Matt Clifton

OPEN Forum

help small business owners connect And share insights. 👔   


UI / UX at Kettle


iOS / Web for American Express

OPEN Forum served as a great resource for written content by and for small business owners. However, based on research, business owners felt that too many sites focused on broad topics not specific enough to them. There was no trusted resource that really catered their unique business needs. 

We wanted to transform OPEN Forum from a content-only platform to a personalized way for small business owners to connect and exchange industry knowledge.

We believed If we allowed business owners to connect in public groups and direct messages, we could increase the value our users found on OPEN Forum. Knowing that no business owners face the same challenges, we brainstormed with the American Express product managers around ways to provide more personalized resources for business owners.


We decided to test our community idea in an effort to drive meaningful connections and conversations between business owners, thought leaders, and influencers.

We did qualitative research around the perfect community size and making users comfortable asking questions, sharing insights, and making meaningful connections. We wanted to know what the group privacy setting should be, whether it should be public, semi-private, or private; and we wanted to test what the group content should be — would people more likely to interact other users that are in the same industry, in the same location, or with the same specific interest? We landed on using location, industry, business stage, employee number, and annual revenue (optional) as data points to determine the user's group. This concept tested well with participants:


After rounds of revisions and testing, we designed the community to be a private group with a weekly “Insights” series that help small business owners through members’ insights, group conversation, and quick polls to help small business owners get the latest business trends. Each group is hosted by a rotating group of industry leaders focused on various industries and insight.


To make the OPEN Forum work with the new group concept, we worked on updating the existing user profile. I redesigned the profile page to better showcase each user's information and to provide a much heavier emphasis on people/connections.

The profile focuses on information about the user, topics that user is interested in, top and most active connections, a short bio, helpfulness score, and the latest activity.


MVP groups were based either on industry or location and allowed users to post questions or comments, upvote helpful content, and connect with other users around a single weekly topic chosen by the group leader. This focused business owners on important aspects of their business while also allowing them to post something non-related if they needed more specific advice.

Given the platform was focused on being a forum, we tested many ways to nest layers of information in any given conversation in the group.


In order to drive users to connect with each other through messaging, we developed a simple card system for recommendations and requests. Based on a compatibility ring (which used site behavior and onboarding information to establish matches), we wanted to know what would drive users to connect.


We tested a few options and found the most straightforward information; location, industry, and business similarities would lead to the most value leading to connections.

Next we created a way for business owners to message each other directly to take conversations off the timeline to give them privacy to discuss more private information around their business. This inbox lived across the site as a presistent element where conversation could carry on outside of the group.


Because business owners were very focused on their privacy and avoiding self-promotion, we made messages through request only. Only users who accepted requests would be allowed to message each other. We developed a simple messaging layer which surfaced your requests first, followed by recommended connections based on your activity on the site.



OPEN Forum beta "Connections" launched in 2017 to a selected number of OPEN Forum members. After launching, we began to collect data and user feedback in an effort to continue to update and iterate on the group experience.