In the Usage Lifecycle, the transition between First Time Use and Ongoing/Passionate Use can often be narrowed down to one crucial element: education.
Here is a familiar scenario that all of us have experienced to some degree or another:
You sign up for the latest social network/web app/photo-sharing site and are thrown into yet another system, which may or may not include some copy about how to get started and may or may not already be filled with content from other users. You scan around, checking the navigation and basic layout to try and orient yourself. Without even trying, your brain automatically measures this new interface against your personal history of interfaces you have interacted with and attempts to decipher the actions that are supported and how to access them. Some things instantly make sense. You have seen the pattern a hundred times before. Others are not quite as obvious and require more context to make sense. Other features and interactions are totally foreign and, in some cases, can cause enough confusion that you simply give up and leave.
How do we minimize those moments for our users? How do we help them become excited and confident in using our product? How do we help them go from novice to expert in the shortest time? Education.
However, this is not the traditional Help page or even the list of Frequently Asked Questions. The answer lies in what I like to call “in-app education” - simple, teachable moments in the First Time Use flow and beyond. These can be anything from simple helper tips that are activated when a user hovers over some content to a very clear set of steps to accomplish a specific task.
The goal of “in-app education” is to address possible points of confusion, highlight and explain new or unfamiliar interactions, and explain how to best utilize the system. When this is done well, adoption and engagement rates will be much higher and will serve to propel the user further along the Usage Lifecycle, hopefully moving them quickly from a New/Ongoing User to becoming a Passionate User.
Some in-app education is very clear and prominent such as the initial experience on Facebook. A large graphic with clear copy telling you what you can do is positioned on the page above any other content with a link to “learn more” as well as a link to dismiss the message permanently. The account setup process for Twitter also features a large speech-bubble styled message that gives more context so that the user can make better decisions about who to follow. The guys over at 37signals have utilized the blank-slates in their applications and turned them into great examples of how to teach your users, without ever leaving the application.
Another style of in-app education, which is much more subtle, can be seen in the new Twitter for iPhone application (iTunes link). On the compose screen, there is a subtle button that toggles open a grid of six optional actions you can perform on the message. These features—while not the primary action—are very valuable. In order to help educate the user how to access them, when you launch the compose screen, the grid is shown for approximately 1 second before the keyboard slides into place. Extremely subtle, but an excellent example of using the interface of a product to teach the user how to get the most out of it.
Whether is is explicit step-by-step instructions or some subtle interface interaction that reveals more functionality, the fastest way to engage users and provide a clear path to rapid adoption is to build education right into your product from the start.