Elizabeth Gin, LinkedIn Senior User Experience Researcher, says there’s an undiscovered treasure when it comes to Enterprise customers: the admin user. This key group of under-studied users often act as the gatekeepers for enterprise products—managing accounts, allocating product licenses, and onboarding their fellow employees onto different tools. Elizabeth breaks down how understanding the workflow and needs of this group of “hidden users” can help uncover critical insights into how tools are implemented and used across companies.
People Nerds spoke with Gin as part of a “deep dive” conversation series with LinkedIn’s Enterprise UX team.
dscout: Your colleagues have referred to you as "the voice of the hidden user." Who is that?
Elizabeth Gin: I love shining a spotlight on the unknown or the hidden, and helping people understand its importance and relevance to what they're doing. It’s something I’m passionate about in both my work life and my personal life. I’ll share an example from the latter: have you heard of birding?
As in birdwatching?
Exactly. My husband is an avid birder, and I go along with him on a lot of his trips. And one thing I’ve learned through the birding journey is that birds are everywhere. They're in the city, they're in fields, they're in deserts, places where you think there is no life, there are birds there—you just have to notice them. And once you begin to notice them, your experience of the world and the ecosystem becomes so much more alive and vibrant and full.
I love shining a spotlight on the unknown or the hidden.
That’s one thing I found in my work at LinkedIn in terms of uncovering these hidden users. Though they’re not necessarily always the focus of product teams, they're actually super, super crucial. We refer to these folks as enterprise product administrators. So, they're basically the people that make the whole ship run. They understand the workflow of who at their company is using what product and how. Without them, the enterprise product might not effectively roll out, and may or may not be successful. Once you learn about them your understanding of the enterprise product experience becomes that much more complete.
How has the understanding of the administrator as a hidden user evolved at LinkedIn? At what point did you start to realize, “Oh, this person is a really important part of the puzzle.”does that manifest in the research itself?
When an enterprise product is being developed, the experience of the enterprise product administrator can sometimes be last minute thought—it’s, “Oh wait, we need an admin portal or control panel, a place where someone can go add users, or turn off access to employees that have left the company.” It can sometimes be the secondary focus that gets pulled together at the end, right before launch.
But what I’ve learned is that these folks and their experience should be a primary focus. Often, they are huge advocates for the enterprise product! There's a reason why they're bringing the product to their company. They believe in it, they think that it's going to meet a need in their company that they've identified and they're ready to champion it. They’re really paving the way for the product at their company.
And as I did research with them, I uncovered great similarities in their workflows, offering an opportunity to really streamline, pool resources, and put more dedicated focus on understanding what they do to help a product be successful at their company, and improving their experience.
So it's been really enjoyable working with them and seeing the monumental impact you can have by just making their experience even just a little bit better.
In one sense, the admin users are actually researchers themselves. They’re the ones who are making the decisions about renewing the contract for a product, or looking at how teams are using it internally. Part of what they need to do is understand how their primary users are engaging with the product. there a way to address that with the research methodology?
For them, understanding how their employees are using the product is a key part of what they do. And for me, on the UX research side, I try to understand what’s most important to them—the data, the metrics, the insights that they most need—and then figure out how to make it easy for them to access those so-called “silver platter” insights that make it clear how and where their employees are getting the most out of the product. In my research, I try to understand which insights are most important, the actions administrators want to take in response to these insights, and how we can make both more readily accessible so they don’t have to go dig for them. I think there’s a lot we can do here, and a lot of room for growth and innovation in this area.
Are there specific pain points that you hear about from these users, or things that have surprised you in terms of how they’re using the products? about a combination of both?
The biggest thing is that for these employees, managing an enterprise product is often not their full-time job. They have a job outside of being the administrator for the tool.
Enterprise product administrators take on managing a tool because they believe in it, they’ve identified a need that they think the tool could help solve for and they have chosen to design a program around it and champion it.
Enterprise product administrators take on managing a tool because they believe in it, they've identified a need that they think the tool could help solve for and they have chosen to design a program around it and champion it.
And although it isn’t their full-time job, I’ve found that administrators are often willing to go the extra mile to help make the product successful at their company. That really inspires me to go the extra mile for them, and work to streamline their experience to make managing the enterprise product even easier so it in fact doesn't become their full time job!
In a way, they’re a bit of a barometer for how tools are being used more broadly at a company. If they’re able to get the insights they need, it means the individual product teams are likely getting what they need out of the tools. If they aren’t, there may be other issues in terms of how a company is using or not using the products.
Absolutely. If they’re not doing well, if they're not satisfied with the product, if they don't feel like they're able to get what they need done, that can be an indicator of the health of that product at that company. So it's just one more reason for companies to really invest in understanding these hidden users, because they really have a lot of insight and control over the success of an enterprise product at a company. In a way, it actually comes back to the birding example. Birds are often representative of the health of that ecosystem. If you find that there isn't a thriving community of birds in your ecosystem, then that may be a sign that ecosystem isn't doing so well. I’ve come to think about our enterprise product administrators in a similar way.
Check out our conversations with Gin's colleagues from LinkedIn's Enterprise UX team:
Carrie Neill is a New York based writer, editor, design advocate, bookworm, travel fiend, dessert enthusiast, and a fan of People Nerds everywhere.