WetPaint's Ben Elowitz: How to improve Business Exchange

Ben Elowitz, the CEO of wiki company WetPaint, spends lots of time thinking about how to engage communities online (a theme I’ve written about). At my urging, he studied BusinessWeek’s community-sourced Business Exchange, and came up with his critique. The key: Users had to find more “What’s in it for me?” on the site. I asked him for suggestions, and he sent them along. I’ll post the suggestions first, and the earlier critique below.

Ben’s thoughts:

I think there are two key audiences that need to be addressed in BX’s situation.

To keep activity flowing on the site, you need a few work horses or hardcore users that take pride in BX and feel like real owners of the space. These are the members that will comment over and over again, continue to add new content and new articles multiple times a week, if not more, and foster an environment that encourages new readers to feel comfortable adding their two cents. These users need the status/prestige that will make it worth coming back every day or every other day.

Based on some experiences here at Wetpaint, here are some ideas of how to attract and retain this loyal talent:

· Have a page in the print edition with their avatars and best work – they’ll become addicted to the ‘fame’

· Invite them (for free) to several conferences throughout the year either as attendees or maybe panel members

· Feature them in polls that make it to the BW website or in print

· Consider having SWAG available to send to the highest contributors (stickers, water bottles, t-shirts, etc.)

The other audience to consider is all the new traffic the site gets. With regards to the awards above, it can’t just be the same few members being repeatedly spotlighted. Those ‘up-and-comers’ need attention and praise as well so having opportunities similar to those listed above but with lighter weight can make those casual contributors feel like rock stars.

Also, kudos for your team’s most recent additions to the BX user experience, both the notifications and Twitter integration. The ability to connect to users directly is a huge step in the ‘social’ direction for BX and it certainly seems like if you’re not on Twitter these days, you’re not in the mix of what’s happening.

Here's his earlier memo.

"...Back when you and I met a couple of months ago, we talked about BusinessExchange. Well, I ended up spending some time playing on it, and thought it might be helpful to get some feedback for your interest or for the working team's. I got kind of excited about it, because I think it could be a great opportunity to build community with readers, and BusinessWeek is my #1 pub personally, so I even had a couple of my team members to help as well.

Overall, I think the site has immense promise. But right now, there's no "what's in it for me" factor. This issue frequently gets underplayed but it crucial for success of any social site.

Developing BusinessExchange:

Getting Readers to the Site * Although the most recent call to action that reads, "Read, save, and add content on BW's new Web 2.0 topic network" is accurate, it's both passive and simply not motivating. * People are looking for a benefit; a "what's in it for me"; give them incentives. Examples could be: * "Sound off at BusinessExchange and you could end up in print in BusinessWeek" * "Best of the 'Week" from BusinessExchange that spotlights the most active/commented/ranked user * "Share articles and see what other BusinessWeek readers are saying" * Not only will this increase traffic to the site, it will foster healthy competition among the contributors resulting in higher quality content additions

Users' First Impressions (Design) * Removing the 'Beta' tag in the logo will legitimize the page; when BW launches a program, users expect it to be polished. * The homepage is vague, at best, in describing what kinds of activities are possible on the site. Is it just a place to gather articles? Is it a social section of BW (and what does that mean?). If the social aspect is the goal of the site, placing a 'featured user' between two ads and below the fold does not encourage contribution. * It would be great to have some way to see a scope of all the topics available and freely browse these, without depending on search and clicking through each letter of the alphabet. There may be thousands of topics, but grouping them by broad subject area would improve the ability to simply scan through the breadth of information available here. This is especially helpful for a new user evaluating the benefits of joining the site. * From a real estate perspective 1/5th of the homepage is lost to the 'Join Now' column with nothing below it. This space could be filled with new features/engagement modules, etc. * It's not easy to distinguish items that can be clicked - consider using a color to indicate links. Links under posts should be a different color from the rest of the post details. * The font is small on the main page, consider making it bigger. If this is for the business community, it needs to be readable on laptops and small devices. * The light gray text will not read well on older LCD monitors and laptop screens. (The lightest gray to use on a white background should be #666 - best #555.) * Consider distinguishing visited links from unvisited links. Especially where there is a lot of content, and many listings, it might help users see what they've already selected. Features and Social Functionality * Depending on how 'social' you want BX to be, some of these suggestions/ideas may be a bit too granular or even off the table for you, just sharing them in case: * Several people have pointed to a more prominent integration with LinkedIn as a double opt in will keep your registered user base down * With regards to homepage content - the active topics are tedious to get all the way through - could limit this to a Top 10 that varies (perhaps include a sentence on what defines an 'Active Topic') and have the next 15-20 topics linked below that without descriptions * Making it easier to find desired content could incorporate more categorization (Most Active, Recently Added, Most Watched, etc.) on the Topic and Article levels * Again, depending on the breadth of the social functions BW is looking for features like the ability to rank articles and posts for recognition on the homepage, allowing people to write their own 'articles' and share them, adding other items like videos, images, comments, polls, etc. would give users that many more ways to interact and engage * Also with regards to social functions, at this time there is no way to connect with other users. Adding people to your 'Network' is actually misleading considering the person added has no idea they're being watched and cannot be contacted. If someone has added tons of content that I enjoy, even if we're both integrated with LinkedIn, I have no way of connecting with that user via comments or direct messaging. Something like 'Favorite Exchangers' could be a better fit for the feature as-is. Profile pages could afford to have some more information displayed as well."

If anyone has anything else to add, please comment (or blog about it). BX needs community participation, not only to add content and vitality on the site, but also to define the site itself.