Don’t Kill Your Channels

A channel is a way you can reach your users. It can be email, notifications, stories in a Facebook stream or even push notifs on an iphone. Because most companies are so anxious to reach out to their user base, there is a temptation to use the channel as much as possible to try to lure the user in.

When Google+ launched, I was certain they had an unfair advantage in getting their young social network launched: Gmail. Gmail is a nascent graph. And Gmail has 425 Million users worldwide. That is one hell of a seed network. So you, like I, would think that adding in some notifications that stuff was happening over in Google+ in Gmail would work great, right?

I can’t say this is what happened for all users. I’m not inside of the Google watching them make the Google sausage (which I’m sure is organic with locally raised pigs.) But here is what happened to me.

I saw red notifications.

I clicked red notification.

It said someone had put me in a circle. Well, ok.

I saw red notifications.

I clicked red notification.

It said someone had put me in a circle. Whatever.

I saw red notifications.

I clicked red notification.

It said someone had put me in a circle. WTF!

I saw red notifications.

I shrugged.

I didn’t see red notifications.

Just now, after I took the above screenshot, I clicked the notification for the first time in many many months. And you know what? Stuff was there. Real stuff! Only one item per week, so not a lot, but actual humans were saying thanks, and there was a birthday I missed,  and someone asking me to look at a kids whatever-the-heck-project. It was like a really slow Facebook. But if G+ had shown me real activity when G+ first launched, no matter how little, I’d always click the Notification link.

But they killed the channel, and I’m trained to ignore it.

Now I can’t tell if this is generalizable to other G+ users. But I can tell you it is generalizable to other companies that I have known, who have killed channel after channel:

“We taught our users to ignore our mails!”

“We’ve been blocked on Facebook/Twitter for looking like spam!”

“The Facebook Algorithm has downgraded us!”

and so on.

Just imagine you have a friend (true story coming.) And he starts to try raise VC money. And after a few dozen pitches, he can’t get out of pitch mode. And every time you see him, he’s telling you about the upside of his company, and how they are getting real traction, and how First Round is ready, they just don’t want to lead (BTW, this is the VC’s way of saying “I like you as a friend.”) And that friend wants to tell you about the growth and the potential and the market and after a while you can’t take it. When they email you, you are conveniently out-of-town. When you see them, you casually walk the other way. So finally you say (or I may have said) let’s hang out after your done raising, ‘k?

Companies are doing this to their best customers all the time. The customer may adore your product and want to hear about it when you have something to say.  But you may have just become tiresome. And once you have become tiresome, how are you going to let them know you are alright now?

Once a channel is dead, it’s really hard to resurrect it.  The metaphor is tragically apt.

Take care of your channels.  Every email, every notif, every story in the stream of social should have real and genuine value. Or someday you are going to call on your customers. And this is all you’ll get.


For what it’s worth, when I was at Linkedin the team was brilliant at this.  At Linkedin there was a constant paranoia about annoying the “busy professional”  we knew was our bread and butter, and a real passion to make sure we only provided value. That’s why the email digest had the highest click-through I’ve ever seen on an email ever.

But in this day of Tweets, updates, posts, kids, 60 hour weeks and presidential lying contests everyone is a busy professional.

To be heard, you have to be trusted.

To be trusted, you have to have something worth saying.

And if you don’t have anything worth saying, to paraphrase my mom, don’t say anything at all.