dscout: You've worked in a number of different areas at LinkedIn: search, content, learning, and now marketing solutions. Are there different ways that you approach research in different areas of the company?
Anton Zadorozhnyy: Absolutely. With a large family of products like what LinkedIn offers, one of the challenges is recognizing that while internally, you think about it as a cohesive ecosystem of products, the users really don't. They jump in and out touching pieces as they need depending on what they are personally trying to accomplish. So the approaches have actually been very different, even though it's all been LinkedIn. The way that I approached studying content consumption behavior was very different from how I approached looking at search behavior. There are so many different use cases and so many different contexts for which these products have value to someone, and you have to understand what that purpose and what the model of intent is for any given context you're studying.
For something like search, it's a structured task. You search to do something with what you hope to find. At a fundamental level that impacts how you approach it, where when you're studying something like search, you're feeding contexts for people. More holistically, you're asking questions about what the end value that people are trying to get from the product.
Does the difference in end value go beyond simply what you're trying to use the tool for?
Definitely—that’s also part of the difference between consumer users and enterprise users. With a consumer user, you have someone who's basically paying for the account on their own, so they're an individual sort of buyer and user. For example, look at the Learning product. A user who has purchased the product for their own personal use is in a very different mindset from an Enterprise user, or someone who has been provisioned the tool to use in their job.
I like to think about it in terms of locus of control, which is the idea that the different motivations and purposes behind the tasks that we’re doing that affect how we do them. There are different goals and requirements, and a different sense of what success looks like.
If you’re the ultimate beneficiary of a task, you have an internal locus of control. You’re doing something for yourself, versus when you have an outside set of requirements that you have to fulfill. It’s a very different relationship, and a very different set of expectations and needs from the product. For the user without the internal locus of control, the product use is often much more execution-oriented, much more focused on the optimization of tasks.
How does that manifest in the research itself?
Users with the internal locus of control tend to be much more empowered, much more vocal in sessions. Someone who is using the product in an enterprise context, however, often feels as though it's harder to discuss, because they feel they don’t have a lot of agency. We’ve all been in a situation where there’s a tool we use at work, and we're not huge fans of it, but we have no authority to change it. For consumers, if they reach a certain threshold of emotional discomfort with a product, they might just stop using it. In enterprise, you're more likely to have someone who doesn't like it, but also can't stop using it and it can be harder to identify areas of improvement.
Another challenge with Enterprise users is that they don't operate in isolation. They have other people that they depend on, that they have to check with. Right now, I'm coming up against this with some research I’m doing around decision making. And what I’m finding is that participants find it hard to talk about because no one really makes these decisions on their own.
Is there a way to address that with the research methodology?
It can be tempting to then do group interviews, where you get all these people together and have them all talk about it. But in those cases, often the hierarchy of the company really comes across. Those dynamics make it difficult for people to speak frankly about enterprise experiences. That disconnect between end user pain points and purchaser decision making, that can actually manifest in the session itself. In a group session, you might have someone who is higher up talking about how great a product is, and then some restrained silence from the more junior members of the team. But if you try to do the interviews in isolation, and people say that they can't actually answer for the company because their boss isn't around.
What about a combination of both?
We have done combinations with people at the peer level, so we don’t have decision-makers and their direct reports. That works a lot better, but there’s still a bit of a threshold system at play, where if you're below a certain level on the ladder, you feel like you have to stop talking when the conversation reaches decisions that you didn’t take part in. It's because you can't speak to those things. People still do, but they introduce everything with a caveat: “This is what I think. But my boss might say something different.” We’ve yet to find a perfect way to do it, but it’s something we’re mindful of, and it’s important to include both perspectives in research.
Carrie Neill is a New York based writer, editor, design advocate, bookworm, travel fiend, dessert enthusiast, and a fan of People Nerds everywhere.