Hi, all, as you may or may not know, to mark the site's two-year anniversary, I recently conducted a survey to collect feedback about how to improve your overall experience on Cookie Connection. At the same time, I also gathered input on the desire to add a "global tool glossary" that would allow people to better understand the similarities and differences in cookie ingredients and decorating tools used across the world. (See that survey here.) I am happy to say that, at long last, I've collected and reviewed the results of both surveys!
Today, I'm providing a quick report back to you on the major themes I heard and announcing some new site features that resulted from your feedback. I'll also be taking the opportunity to remind you of some existing site functionality that should answer questions that surfaced more than once in these surveys.
Heads up: this post is a little long, so I've broken it into the following three sections to make it easier to navigate: I. Survey Recap - Likes, Dislikes, and Wishes, II. New Features and Actions Taken, and III. Existing Feature Reminders. Here goes . . .
I. Survey Recap - Likes, Dislikes, and Wishes
To start, though the site feedback survey was open for close to a month, only 40 members of our 7,000 (less than 1%) answered it. While survey response rates for a group of this size are typically very low, this is lower than the norm. It's hard to know what to make of this - so, I'm choosing to look on the bright side ! If you didn't speak up, I'm assuming it's because you're very satisfied with the site.
This assumption is certainly consistent with the 40 results I did receive: 68% of respondents gave the site an overall rating of 5, the highest one (meaning, in their opinion, the site is serving its mission statement "extremely well"). On a scale of 1 to 5, the average site rating was 4.4, with only two people giving the site an average (3) rating, which is great by any survey standard!
But . . . there's always room for improvement, which is where your comments about likes, dislikes, and wishes (for new features) come in!
By a landslide, the most commonly mentioned like was the wealth and diversity of cookie images and ideas displayed on the site by members. The vast majority of people (with two exceptions) love the photo feeds! The good news is: the feeds will stay on the site, unaltered!
Many people said they couldn't think of anything they didn't like, but there were four topics that came up more than once, and so are worth pointing out here:
1. Member Search - People would like it to be easier to find members in certain areas of the country or world. In short, they'd like a more powerful member search based on geography. See more about how we're addressing this issue in Sections II and III below.
2. Too Many Clip Notifications (and Not Enough New Blog Post Notifications) - This could very well be certain people's experience on the site if they have not adjusted their email notifications upon joining the site. But notifications of every kind (about clips, blog posts, and every other area of the site) can be independently controlled by each member, and scaled up or down to receive as much, or as little, as desired. Again, I strongly urge members to read all links in their sign-up letters, as the one about email notifications explains exactly how to adjust them. This information can also be found at the top of every forum, in this post, if you no longer have your site sign-up letter.
3. The Same People Get Featured Over and Over - This comment seems to relate mostly to who gets top billing in the home page photo feeds and Saturday Spotlights, as I have yet to repeat an interview with any cookier. As a reminder, who gets featured in the feeds (and thus in the Saturday Spotlights) is not something over which I or any site administrator has much control. Rankings in the feeds are determined solely by what members choose to view, like, and comment on, and are automatically determined by the gathering of these statistics by site software. The more you view, like, and comment on a particular photo, the higher it will advance in the photo feeds, period.
I do draw Saturday Spotlight honorees from the photo feed results (this is done purposely, so as to remove any possible personal bias). But, that said, I exercise judgment week to week in choosing which clip set(s) to feature, and I typically choose those where the automatic site rankings show new or different people in the top ten spots. However, truth be told, it's often hard to spread the wealth - some people post wonderful work quite regularly, and so, naturally, they have greater odds of grabbing a top spot no matter what clip set I choose to feature.
So . . . if you're tired of seeing the same people in these spots, my best suggestion is for you to take action - either by posting more of your own cookie images or by responding more to the images of newcomers to the site, by commenting, viewing, and liking what they post. Rankings won't change unless you help to spread the wealth in this way.
4. The Home Page Photo Feed - Again, only two people mentioned they did not like it (the vast majority love the diversity of images shared on the site). When I probed a bit further to understand the issue here, one member explained that she felt people were paying too much attention to the feed and not fully utilizing other features of the site, like the chat rooms, forums, and surveys, which are great areas for fostering learning and sharing. While this is just one member's point of view, I happen to share it - and site stats confirm it: most people spend the majority of their time on the site viewing images. That said, I will be addressing some ways to encourage broader involvement (and greater learning) on the site in Section II below.
Despite spending the vast majority of their time viewing photos, members most often cited the desire for more information content on the site! Respondents want more tutorials, more equipment and tool reviews, more posts on the business of cookies, and possibly even live video chats, like on Periscope!
Enhanced member search capability - in particular, the ability to generate a list of members in a specified geographic area - surfaced again on a few members' wish lists.
And, lastly, over 90% of the 157 members who responded to the "global tool glossary" survey said they would be interested in seeing this tool or a related feature on the site in the future.
II. New Features and Actions Taken
So, how is Cookie Connection responding to the above information?! In many ways, some of which have already started!
First, we've added and will be adding more information content, in the form of tutorials, business posts, and a variation of the global tool glossary idea. As you may know, Michelle Green of The Business of Baking has been guest-blogging for a few months on the business of cookies. Her six-post series concludes with another post in September, and I hope she will continue in her guest capacity with more posts in coming months. Later in August, Aixa Zunino of Dolce Sentire, who you may recognize from the two handpainting lessons she recently posted to the site, will be joining Cookie Connection as a regular contributor, taking the place of the recently departed Pamoda Vanderwert of Sugar Pearls Cakes and Bakes. In her column, Get Inspired with Dolce Sentire, Aixa will provide photo-rich, step-by-step tutorials that will prove: if you can dream it, you can cookie it! And, fortunately for us, Liesbet Schietecatte has volunteered to lead the charge on the global tool glossary idea. But rather than doing all of the primary research herself, she'll be kicking off a series of blog discussions (tentatively entitled Tool School) designed to get us all talking on a global level about the products available in our own backyards. Her first such discussion is slated for mid-September and will be on the topic of similarities and differences in baking paper across the world! Stay tuned!
While I have submitted a suggestion to Hoop.la, Cookie Connection's host platform, to develop video chat functionality (I can think of few better ways to enhance online connections), it is not in their development plans for the foreseeable future. And, unfortunately, Cookie Connection is not generating any surplus funds that could pay for its independent development.
However, we will be piloting a new form of chat, which will be called Sweet Sharing and is the brainchild of Tina Deluca Tsourtsoulas of Sugar Wishes. Unlike our existing moderated monthly chats that last one hour and cover a wide gamut of topics in one sitting, the Sweet Sharing chats will be open for several hours on a given day to engage as many site visitors as possible, with a featured cookier available the entire time to answer questions about a single topic, like handpainting or working with fondant. The hope is that these conversations will be very fluid and spontaneous, and info-packed – as if we were all sitting in a room with our cookie besties swapping tips and having fun. As with our tutorial and blog additions, the primary goal of this chat is to increase information-sharing on the site! The first Sweet Sharing is being planned for either September or October; I should have more details about the speaker, topic, and time very soon!
As for enhanced member search functionality by geography, I have also submitted a suggestion to Hoop.la to develop stronger capability here. While they agree that the idea has merit, they simply do not have enough interested customers to justify adding it to their immediate development plan. And, as with the video chat idea, the site does not generate enough money to fund this idea independently. That said, there are currently ways - albeit not elegant ways - to find members in your area on this site, and I'll be reminding you of those ways shortly, in Section III below.
But before that reminder, some important words about site funding and a related program that will be implemented in early 2016. As I alluded to earlier, Cookie Connection currently generates no surplus funds to fuel new and cool ideas; as such, any idea we choose to undertake, including all those just mentioned, must be done by volunteers. The site also continues to grow by leaps and bounds, which is awesome by most counts! But as activity on the site increases so do my out-of-pocket hosting (Hoopl.la) costs, and so does my time involved in managing the site, which is also done on a volunteer basis. Over the last six months, I've thought long and hard about how to create a more sustainable business model for the site, and life model for me - one that generates surplus funds to fuel more of your many great suggestions, and one that allows me more freedom to do other things I love. I've also done a lot of research into crowd-sourcing and other funding options, and carefully weighed the various pros and cons.
Long story short, I've decided to introduce a premium Cookie Connection membership early next year. It will start as a voluntary opt-in membership, which for some nominal monthly or annual fee yet to be determined, will allow premium members access to certain features or benefits not available to non-paying members. No existing privileges will be denied to any members; rather a new "benefit" package will be structured as incentive for members to sign-up and, in turn, help fund the site. Depending on the success of this campaign, I plan to first fund: (1) the promised new benefits to this membership group, (2) the soon-to-increase site hosting costs, and (3) a full-time editor/moderator/online advertising guru to take over what has become a full-time job for me. Any additional funds would be icing on the cake (or cookie, as in this case! ), and site priorities at the time will dictate how, or if, they're spent.
One last word on the premium membership plan: all I've said about it is subject to change, of course, but I did want to give you this heads-up. The site has grown well beyond my wildest dreams, and it's simply not realistic for it to continue to run on a break-even basis, with everything being given away for free. My hope is that if members value the site as much as the survey suggests, they'll want to contribute to its continued success.
III. Existing Feature Reminders
First, if you've stuck with me to this point, congrats!
Second, since enhanced member search functionality is not in the cards for now, some final reminders about how you can currently find members in various areas on the site:
1. Find on Member Map - The map feature is located under "Members" in the main navigation line. Simply click on that button and then select "View As Map" in the drop-down menu that will appear in the upper right of the page. You should see something like this:
Then use the "zoom bar" to the left of the map to see the number of members in a certain area. You won't get a list of members in the area from this feature, but it's a start! For a member list by area, read on to point 2 below.
2. Search Members Using a Geographical Keyword - To do this, go to "Search" in the main navigation line and then select "Members" in the list of items appearing on the left of the page. (This will confine the search to member profiles only, rather than all areas of the site.) Then place the geographical area you want to find in the search box at the top of the page. For example, the following is what I entered to find members located in France:
What's important to note is that this search feature will pull up any member who has entered that keyword anywhere in his/her profile, not just as his/her location. That said, you may end up with some extra members who do not actually live in the area, like the various Francesca's who came up in this search. But this feature will allow you to home in on a member list pretty fast - it just takes a quick click on each name in the list to see if the location that's listed in the profile is indeed a match.
And, on that note, I conclude the survey recap - finally! Phew! I hope you're as excited as I am about the new tutorials, blogs, and other features being planned for the site! If you have any questions about anything here, just give me a holler. Last but certainly not least, thank you to all who took the time to provide feedback; the site can only ever be as good as you tell me you want it to be! And thanks to those members who have stepped up to contribute to our new features! They all deserve a huge round of applause!