The importance of community management when changing websites - Johanna Kollmann at the IA Summit

 by Martin Belam, 14 April 2011

One of the things I was pleased to hear get a mention in Denver at the IA Summit was the value of community management. Johanna Kollmann gave a great talk entitled “We love change? Change is scary!”, that explored why humans are initially uncomfortable with change. This can manifest itself very vocally on the web when website design changes are launched. Johanna’s opening slide was The Oatmeal cartoon about changes to Facebook provoking 15 minutes of fury.

As I've blogged before, one of the fascinating gifts of Twitter is the ability to watch feedback to competitor product launches in real-time, and only this week there was an excellent post on the BBC Internet Blog about the lengths they went to in order to avoid tears at bedtime for the young users of the CBBC website.

During the course of her presentation, Johanna explored how talking to the community managers where she worked helped her understand the kind of support that was needed when big changes were made to a service. She had also had a great conversation with Amanda Wright about her work as Design Lead at Yahoo!. Amanda believes in making sure that designers are available to explain their design decisions to the community most engaged with a product.

It is something I passionately agree with. Whenever we launch new or redesigned products at The Guardian, I always try to make sure I am active in the comment threads to respond to questions from users. And as I have said before, I have genuinely no idea why the majority of the news industry thinks it does not need community management, which I believe is one of the most under-valued digital elements of running a news website.

It is not something I hear about a lot at IA conferences either.

As a profession, we put a lot of effort into researching the behaviours and needs of our users in advance of launching products, but it doesn’t feel to me, especially in the agency model, that the people who carry out that research are always around to join in the conversation when their sketches and wireframes become tangible products.

Johanna has put an audio track on her slides, so you can follow her whole presentation, which also includes a fantastic change management story from the 1960s, when Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right on Dagen-H.

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