Did you know that member profiles are typically the second most commonly utilised page template in most communities (after discussions)?
Most communities host thousands, even millions, of profiles. This makes it all the stranger that the basic template hasn’t changed much in a decade.
Check out this profile from a member of the HP Community in 2008 (forgive the formatting in Archive.org)
Compare this to the same profile today below.
The latter looks more aesthetically pleasing, but it still contains essentially the same combination of information as 15 years ago. his typically includes:
- Basic About Me
- Latest Posts
- Likes Received
- Likes Given
It really doesn’t matter which platform you look at, most profile pages look archaic compared to the standards of today.
At their worst, they simply create a lot of thin content which harms search traffic and clutters the community.
Too many profiles look like this.
Sure, there are fields where people can add their information, but very few people bother to do that.
Member profiles have lost their purpose and it’s time to take a different approach to them.
It’s time to revamp them to be something much more interesting.
Why Member Profiles Have Lost Their Purpose
We’ve undertaken hundreds of UX calls, collected thousands of survey responses, and looked at the data to see how often people visit member profiles.
One thing is clear; no one cares about member profiles much.
You might find a tiny minority of members who like to spend time updating their profile photos and information. There are also a tiny number of small professional communities where profiles matter. But, for around 99.99% of people, member profiles offer little value to members or the community.
There are three reasons for this
Three Challenges Member Profiles Need To Overcome
The problem is times have changed and technology hasn’t.
Our thinking about member profiles is still stuck in the 2000 to 2010 era instead of the modern era.
For example, this is a profile I created on a gaming site two decades ago(!).
(aside, it’s no coincidence some vendors emerged from the gaming sector with profiles similar to this).
In the 2000 to 2010 era, your community profile was your primary way of presenting yourself to people you cared about. You would spend time carefully listing and updating your achievements with new information. Despite what you see above, the profile photo mattered.
This doesn’t happen today for two reasons.
- Social media has replaced siloed identities. Today once we get to know someone we connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn and that becomes the way we showcase our identity. We don’t craft unique identities for each platform. Social media offers more flexibility and options to showcase ourselves. It’s easier to manage one identity than dozens.
- We’re members of far more sites than we used to be. It’s simply not possible to update and maintain an active profile on every app we use or community we join. You can only describe yourself in 250 words so many times. Keeping them updated feels like a big chore.
- Profiles don’t offer the features to make a unique identity. In the rare cases where we do want to create a unique identity, the platform themselves haven’t kept up to date with what we want to do. For example, if you want to share your favourite memories on your profile, where would you do that?
Fortunately, there are better approaches we can take to member profiles.
Four Approaches To Improving Member Profiles
There are four approaches to member profiles. Each is useful in different contexts.
Option 1 – Remove or Minimise Them
In many communities, there isn’t a need for members to have clickable profiles.
They tend to create a lot of thin content (Jive was the worst offender). They add a lot of clutter. Few people visit them and they cause more problems than they solve.
Customer support communities are perhaps the best example.
If your iPhone is broken, you don’t want to spend time describing yourself in a member profile to get an answer. You simply want to ask a question, get the solution, and leave.
This explains the example from Tableau above.
Most people don’t bother to complete any information on their profile because it doesn’t matter enough to them.
In most customer support communities, profiles could theoretically be removed (or hidden) and no one would really notice.
If it were possible to get rid of member profiles (but keep members) that wouldn’t be the worst option.
(aside, superusers care less about their profiles than what appears alongside their name in each contribution they make).
Option 2 – Use Custom Profile Fields To Display Unique Status Symbols
A better approach is to let members use profiles to share their status symbols.
In support communities, this will primarily appeal to top members only. But in professional networks, peer groups, and user groups, this will be useful to many.
One reason why profiles have died is they don’t let members share the information they want to share. The status symbols vary greatly by community. For example:
- In a community of music fans, members should be able to list the dates and names of the live events they’ve attended (and plan to attend).
- In a local community, members might want to highlight how long they’ve lived in the area, services they’ve performed for the community or any relevant local news clippings.
- In a parenting community, it might be the combined age of their children and any unique circumstances they’re facing.
- In a dieting community, it might be the before and after photos (bodybuilding.com does this well).
- In a hipster community, it might be the length of the beard (maybe?)
- In an Apple community, it might be the first Apple product they’ve bought (or a list of products they’ve bought.
Gamification badges don’t cut it here. Most vendor platforms lack the flexibility for members to highlight the things about themselves they want to share.
StackOverflow might be the best example of this:
If you want members to use profiles you have to find the symbols which members really care about and then make it easy to show those on a profile.
This is usually easy to do when you can edit the custom profile fields. You might even ask members what they want to display in their profiles (or get help from our UX researchers).
This won’t be a game-changer, but it will ensure profiles are a lot more pertinent to their respective communities than they typically are today.
Option 3 – Let Members Keep Track Of Past Discussions
Our UX research suggests some members will occaisionally use member profiles to keep track of discussions they’ve recently participated.
This is common in communities which send too few (or too many) notifications. It’s also common in communities which are so vast and it can be difficult to know where and when you posted a discussion.
It’s surprisingly hard to find your recent contributions in many communities.
Many communities offer this today but often make the same mistake as Tableau below.
The problem is there’s too much information here. All it needs is a simplified list of recent discussions by subject line. Reduce the clutter to a minimum.
Another common problem is showing all replies a person has recently posted as opposed to all the discussions members have participated in.
It’s typically best to show each discussion rather than each reply.
This works best in communities where referencing past discussions is useful.
A good example of this is support-based communities (both informational support and emotional support).
Option 4: Create Unified Profiles
In organisations where the product is complex and often requires training, the ideal solution is to create unified profiles which eliminate the boundaries between member data and customer data.
When members log into their account or the community, the profile is the same.
Member profiles can serve as a springboard for people to track progress and highlight the next things they need to do.
This works extremely when the community is integrated with a learning management system (LMS) and members can see how far they’ve progressed towards particular goals or particular skills.
Members can use their profiles to see how far they’ve progressed and what they need to do next. In these use cases, it gives the profiles a purpose.
Also notice here how what typically appears at the top of the page in most profiles (the about me) is at the bottom.
This makes sense; the About Me Is the least interesting part of the profile.
These profiles might show a combination of:
- An overall score based on years of experience, products purchased, courses completed, people helped (or, alternatively, a specialist score in each).
- A list of any unique specialities or awards.
- Products purchased.
- Courses completed (and next courses to complete).
- Key contacts they’ve made in the industry.
- Past customer support requests and information.
- Events attended (and planning to attend).
- Awards or badges gained within the community.
The main advantage of this is it creates a living resume which is useful as people progress and advance in their careers. It’s something people should be able to display with pride in any job application.
You can go one step further and make it easy for people to share their community status with a visual frame or image overlay (i.e. if I’m level 61 or ‘Elite’ in a community, I can overlay a recognition of that on my LinkedIn profile).
The downside of this approach is it often overlaps with the homepage of the community.
Sometimes it simply makes sense for a personalised springboard to be the landing page of the community rather than a side attraction.
We can summarise the above and recommend some next steps.
- Discover if profiles in your community are used much today. Interview members, look at your community analytics data (we can help here), and see what percentage of members actually complete profiles. If it’s less than 20%, you need to make a change.
- Determine which of the four options is feasible for you. This depends on the platform which hosts your community, your budget, and your in-house technical abilities. Creating unified profiles is clearly a much heavier lift than customising profile fields.
- Decide which option to pursue. If you’re managing a peer group or success community, options 2 and 3 might make the most sense. If you’re a support-based community, then options 1 and 4 might make the most sense. But it depends highly upon the community.