pulling a plug: today’s new/shiny can be tomorrow’s dead/dull

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 10.17.14 AM

On Friday, I did something for the first time as a social media manager: I pulled the plug on a once-thriving platform for us.

Once a hot platform that brought many prospective-student questions, Formspring/Spring.Me has been functionally dead (to us, anyway) for months. We created a SUNY Oswego account after Mallory Wood (now with mStoner) mentioned on a Higher Ed Live episode how many Formspring questions accounts at St. Michael’s College received. When we waded in, the current was strong — 10 to 20 questions a week, almost all from prospective students, demonstrated we could provide a valid service as well as see what questions we perhaps weren’t answering very clearly or prominently on our website.

But back in February came the announcement the site could no longer afford to stay open and would shut down operations at the end of March. But while the bustling thoroughfare turned into a tumbleweed-strewn ghost town, it didn’t entirely go away. SUNY Oswego’s account still received a few scattered user questions but — worse — received emails from somebody/something at the company with vapid Questions of the Day such as whether we were going to see the latest Brad Pitt movie. (Lame sauce.) The site may boast nearly 26 million users, but that’s just a reminder that sheer numbers don’t mean everything in social media relevance.

Useful though it was, Formspring’s usability had shortcomings.

  • We saw the same questions over and over and over, and while we have a backstage wiki that allows us to copy/paste/modify responses, it still becomes tiresome for the manager to answer the same question about application deadlines (which are pretty clear on our site) multiple times a day. Formspring’s interface made the site more about asking questions more than making answers easy to find.
  • The site didn’t seem to cultivate user inclination for detail in questions. We’d receive one-word queries like “deadline.” Really, that’s all it would say. Which deadline? We have so many for different things. Many questions were just one-worders such as “scholarships,” “jobs” or “cost” that showed a very shallow level of user interaction … even though, as a customer-service-focused organization, we felt inclined to not be lazy in replies.
  • The mostly anonymous format meant that you could get off-base and inappropriate questions. This didn’t impact us much but I know others who grew weary of the site for such reason.
  • What should have been a simple and quick-loading interface was anything but. Instead there was a long delay, and then the cursor bumped me into its Question of the Day … not the actual question we wanted to answer. Protip: Emphasize the customers’ experience first, not your vanity feature.

As I went through the (thankfully) brief process of disabling our college’s moribund account, I didn’t really feel much remorse as if leaving a community that ever meant much to me. More than anything, it reminds us that one day’s new and shiny can easily become the next day’s dead and dull. So we should be wary when new communities or platforms suddenly become “hot” in the fanboy tech press, and consider the sustainability of any efforts. And we should know that there comes a time, when a community is no longer useful, to move on.



Filed under Web

2 responses to “pulling a plug: today’s new/shiny can be tomorrow’s dead/dull

  1. It’s never easy to pull the plug on a social media platform. But sometimes it’s necessary. Sounds like you made the right call and have a good rationale to back up your decision.

    Unfortunately, we seem to be much better at starting a venture than ending one.

  2. Tim

    There’s the rub, Andrew. Launching yourself into a new social network, blog or other venture is easy … there’s such a low barrier for entry and, just like everybody who believes on Dec. 31 they’ll eat healthier and work out for the next year, good intentions are generally higher than motivation. This is why one has to ask the right questions before committing the resources to any new direction.

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