In an article with the tantalizing title Double your userbase with two lines of code and a box of Modafinil, Alex Krupp takes a look at Bob Kraut’s study on Usenet and how getting a reply affected the chance that a poster would return and post again:
For oldtimers who received no replies, 84% posted again. For oldtimers who did receive a reply, 86% posted again. For newcomers who received no replies, 16% posted again.
What’s startling though is the effect getting a reply had on newcomers posting their first time. When looking only at newcomers, getting a reply increased their likelihood of posting again from 16% to 26%. That’s a 62% increase!
Based on this observation, Krupp suggests that a good way to increase returning visits and user participation would be make a simple change to your site’s design:
Now, translating patterns in Usenet posts into practical design advice isn’t an exact science. But if I were launching a new website, here’s what I’d do. Instead of hiding the Feedback link in the upper right hand corner, I’d place a form right on the main page. A big form. And I’d bend over backwards to get people to use it.
Bugs, ideas, comments, observations, advice, etc. It doesn’t matter. Why? Simple.
Because by emailing you, your visitors are giving you permission to send a reply. A reply that, if crafted correctly, could dramatically increase that person’s chances of becoming a full-fledged member of the community.
Note that Krupp says that the reply must be crafted correctly. By this, he means that the reply should be personal and not a form letter with the user’s name pasted in. He suggests “a friendly personal letter from the CEO”, a task so time-consuming that it explains the use of Modafinil (an anti-narcolepsy drug that many geeks say gives you the ability to work non-stop for extended periods of time) in his article’s title.
Krupp’s theory is supported by Facebook’s success. Although nobody at Facebook sends you a friendly personal email, the site does something that yields a similar effect: it starts feeding you a constant stream of goings-on concerning your friends. This feedback is just as personal and even more relevant to you (and possibly less creepy) than some CEO you’ve never met trying to get chummy with you via email.
Krupp’s theory also suggests an experiment that you might want to try if you have a blog, mailing list or discussion forum: try replying to every posting made by your readers or users and see what happens. I think I’ll try it with my blogs and see what happens.