with Josh Elman

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How do you help users learn to use your site?

Josh Elman

Product Guy, Greylock Partner, Growth Expert

Lessons Learned

Millions of people signed up for Twitter to find out what it what it was about.

A search box & importing friends were in the old sign up process, but that is not what Twitter is.

The learnflow concept makes the new user flow teach you about the product—and get you engaged.


Lesson: Growth with Josh Elman

Step: #2 Learnflow: How do you help users learn to use your site?

So I joined Twitter in the fall of 2009 and it was a really interesting time for the company. Over the past year the company had really been hyped up almost to the nth degree. We had millions and millions of people around the country and the world signing up for Twitter to find out what it was all about. When they'd signed up for Twitter or they'd come to the Twitter website, they might see a big search box, which will led you down to the Twitter search experience, which isn't what Twitter is really about, and it's actually pretty hard to parse. Or you'd go and you'd go through our sign up flow and you'll be like, "Go and import your friends to find your friends on Twitter and here are 20 suggested users you might want to follow." So you'd end up with 20 random people or nothing and you'd be like, "Now what? Everyone said this thing's amazing, I don't get it." And they'd leave.

We really invested in three or four key things to try to change this. The first was repositioning what Twitter was all about. It started with what are you doing and we realized what really was going on with Twitter wasn't people just sharing what they were doing, but talking about what's happening in the world everywhere. We changed the question to what's happening and then as we talked about Twitter everywhere, we talked about Twitter's being the place you go for what's happening in the world. If you've singed up and you follow the right things, you'll have this just amazing lens into what's happening all the time in real time.

The second thing is, we change the entire signup experience. Instead of being a, "Import your friends," or, "Here are 20 suggested people," we made you do a little bit more work. We made you go step-by-step and actually follow some people. We organized it with in the way that made it make a lot more sense to what Twitter was about. The first thing we showed you was categories like news and sports, entertainment and music. So, you'd go, "Oh my gosh, I didn't think about going to Twitter for news, sports, entertainment, fashion, music, design. Now, I get that this Twitter thing is about finding people I want to subscribe to, subscribe to them and they show up here on my home page. Whenever I come back on my home page, it's recent, it's fresh, it's relevant." That just complete rethinking of the flow meant what people signed up for Twitter, they got this kind of experience instead of something they still didn't understand and had to figure out on their own.

We really tried to step back and do a bunch of research with people. We learned one other really interesting thing in this interviewees and research, which were, a lot of people who were super excited about Twitter, when they told other people about Twitter, they would say, "Twitter is this great place to sign up, start tweeting, go get a bunch of followers, you'll be able to have this voice and broadcast your message, which most people who weren't them would hear that and be like, "I don't want to sign up for Twitter, I don't want to have a thing I want to broadcast." It would actually be, you'd sign up, you'd think it's all about tweeting and then you'd leave and you'd actually be scared of the product, because you don't really want to have to deal with having this voice.

The Learnflow concept is make every step in the new user flow teach you something about using the product but actually get you to engage too. One of the biggest mistakes I think a lot of companies make when they're trying to get people into their product is they try to make so fast and easy to get right into the product but they don't actually teach you how the product works. Everybody thinks I just want to make a product that's so useful. Google made one big box and it was so useful that they didn't even need to educate you for everything, so we think that every product should work that way. I think that's not how most products work. They are complex but when you get them and you're using them right, they're incredible.

So with Twitter over time as we kept improving the user experience we came up with this concept, the thing called the Learnflow. This is when you're signing up for Twitter, how do I not just get you to sign up but actually have you learn the product as you're going through. I think this was a really foundational thing. When we've joined Twitter over time we've actually added steps to our new user flow and that's only increased the number of downstream people who actually get active on the service, out of a set of those who sign up.

So if you sign up for Twitter today this is the experience you will get "Welcome to Twitter" and you'll have a screen that just tells you a little bit about Twitter and tells you to press "okay." Now that sounds like a tour but it's actually just kind of a pause to breathe. Okay you're about to sign up for Twitter, this is what a tweet is, go on. The very first step says "Go and follow a bunch of people and here's a bunch of people you might want to follow," and you see as you follow, you see people actually show up on your timeline on the right. And there's this amazing learning experience "I follow, I get tweets," you see the correlation right there.

The next step now says "Now go browse some categories like news and sports and entertainment and find other people you might be interested in." And now you're learning by doing that there's news, sports, entertainment, fashion, design, music; everybody's here on Twitter and you're learning that this concept that you can go find anything on Twitter.

The next step says, "Now go import your friends," and you know it almost nudges you pretty hard to do that. By going to look whether it's your Facebook or your Gmail or whatever to go find some friends, now you understand that finding friends is an important part of Twitter.

The last step is actually setup your profile; create your identity, because again you learn that you should have a good identity on the product.

So by going through these four or five steps you're actually learning the product as you go. If I were to just restate those steps simply; tweets, following, news, sports, entertainment, friends, and profile, that's a really good description of Twitter. And even if you just takeaway those one word from each of those pages, you've learned the product then when you actually go into the product for the first time you're not like "What is this thing?" But you now have a framework to think about it in. So I recommend that every onboarding experience works this way.

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