ProBoards was a legacy company with a long history of changes, upgrades, and versions over its history. In 2013 I had been a part of the development team that built and launched the latest version to widespread acclaim from our users. A few years on, the shine had worn off and while revenue was still growing, the rate of growth had decreased.
I started by analyzing our data to understand what user behaviors were responsible for driving our revenue. As an ad-supported platform, I had to account for the nuances of how many of which size ads appeared on different pages. My research showed that our largest opportunity lay in encouraging users to respond to each other’s forum posts more often. I translated these findings into a set of concrete key performance indicators (KPIs), a first for the company.
With a set of shared goals established, the next task was to piece together a roadmap that would help us reach those goals. For this, I drew from a combination of analytics data and user-sourced feature requests. The strategy I developed rotated around three key themes: sharing, incentives, and a creator ecosystem.
The first theme we tackled was sharing. The key to this theme was streamlining the sharing of content between a forum and the wider internet, especially social media. Features included embedding media into posts and simple social media sharing buttons.
Next up was improving our creator ecosystem. ProBoards always had a small, passionate group of users who created custom forum themes and plugins. Many of our largest and most vibrant communities depended on these creators. My hypothesis was that expanding what our community could create for themselves would spur new types of interactions. We rolled out a set of features that allowed new ways of hooking into the forum software. Weekly contests for small prizes helped us publicize new creations that used these expanded features.
The final theme was incentives, which I borrowed from the concepts in Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked. We overhauled our notification system to be easier to use and smarter about when it notified users. Our notification email templates got a major facelift, greatly increasing the click-through rate. We also introduced a badge system, which never took off beyond a small core audience.
It took us over a year to work through my engagement-focused roadmap. A steady cadence of features was pivotal in driving revenue up by about 7%, a growth rate much higher than in previous years. The KPIs I established were now a useful leading indicator of how changes would affect the bottom line, helping us make better decisions.