This week, we’re excited to be rolling out a revamped Help Center. Huzzah! This is a project we included in the 2012 Ning Product Roadmap, and one that is very much a group effort by the Ning advocacy team.
When our product managers and engineers prepare to roll out a new feature for the Ning Platform, it’s the Ning advocacy department’s job to document the nitty-gritty details. We dive in and quiz everyone involved about nearly every detail of the upcoming product release. We take the answers to our many “okay-but-can-it-do-this” questions and marry it to the wealth of content that lives on our internal wiki. We combine it all — from first spec to wireframes to release notes — to create articles for our knowledgebase; a.k.a., the “Help Center.”
This is the fourth incarnation of the Ning Help Center. The previous Help Center has served us very well — and for a long time. For the past three or four years, it’s been a highly trafficked site visited by tens of thousands of Network Creators each month. The previous Help Center had an understated elegance to the design that encouraged customers to search and find what they needed. Over time, though, the content in the knowledgebase grew. Finding helpful articles through search wasn’t enough. This has been especially true for brand-new Network Creators, who have often requested a way to browse content based on their skill level. First-timers, in particular, are better served by introductory videos, a list of Top 10 Newbie Questions, and a downloadable PDF launch plan. They need guidance and friendly advice more than they need to find out if the new Chat lets you block out swear words. (BTW: It does!)
Here are a few of the high-level goals that guided the Help Center redesign:
Make it more friendly
First and foremost, we wanted to make the home page and everything that sits beneath it much more visual. We needed visual cues, FAQ lists for complex articles, asides and tips, the ability to put different types of content on a page, etc. It needs to reflect the always-changing document it actually is, and it should have the personality and “Ning Voice” that we’ve always cultivated in our Creators community and elsewhere.
Better navigation, better organization
We absolutely knew customers would enjoy more options for discovering content, and we definitely wanted a step up from asking customers to search and find. We created an understandable top navigation scheme; an always-available feature list for drilling down by feature; quick access to our often-used troubleshooting articles; exposed tags for those who use them; inviting landing pages for special topics; an attractive home-page slider with revolving content that can easily be changed to announce new product releases; and much more. Most important: We now have the flexibility to change all of this as needed.
Consolidate our content
We took this opportunity to unify our popular Best Practices articles, Inspiration gallery, and Getting Started guide under one umbrella. Previously, this content was distributed in different locations. Now, nearly everything that isn’t part of the Creators Community is located in the Help Center. Long-time Network Creators may have seen some of this additional content, but now it’s all in one place for everyone to access.
Unleash our advocates’ expertise
Our old system was a bit of a bear for us to update, so we wanted to make it incredibly easy for every Ning advocate to jump in and make a quick change on the fly. Further, we want to encourage our advocates to get creative and really share their expertise. They speak to customers every day, and we want to give them more power to immediately add new content to the Help Center based on specific feedback from our customers.
Those were a few of our main goals, and we think we’ve got a great start on making the Help Center more friendly and usable. Take a look at the old and new home pages, side-by-side:
And, take a gander at one of our most popular articles, which covers the complex task of setting up a custom domain:
It’s a marked improvement. Of course, this migration to a new Help Center is just a beginning and not the end. We still have more to create. Now that all of our advocates can get in there and add new content, here’s a few more things we may be doing going forward:
- Add more examples of super-succesful networks to the Inspiration gallery and divide it into deeper categories (e.g., education, business, craft niches, etc.). Sometimes, people like to just browse through other networks to see how other people do things.
- Incorporate some of the best tips from the Creators Network into the Help Center. Every Friday afternoon, we send out a newsletter to all members of the Creators Network that includes the top tips of the week from the community. This is the type of content we think can be graduated to the Help Center so everyone can reap the benefits of these excellent shared tips.
- Our screencasts have always been well-received, and we’d like to create new ones for more complex topics like adding a custom header, fooling around with CSS, or setting up Google Webmaster tools. Screencasts are time-intensive to create, but by watching closely how people use the new Help Center, we can surely identify spots where a video walk-through would be useful.
- Include articles about using outside tools like Google Alerts, Firebug, free online image editors, outside polling services, etc.; anything we can “review” for you and show you how third-party tools can be easily used in conjunction with your Ning Network.
- Provide ready-made content for Network Creators to take and use like a “Welcome Center” or “About Us” HTML page; Broadcast Message templates you can copy and paste; and perhaps a Mini Help Center for your own network that’s as brand-free as possible and that covers the basics for your members; things like that which can make creating content easier for you.
Those are just a few of the ideas we have for this next generation of the Help Center. Feel free to let us know your thoughts and feedback, particularly about how those last few things should work — or whatever else you think would help you find and get information you need to help you build and grow your Ning Network.