I’m serious about this: Usability affects PR

April 6, 2009 at 11:09 PM 2 comments

I ended my post last week tying web site usability to public relations. I’m not claiming this is an original thought, but I do think it’s one that deserves to be revisited. The bottom line is that PR professionals need to be aware of how information architecture and Web design affect the experience of their target publics in online communication.

Make your Web site easy to use
Make your Web site easy to use

I’m optimistic that this is a concept the PR world is willing to fully embrace. As I mentioned last week, it’s the strictly-marketing minded folks who tend to focus solely on “push” factors, ignoring the wants and needs of the user.

In my mind, a Web site with strong fundamentals of user experience design runs parallel with a PR campaign that uses solid research to attend to the needs of its target audience. In other words, designing a site that eliminates all the little frustrations users may encounter is the same as constructing a strategic PR plan that considers all the communication barriers of its target audience.

Usability is based on user expectations

In an online world, it all boils down to expectations. Less than a decade ago, the expectation was that a company/organization had some sort of online presence. At the minimum this meant a single Web page with some basic info and maybe a phone number.

But expectations are changing. Nowadays, a company must have a full-service Web site, and it better be a good one. The site must be easy to navigate and gives users all the information they desire without thinking. Oh, and while we’re at it, the site should appear in the top 5-10 results for a variety of Google search terms chosen by the users.

Am I the only one who ever feels like this?

For most PR practitioners, this may seem like a lot to think about. But if you’re Web site doesn’t do these things, be assured that a competitor’s site does. The Internet’s been around for a while now, and people have expectations for companies to represent themselves a certain way online. Don’t let them down — or worse, frustrate them.

Usability’s enemy is negative emotions

There’s nothing worse than getting frustrated on a web site. Sometimes the tiniest things can drive people crazy. Just ask my girlfriend about when I get frustrated — I know she’s seen me clench my fists at a computer screen more than once, but I think all of us get that anti-technology feeling every once in a while.

As PR professionals, we need to be responsible for making sure this feeling is avoided — making sure our target audience doesn’t get frustrated with our organization’s Web site. This means being aware of the things that commonly frustrate users and working with Web designers and usability experts to make sure they’re avoided at all costs.

To  get a few examples of things that frustrate users, I ran a Twitter search on the word “HATE.” Aside from a slue of tweets on “Mondays,” “dental appointments” and “ex-boyfriends,” I found a number of tweets referring to Web site use.

Here’s a few just to reinforce my point (notice that even the “big-wigs” of technology aren’t immune):

hate-tweets

For a PR professional, creating a Web site with bad usability is like shooting yourself in the foot. Just keep in mind that as the representative of your company’s reputation, this injury may hurt your organization worse than you think.

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Striking a balance between Skittles and stagnant What’s the point of online communication?

2 Comments Add your own

  • […] that frustration is the enemy of public relations, and alienating a target audience through an idle chat window is essentially the same as sitting […]

  • 2. Ryan Kennedy  |  April 25, 2009 at 2:54 AM

    I’ve spent a fruitless few months trying to convince a manager that serious usability problems in Sharepoint affect how much people like it. It’s like trying to explain web usability to a mouse. To me, it’s a no-brainer.

    Thanks for the blogroll list, and great blog. Please keep writing!

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