Should You Incentivize User Feedback For Your WordPress Plugin/Theme?

All WordPress plugin/theme sellers who sell their WordPress products through Freemius are added to a Freemius DEV Slack channel, where discussions about WordPress business best practices, as well as consultation sessions, take place on a daily basis. Just a few days ago, the creator of ‘WP Sheet Editor’ (and a few other great WordPress plugins), Jose Vega, came out seeking for some advice on whether or not he should ask for user feedback about his products. His plan was to incentivize them to provide their ideas of how their experience might be improved by offering free plugin licenses to users who come up with the best suggestions. We decided it was worth expanding on this topic, in the hopes of helping all WordPress plugin/theme owners understand the benefits and drawbacks, as well as how to best manage this kind of strategic move.

Here’s Jose Vega’s original message from the Slack channel:

Jose Vega wanted to incentivize for user feedback

“Hi guys, I have an idea. I want to implement an ‘innovators program’ in my plugins. I will send an automated email to the customers, asking them to give me feedback (5 ideas) on how to improve the plugin (improve the UI, workflows, extension ideas, new plugin ideas), and if I like the ideas I’ll extend their license for free or give them free licenses. This way I’ll receive constant feedback and great ideas from the customers.
What do you think?”

This idea from Jose actually managed to get quite a few other WordPress product developers interested and engaged. Some of them were wondering whether 5 ideas weren’t too much for a regular Joe who’s just been using the plugin and probably has better things to do than to come up with 5 high-quality ideas to help improve this plugin. To which, Jose explained that really, even just one, well-explained and thought-out idea would be enough for him. He mentioned that his main goal is to get great ideas as to how he can simplify the UI/UX and make it easier to understand for users.

At a first look, Jose’s idea to crowdsource the UX optimization process in order to improve his plugin seems great and beneficial, right? What has he got to lose here? The amount of money he’ll be “sacrificing” by giving away a few free plugin licenses to users is minimal, and besides, it may even get those users to like him and his products even more, so they’ll be more inclined to purchase from him in the future. A clear win-win here, right? Well… let’s take a more thorough look into this and see what could be some reasons not to go ahead with this move, or to, at the very least, tread carefully with it.

Crowd-sourcing A Product’s User-experience

When you come to think about it, Jose is essentially looking to crowdsource at least part of the process of optimizing his product’s user experience, and I think he’s certainly taking a step in the right direction by doing so. This is by no means a new concept, especially in the online digital products industry; many product companies choose to optimize their users’ experience using this methodology. Some do it with beta-users or testers who, in return for their time & effort, usually get free, early access to the product. Others do it at later stages, asking existing users to participate in special sessions of usability testing in return for special perks or product licenses. Some companies even straight out pay their users to take part in usability testing sessions, focus groups, or user surveys of their products!

Why Do Companies Do This?

There are various motives for companies to invest in crowd-sourcing their product’s user experience, but the obvious and main one is that it has simply proven to be very valuable when it comes to increasing customer satisfaction. The obvious and direct outcome of increasing customer satisfaction is its direct effect on decreasing the product’s churn rate, thus increasing its effective growth.

This helps us understand the benefit product companies can expect to gain from asking their users for feedback on their product’s user experience, but still, why would they go to such lengths of incentivizing them to do it?

What’s Wrong With Some Good Old Free User Feedback?

Try to think about it: when was the last time you voluntarily emailed a company letting them know how much you love their product? Likely never. That’s the first and most obvious reason why product owners need to be more active about getting their user feedback.

Now, let’s consider the different types of users a WordPress plugin or theme may have, and how their emotional state influences their motivation to provide user feedback. Most of the free or voluntary user feedback that is received comes from people who are either really upset about their experience or are very pleased with it, but in both cases the free user feedback providers are emotion-driven, and usually so eager to provide their feedback that it is very unlikely to get their neutral or unbiased opinion. The majority of users, on the other hand, who are fairly indifferent to their own user experience, are then much less likely to provide any feedback whatsoever. Even though it is possible they have had a poor experience, it still didn’t upset or please them enough to make them want to provide you with their feedback. Instead, they’ll usually opt to vote with their feet and simply uninstall the plugin/theme and go with the competition.

Most of the free or voluntary user feedback that is received comes from people who are either really upset about their experience or are very pleased with it. In both cases, the feedback’s drive is emotion-driven.

It’s worth mentioning that, there are the few people who genuinely just want their opinion about your product to be heard, and therefore would actually make the effort and leave you with some potentially valuable feedback, but those are normally few far and in-between, so you can’t really count on that segment to truly represent your user base needs.

Simply put, the free user feedback you’ll be getting is largely going to come from the extreme ends in your user base, and it is likely going to be “infected” by too much emotion to be helpful. It is usually just used to blow off some angry user’s steam, which is also important, but less valuable to actually take into consideration when coming to optimize your product’s user experience.

Realizing this, WordPress product creators and sellers like Jose Vega are right to be trying to come up with ways to incentivize their users to provide them with some truly valuable feedback regarding their user experience, and about what and how it could be improved.

How To Properly Execute User Feedback Collection

In Jose’s explanation of the reasons why he is looking to get user feedback for his product, he mentions that he’s very specifically doing this to get ideas for ways he can improve his product’s UI and UX. It’s important to remember that when collecting feedback for specific reasons like changing a product’s user interface, for example, it’s best to sample a relatively large amount of users. This allows feedback from users to be compared and to see which ideas and issues are recurring.

“My main goal is to receive well thought-out user feedback from UI/UX people, so they can come up with ways to simplify the plugin, make it easier to understand for users, and improve in general.”

It definitely looks like Jose knows what he’s after with this move, which will help make things easier to understand, track, and measure later on.

In his work plan description, Jose mentions that he plans to send an automated email to the customers, asking them to give him user feedback (5 ideas) on how to improve the plugin. I must say that just the thought of all those extra reply emails with suggestions that I would need to sift through and sort out makes me cringe slightly. My suggestion would be to bring in the right tools to help streamline all of the user feedback he’s likely going to get. It’s important to note that I’m not suggesting those tools replace communication with users! If there’s client interaction to be had you should definitely go ahead and do that, but as a supplement, for the sake of user feedback on your product, use tools that pave the way for a scalable feedback channel.

When collecting feedback for specific reasons like changing a product’s user interface it’s best to sample a relatively large amount of users in order to be able to compare feedback from users & see which ideas are recurring.

I’m not going to go over an entire list of potential tools and methods to manage a scalable feedback channel with your users because such lists already exist in abundance. I will note just two relevant tools though because I think they match well with the intention set here, as well as with the openness and sharing spirit of the WordPress community:

Trello: Trello is a popular tool, which is great for creating a public version of your product’s roadmap, and for floating ideas about features and design by your users.
Trello boards can be shared publicly for more efficient user feedback collection

Using a public Trello board will let you have a clear channel for user feedback and enable to streamline this process: Email users a very simple request (a plain-text email would be best for this) for their feedback / suggestions for your product, and mention the incentive you’re willing to deliver for the best ideas. If you plan and implement the incentive correctly, according to the value perceived in the eyes of the users (see related section below) – you should see the board slowly getting filled in with worthy suggestions, which you should then filter and organize by category, owner, priority, etc.

The other tool I’ll mention here is actually available for free on the official WordPress.org repository and also has a pro offering coming out soon:

Simple Feature Requests: Simple Feature Requests aims to make it easier for WordPress product creators to prioritize which features should be included in their development. It allows users to suggest features as well as upvote or comment on other user feedback that was already submitted by others. This one seems like a great fit for WordPress product developers who are looking to manage user feedback for their product in a scalable manner by letting you filter, sort and prioritize it.

Prioritizing Your User Feedback

It’s important to maintain a list of actionable user feedback. That way, you’ll be able to look for repetitive requests and trends in the data and learn how popular is a certain request or a specific improvement among users.

Within that realm of ideas, here’s my suggestion for how you should grade and prioritize user feedback ideas into 4 easy-to-manage categories:

  • Immediate: What may be considered “low hanging fruit” – easy to implement immediately and adds a considerable amount of value to users.
  • Soon: Suggestions which might not be that easy or quick to implement, but may give you a competitive edge in your market.
  • Later: More difficult-to-implement ideas that are less likely to result in a lot of added value.
  • “Maybe one day”: Ideas or suggestions that simply do not fit your product’s roadmap or purpose and are therefore not likely get implemented. With that in mind, refrain from bluntly rejecting users’ ideas, just because in some cultures that may be perceived as quite offensive.

If possible, it would be valuable to let your users rank how much of an impact making a certain improvement would have on their use of the plugin. It doesn’t have to be an overly sophisticated upvoting mechanism; a simple like/dislike counter should suffice and will provide you with a bird’s eye view of your overall user feedback list. Remember that as you’re managing your product you want to satisfy users, but also decrease support costs and make the product easier to sell to new customers.

Stay On Target

In all likelihood, users will have lots of great ideas for you, especially if you incentivize those who voice them, but you’ll need to keep the roadmap focused on your product’s long-term strategy. Do not lose sight of it! You want to focus your development on the real “pains”/”must have features” that are relevant to at least 80% of your users. Otherwise, you risk ending up with a bloated product that has a gazillion features to support, even though some of them are barely used.

You’ll notice that this approach results in denying many of the suggestions you’ll be presented with, but that’s okay. At the end of the day, most users can understand that, and don’t slam the door and leave just because their great suggestion will not get implemented.

Apart from completely denying certain user feedback and suggestions, you’ll also need to make sure to correctly prioritize the ones you do accept and decide to implement in your WordPress plugin or theme. Your roadmap and ToDo list should never lose sight of your product’s vision.

How To Properly Incentivize People To Give User Feedback

As we’ve already established (and it is clear that Jose had realized that too), in order to encourage the majority of his users into providing him with their precious user feedback, it is important that he offers them an incentive to do that. The type of incentive you use should be directly linked to the time and effort required from them to provide that user feedback, as well as to the amount of incentive would be perceived as worth their time & effort.

Seeing as in most cases that relate to WordPress products the amount of effort and sacrifice the user is asked to put in to provide their feedback isn’t enormous, let’s focus on a scenario in which user feedback is given online, at the comfort of the user’s desk and through their computer. Out of the different scenarios that exist out there this is considered a relatively comfy one for the user, because it involves little effort on their end: they do not need to travel to attend some focus group meeting after work, or schedule a phone call with a company representative that usually takes more time than intended to or planned for. Hence, the type of incentive that’s right for user feedback on WordPress products should mostly depend on the type of target audience the WordPress plugin or theme at hand is dealing with, as well as the scarcity of users (how many users are there, to begin with).

As a rule of thumb, a cash incentive, or a way to save money (like a free product license), is surely going to bump up the response rates, even if it’s just a $5 incentive, according to this large US university’s alumni research:

User feedback rates

Image source: Marketing Charts

Furthermore, a cash incentive is far more effective than a chance to win a big prize. In fact, raffles don’t have a significant impact on user response rates, according to this research by Stanford.

**Bonus Option: Collect User Feedback At A WordCamp Or A Meetup

If you’re looking to spice things up a little for users who can’t be bothered “wasting their time in front of a boring user feedback survey”, then there’s another neat option you could try out.

The WordPress ecosystem is known for its vibrant community of people. While many of the active members who attend WordCamps and Meetups may not necessarily be your real target audience or customers, you could still take advantage of their intellect and squeeze some valuable user feedback from them about your product. Maybe in return for some cool swag that you prepare beforehand. Simply set up a table that lets people sit in front of a computer to try out your WordPress product, and ask them to tell you their thoughts as they experience your product. Write down their comments and suggestions, or maybe even record their sessions for later.

Conclusion

How you incentivize people for their user feedback plays a big role in keeping your research and product optimization process running according to plan: it increases the chances of incoming valuable user feedback at a higher pace, rather than relying on the extreme ends of your user base, or on the very few who are willing to make the effort without a proper incentive. Relying only on free user feedback isn’t likely to provide you with good material to work with, and is very likely to make your mind biased towards the minority rather than the majority.

When it comes to incentivizing people your best strategy is to place yourself in their shoes and think about what would motivate you, as a user, to sit down and provide some truly thought-out user feedback on a product that belongs to someone else that you don’t even know.

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