The interesting thing about social media companies is that everything that they do is used for more than one purpose. They want you to post great content so that people on the platform can enjoy great content. But they also want you to share great content. And deeper still they want to be able to tell your contacts that you posted something. Then your contacts get a notification that gets them to come back in to the platform. Is this a sneaky way of doing business? Not really and I think it is interesting how these media giants create new channels of interaction that add so much value to the user experience, many times, without the user knowing. But today I came across something that made the whole connection process feel incredible fake. My work anniversary.

Usually my work anniversary doesn’t highlight a poor user experience. On the contrary it a cause for a celebration, it is a time for reflection and accessing what is happening in my career. But today I got a message on Linkedin from a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. He wrote “Congrats on the anniversary! Hope you’re doing well.” Wow what a nice guy. He probably saw a notification that told him what today was and he felt compelled to write a few congratulatory words. Awe, shucks! thanks buddy, hope you are doing well too. But then my notifications refreshed and another person had messaged me the same exact thing. Wait, what?

Well now my interest was peaked, the UX designers and dev at Linkedin wouldn’t be that careless as to populate the same message over and over again, for the same person, for the same event right? So I opened my linked app and looked through my cards and saw a coworker that had the same work anniversary. Andrew Santos is celebrating a 1 year work anniversary, congratulate him or skip? I tapped to message and there in the text field was “Congrats on the anniversary! Hope you’re doing well.”

Dang, what a let down. You design a product, the anniversary reminder card, to increase engagement and send out a hook to drag user back into the platform. You then go through the trouble of making it incredibly easy to send a message to someone right from the notification. You even thought to add in a well crafted generic message to send so that way I don’t have to think about it. All I have to do is hit send and I will get all the praise and recognition for remembering and commending their hard work. Look how good I am. But what about the person with the anniversary, that is actually doing the hard work?

Is this driving meaningful engagement? It seems like this feature making gains in one area while simultaneously creating deficit in another. Wouldn’t you take the opportunity to try to do something meaningful for both ends of the conversation? Having the same canned response feel tacky and cheap. Perhaps it would it be better to just not deliver a canned response. Or design the message to be so bad that the user would understand that they would have to edit it. Possibly, only deliver responses that have been changed in some way. Then add a widget on the dashboard for received canned responses and a list of names. The idea is that only messages with real user intention behind them would be received. This means that anytime anyone gets a message they would be conditioned to open the message, and give a response.

Meaningful interactions will stay with someone long past the success metrics of clicks or sent messages. When we are adding features, especially ones that allow two real people to interact with each other, we need to pay attention to both sides of the conversation. How are messages sent and received. Is there a way to create a better experience? Could this be a priority on a response, or an indicator of desire to have a conversation? Is there some way to add emotional weight to a simple text message? Or could an auto response be built in a way that promotes real world conversation?

Building on that last question, what if there was a canned response to a canned response. It wouldn’t be that hard, just check to see it the original message was sent and then issue a response that is complimentary. This could go on and on, back and forth as long as the users continue to press send. It could just go on like this until these canned messages have signed you up for a real life lunch meeting at that nice restaurant down the way. Now that would be real social engagement brought about by a social network.

As always I hope that you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you would like to chat more about UX and UI design. Thanks!

Written by Steve Erro

I am a designer that is interested in how design, humans, and business interact with one another. I currently live and work in San Diego.

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