The Next Stage In Website Design
Corporate Blogging And Customer Service

Michael Rubin From The NetFlix Blog Interview

Michael Rubin runs the NetFlix Blog and I recently had the opportunity to ask him about how he uses the blog for product development and customer feedback. I thought he wrote and exceptionally well written answer.

John: I really wanted to focus on how you intend to use the blog for product and service development. What content strategies do you intend to use, or have used that you expect will get feedback from customers?

Michael: The blog feels like a high bandwidth line of connectivity between people who use the site and we - the folks building the site. It bypasses Customer Service, it jumps over Public Relations, it plugs right into engineering and development. That makes it very pure.

We have many ways of building our intuition about what to build and how it should work. We do lots of more formal research and testing, we have a lot of experience to bring to the table. We're also all really big movie fans who like talking about movies. It all swirls into a dynamic team who have one goal and that is to make the site as good as it can be, and listening to customers is our obligation and joy.

Statistically meaningful testing is important, but there is something quite powerful about the idiosyncratic experience of our blog readers.
They catch our mistakes sometimes. They articulate problems or wishes -- often items we ourselves have been thinking about for some time, often items we are debating internally, but sometimes all it takes is a different vantage point, a phrase, a hint of something that makes an idea click -- that either helps us in our thinking or, in some cases, is a kind of deciding vote when we're on the fence. More information is always better, and we listen to our customers in a wide variety of venues -- and the blog is simply one more. I think it's a good one.

We do have a filter we must process everyone's comments with: the blog readers are not a random sampling of our millions of subscribers. From a data standpoint they are self-selected, and very much unlike the bulk of our users in many ways -- they are more interested, they may be more technically savvy, they may be younger or bigger movie fans... or whatever -- but all that is to say they are not a representative sample.

This isn't bad. It just means they don't always speak for everyone. But they do know a lot, and care a lot, and provide very good debate and information. I value their input and we simply have to remind ourselves each day they are one point of data and not the only point of data.

Sometimes this group sort of "gangs up" on you, they all agree with each other about some feature or another and it is dangerous to be swayed too much by their clear strong voice. We must always remind ourselves that their ideas are good for people like them, but may or may not be good for everyone. This is hard, particularly, because WE are like them.

We who work here are Netflix power users. We know the site well, can handle lots of complexity, LOVE movies, and so on -- just like our blog readers. But we have a business and social obligation to consider the
experience of those who don't read the blog, don't have 100 movies in their Queues, and still love the service. It must work for them too, and they aren't always represented among the majority in the blog comments.

We are the ones who must change hats constantly. It takes discipline and sometimes a thick skin. In the end, power users and novices alike need the service to work for all of us to "win."

When you say "content strategies" -- wow, that feels awfully formal. The blog isn't strategic in that way. It's not a company tool. It's MY tool. I'm the blogger. I don't communicate with the marketing or PR or communications parts of the company. I just ask questions I want to hear answers to, I talk about what's on my mind, what is going on, and what my experience is. I suppose as an employee it can seem like I am a spokesman, but I'm not -- not close. I am a writer and an educator before all other things, and I can't stop this thing that makes me want to communicate about what is going on. It makes my job both easier and more enjoyable. So I blog.

The team who make the website (and I think I will speak for my partners here), we get data EVERYWHERE. Talking with friends, standing at parties, sitting on planes, wandering around the Sundance Film festival and at Web 2.0 conferences. We talk about what we are doing, but more importantly, we listen to people who have their own story to tell about
Netflix. In that sense, the blog is just one more avenue – highly efficient to manage, data-rich, mutually beneficial and kinda neat. Until it becomes a chore, or produces no useful dialog, I will continue to employ it as my "strategy" to help in the design of the site.