasks:

  • Engaging your customers in new ways to increase loyalty and generate new demand and revenue sources.
  • Getting customers more involved in your product and service development processes.
  • Learning how to turn customer data into information and using it to empower employees to deliver more value to your customers.

As the survey indicated, today’s customers aren’t asking to be treated differently. They’re demanding it. How are you reinventing yourself and your business to meet that demand?


Getting noticed

Remember the Pepsi
Take a group of punters, two cans of cola, cover up the
labels, and get them to taste. Pepsi always wins; more people like the taste
of Pepsi than Coke.

But walk into a supermarket and something weird happens. Coke outsells Pepsi.
For quite a lot of us, the rational bit of our brain, which tells us Pepsi
is nicer, gets overridden. An irrational, emotional bit, the bit that likes
the sexy shape of the old Coke bottle, or that would like to teach the world
to sing, takes control, and we buy Coke.

That’s the power of a brand, and people have them just like companies. And
recruiting someone is like walking down that supermarket aisle. Loads of
people apply, with roughly the same experience, skills and qualifications.
Rationally, there’s not much to choose between them – candidates are a
hundred cans of cola on a shelf. So how do employers pick who to interview?

They pick irrationally. Emotionally. On the basis of what they pick up about
your personal brand. And most of that will come from the way you write your
CV and cover letter. Not just getting your apostrophes in the right place
(though that’s a good start), but your ‘tone of voice’.

So for any decent job, an identikit CV means death. Start with ‘I am a
hard-working team player …’ and, even if it’s true, you’ll sink back into
the vat of candidate cola that’s slopping around. And avoid buzzwords. If
you trained a load of people, say that; don’t say you ‘upskilled a
functional unit of direct reports’.

If I’m the employer, wading through them, I want someone who makes me take
notice. Who sounds funny. Or brave. Or good company. Or caring. Someone who
takes the risk of standing out from the crowd. If your hobby is the
conservation of rare toads, drop that in. If you think the way your industry
works is completely unsustainable, say so. Anything that will intrigue your
reader into conversation will pay dividends. Because the aim of most job
applications isn’t to get you a job, it’s to get an interview. Once you’re
in the room you can show what a hard-working team player you are. By then
you’ve got me hooked.

That’s why, for many big brands and smaller companies, how you reply to a job
advert is the first filter.

They might have spent thousands on a recruitment campaign.

So if you don’t pick up on the tone of that ad, and send a generic CV, like
most people do, it says you probably won’t pick up on the culture if you end
up working there. It says you’re the wrong person.

You must put a bit more of yourself into your writing. Decide if you want to
sound like a Coke, or a supermarket’s own brand.

If it’s the right place, and the right job for you, it will work.

And then you won’t kick yourself for being like Pepsi – competent, but

Neil Taylor is creative director of brand language consultancy The Writer
( and author of Brilliant Business Writing.