Why does my ERP look like a ghost town? Designing for the content generation

Friant's La Discussion. Generating interaction when creating operations softwares is a more important goal than you might think.

Consumer first: a tale from three users

Think of your favorite social media, or content generator. I’m pretty sure you can name, for each of the below categories, at least one real person.

  • The 🌟Power User: she posts a lot of content, often thoughtful and curated to her audience. She also is a vibrant part of the community and participate to the debates of the times ;
  • The 🤗 Contributor: while she does not posts often, she does the reaction thing, whether commenting, using emojis, tagging friends, and keep audience engaged without creating radically new content ;
  • The 🕴️ Lurker: while he exists (he has an account, after all), he just keeps silently consuming all the information and getting a reaction from him is a rare sight.

While numbers may vary, and definitions across various media and content generator platforms are hard to standardize, a growing consensus backed by serious science and business insights teaches us that:

  • Distribution in a given platform follows roughly the rule of 5% 🌟Power Users, 15% 🤗 Contributors and 80% 🕴️Lurkers;
  • Meanwhile, 🌟 Power Users create 80% of the content, 🤗 Contributors 15%, and 🕴️ Lurkers 5%.

Repartition of content starting at the 1%, sourced from Andrea Tagarelli's and Roberto Interdonato's Lurking in social networks: topology-based analysis and ranking methods

Those numbers may vary, and interesting developments are underway, such as new platforms like TikTok changing substantially the amount of content generated by 🤗 Contributors (roughly x3),Instagram having an even steeper Power-user content generation ration (the rise of mega-influencers), or Youtube having a surprising amount of niche 🕴 Lurker content generation (roughly x3, if you haven’t tried the niche content creators specialized in woodworking, try it now).

Still, the general trend holds. Another well-known characterization of this trend, while less specific, is known as “the power law."

Audience for the top 500 Twitter accounts, sourced from Axionable AI. 

The consequences of that almost physical law on social media apps

This almost universal law that is being observed has deep consequences for product development:

  • Catering, giving an audience, and allowing 🌟 Power Users to get privileged distribution channels is a priority: think Twitter’s algorithmic feed that shows you tweet from people you don’t follow, Linkedin’s “topics” that show you posts from people you’re not connected to, Facebook’s “friend of a friend” algorithmic feed, Youtube’s “Recommended”, Instagram’s “Trending”, Medium’s “Redaction choice” and so on;
  • 🤗 Contributors are multiplicators and curators of 🌟 Power Users content and should get ways of multiplying said content: think Twitter’s retweet & comment, Linkedin’s comment and share, Facebook’s reactions and commenting, Youtube’s reaction vids, thumbs up, shares and others, TikTok’s “tribute videos”, Instagram’s “replies." They pave the way for 🕴 Lurkers to consume the right content, because of their work of selecting, curating, and giving appropriate feedback to the main content creators.

That de facto ecosystem curates the biggest content generation the world has seen, and its ubiquity lets tech giants learn about everyone in a non-centralized but powerful and well-documented way.

So, the consumer space taught us that users are deeply unequal creators and consumers of content, and that to thrive, a content generation and consumption ecosystem has to satisfy those very different three archetypes.

Why does it matter for my ERP or enterprise software ?

At the Studio, we have seen our share of enterprise software that goes straight out from hell: 36 months implementation cycles, mass user training, confusing interfaces, outdated data structures.

And one of the most overlooked aspects of that software is that more often than not, the content generation flow is just broken.

Contrary to popular belief, workers at companies are human beings, and from our observations, they tend to follow the typical spread between 🌟 Power Users, 🤗 Contributors, and 🕴️ Lurkers. So, bad software consequences are:

  • If the content generation flow relies on everyone giving information at various times, about 80% of the content (the one from 🕴 Lurkers) is broken, as in not detailed enough, or just not there, and no amount of beating increases that fact;
  • If there are no incentives nor ways for 🌟 Power Users to generate more content, typical 🌟 Power Users create ad-hoc (read: excel files) systems in which they can unleash their creativity, but their distribution channels are limited and there are no ways for them to put back this content in the system;
  • If there are no incentives for 🤗 Contributors to amplify 🌟 Power User’s work, less and less bond between different people is created and the curation process is broken, thus rendering relevant information in the company unavailable, or getting too much information at once that doesn’t have the same value.

The classical consequence of those is the “ghost town” effect: a soulless software product that does not surface information meaningfully, does not curate, and does not generate network effects between different people of the company.

A typical ghost with no hierarchy, no social components. Good luck with getting this information up to date, buddy. 

Of course, there is light. Amazing products, mostly on the prosumer side, are surfacing and applying those modern product design principles to enterprise software: for example, Asana allows anyone to comment/check/edit projects so 🌟 Power Users get a hit, Slack lets 🤗 Contributors react to appropriate messages to surface them in a smart way for the average 🕴️ Lurker, and of course, Microsoft Teams copy most features of Slack.

Still, most of the enterprise software space is plagued with outdated thinking on these topics, which represents a massive opportunity for value creation. And as we say, the most social product always wins.

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