Striking a balance between Skittles and stagnant

March 30, 2009 at 11:39 PM 3 comments

When I started Steele Headed, I told myself I wasn’t going to focus exclusively on social media. I figured that there were already enough bloggers out there praising SM as the end-all-be-all of integrated marketing and public relations, and that I should approach my blog from a new angle. In an attempt to branch out, here’s a post that ties in a few elements of Web design, usability and user experience.

fruit-skittlesAnd what better way to transition from SM to Web site design than the Skittles site? The popular candy brand (a division of Mars, Inc.) changed its home page several weeks back to include nothing but social media sites (YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter included).

I won’t go into too much depth on the pros/cons of this unique viral marketing approach (enough bloggers already have), but I do want to use the site as an example of incorporating two-way communication in a Web site. (If you’re looking for discussion on the Skittles site, check out these posts by Shel Holtz and Matt Dickman.)

Studies have shown that using two-way communication features in Web design improves usability, encourages repeat traffic and increases the overall success of a Web site (contact me if you want more info on this; I’ve got research galore, including a number of scholarly articles).

The Skittles site is on one end of the spectrum, devoting all of its Web site real estate to user-generated content. It favors feedback and fosters conversation. The site is constantly changing, and gives users the chances to interact with the brand. It’s a quintessential example of using two-way communication in Web design.

On the other end of the spectrum is a site that uses no elements of two-way communication. For example, take a look at “the official Vonage site.” This Vonage page* is essentially an online flier. It provides no space for user feedback and sends users a single one-way message: “buy my service.”


The trouble with the flier-like page isn’t so much its pushy message as it is the lack of options. It’s a prime example of how online marketers don’t consider the user experience.  When I came to this page, I had two options: buy the service or leave.

To make matters worse, the page doesn’t even include a link to the Vonage homepage. But once I found my way there, things weren’t much better. The only way to interact with the company was through email or telephone. I was left alone and frustrated on a stagnant island of a Web site.

So how do we strike the balance between Skittles and stagnant?

In my experience, it’s about pairing useful content with usable interaction. Realistically, most sites aren’t going to take the Skittles path and hand over the reins of their Web site content to just anyone (literally). But providing a way for users to interact with the site in a human way is important. Time Warner Cable provides a good example of a site that gives frustrated users a chance to “Contact Us,” giving the site a personal feel.

The moral of the story is that usability affects PR; people who get frustrated with a Web site tend to have a negative opinion of the host company. Including two-way communication features can help alleviate some of these problems by offering users a way to ask for help — or at least leave feedback. When users can interact with the site, even if they can’t find what they’re looking for, they don’t leave with a pent-up feeling of angst and frustration.

But maybe it’s just me? Maybe I expect too much when I visit a company’s Web site? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

* Upon further investigation, I found that the pre-paid cell phone company only uses this page to lure potential customers, and actually has another “full-service” site.  But because Vonage uses SEM to place this link at the top of Google search results, it’s what I found first and makes a great example.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

The Social Media Involvement Pyramid I’m serious about this: Usability affects PR

3 Comments Add your own

  • […] 6, 2009 I ended my post last week tying web site usability to public relations. I’m not claiming this is an original thought, […]

  • […] Later that week, I had a slightly better experience using Kent State Library’s “IM a Librarian feature.” I was having difficulty using one of the reference tools offered by the library and was stuck at home without the assistance of a librarian. After exhausting all my efforts in the online help pages, I turned to the virtual librarian for help (a great feature that eased my frustration and saved my opinion of the organization as I mentioned in an earlier post). […]

  • 3. Montana  |  June 9, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    your candy rocks

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