A Little Communication Goes a Long Way

Communication Featured Image
photo credit: elycefelizcc

Whether you manage WordPress plugins, themes, or a service, a key component to keeping users happy is communication. Users and especially paying customers want to know what’s going on. Going an extended period of time without communicating leads to doubt, a feeling of abandonment, and speculation.

Communicating is not hard and these days, developers have more ways than ever to keep users and customers informed. If you’re experiencing writer’s block or don’t know what to write about, here are a few ideas.

  • New Features
  • Major Bug Fixes
  • White Papers
  • User Testimonials/Reviews
  • Major Changes or Announcements

The key is to maintain a cycle where you communicate, users and customers provide feedback, and implement the feedback into continued improvements. While it doesn’t always work this way, it’s an ideal strategy that keeps developers and users on the same page.

Controlling The Flow of Information

Ideally, a news site is not the first place users should discover what’s going on with a particular project. Blogs attached to a project’s site are an excellent way to keep insiders and outsiders informed. By utilizing Facebook, Twitter, change logs, and a blog, you control the flow of information and what you want people to know.

Speaking of change logs, last year, I offered advice on what information to include and how to differentiate between the changes. Users read change logs and should be an important part of any developer’s communication strategy.

How Much Communication?

There’s no set rule on how much you should communicate but with all the options available, there’s no excuse not to push out a few updates a week. However, this all depends on how many users you have, how much development activity is going on, etc. Sometimes, there’s nothing to report and that’s fine. When it becomes concerning is when there is a lack of communication after a month or more.

Communication Can Make or Break a Business

Most of what I’ve discussed so far deals with software development. However, there is one aspect of communication that can make or break a business and that’s during a security issue.

If your plugin, theme, or service experiences a security issue, the best thing to do is own it, be as transparent as possible, and inform users immediately. A great example is when iThemes experienced a security breach in late 2014, that affected approximately 60,000 customers.

iThemes CEO Cory Miller could have swept the breach under the rug and fix things behind the scenes but instead, chose to immediately inform customers. In his post, he explains what happened, takes full responsibility, and explains what they’re going to do to make things right.

As the company learned more about the breach, they shared that information with customers and the public. Thanks to Miller’s honest approach of attacking the issue head on, a lot of upset customers pledged their support for the company.

Be Honest

If iThemes chose to keep the breach under wraps for as long as possible, chances are that at some point it would be exposed likely causing the company irreparable damage. Humans are not perfect and security vulnerabilities happen, but it’s how they’re handled that can make or break a business.

Be honest with yourself and to those giving you money. Nothing good happens by ignoring customers or setting unrealistic expectations.

As the user and customer base of plugins, themes, and services increases, so does the impact of communication. You don’t have to write a thesis every week but it’s nice to know that the developers behind a project have a pulse, especially if it’s for something people are paying for.

If communication is something you’re struggling with, let us know in the comments. If you develop a popular theme or plugin, let us know what your strategy is for keeping people informed.


6 responses to “A Little Communication Goes a Long Way”

  1. You make some excellent points regarding the importance of communication. People love information and can quickly feel ignored if the flow of information is sparse.

    There is nothing wrong with sending updates every couple week that only says our heads are down working on this or that. People know that the project is alive and moving forward. Furthermore, I love the suggestion about industry information or best-practice sharing. This is an excellent value add communication and builds authenticity.

  2. Agree. Cool post Jeff.
    If I choose a plugin/service, I always check how the developer is active. Checking changelog, last update, blog, twitter …
    Even if a plugin/service looks cool but not any noise from a developer/company for two-three months, I hold back.

    What I also like is if I know what I can expect from the plugin in near future, not many developers has something like a roadmap or at least some thoughts about a direction where he try to move.
    Usually, I don’t build a business or website for one month, so know something more about tools/services what I use is always appreciated. I also enjoy contact with a developer (comment, twitter, forum …) as I prefer some kind of relationship instead of just filling a credit card data to a form.

  3. Its interesting too look at the WP project itself in this regard. It(they?) have improved greatly over the years. Before things were hidden away att hallway discussions in WordCamps, or barbeque parties, some things probably still is, but overall things are much more transparent and inclusive nowadays. Now with the make blogs, slack and being easily able to link to discussions etc things are only going to get better. Given the long time period things are decided and separate projects being made such as the REST API and Fields API etc there is risk of things getting too spread out again but so far everything is relatively easy to trace. One improvement would be if there was a log of all the meetings with a link back to slack. That would be a great addition I think.

  4. Yes, I love how iThemes owned up to the problem and went to work to fix it immediately and kept the public up to date. It’s analogous to having a boss who screws up and does NOT admit it. Everyone knows the boss screwed up. So pretending it didn’t happen solves nothing and causes people to instantly lose respect that is extremely difficult to get back that respect. Same thing with plugin and theme developers whose product develops a problem dealing with security or functionality. By having blog posts, email lists, twitter followers, etc., the proper and necessary communication can get out to clients and user as quickly as possible. Companies who delete unpleasant tweets instead of responding to legitimate concerns, is another poor way of dealing with your paying public! Thanks for sharing.


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