Re: User forums: suggestions, experiences, guidelines, pitfalls, liabilities, etc.?

Subject: Re: User forums: suggestions, experiences, guidelines, pitfalls, liabilities, etc.?
From: Hannah Drake <hannah -at- formulatrix -dot- com>
To: "Elissa K. Miller" <emiller -at- doubleknot -dot- com>, techwr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2014 09:38:30 -0400

Hi all,

I got promoted to also managing the software I was writing for (ha, go
figure) so now I'm absolutely slammed. But, it's nice to have a big say in
how things should work :)

Anyway, I implemented a test user forum on our website. Here's what we did
to get buy-in - run a 6 month trial. Then promote the HECK out of it. We
had more interaction than my company thought we would, so we still have it
to this day. We also changed our "feedback" link in our software to link to
the forum, so users can make suggestions that way.

You absolutely do need to interact on the forum. How much time really
depends on how active the forum is. For a platform, I heavily, heavily
recommend UserVoice. It is *awesome* for so many reasons.

The benefits heavily outweigh the potential downfalls. Of course, our use
case for wanting one was to provide a channel for our users to tell us what
they'd like done differently -- some people hate surveys (okay, most people
do), and our users are very busy, they aren't usually at their desks, and
they probably don't want to stop to type out an email with their
suggestions. They can also see that we're paying attention and where their
idea is in the development cycle.

Our userbase is very specific so we knew the forum would be small. But it
still gives them an outlet, should they want one. People are so used to
companies being unreachable, and thinking that an idea a user has will
simply be "sent to the developers" and forgotten, never to see the light of
day again. When you show that there's real people behind a company, and we
do care about what they say/suggest, they love it.

If you're more talking about a regular forum where users can discuss
whatever, then yes, you really do need to have a large enough user base to
make it happen. The key to either set up is promotion. And perhaps have a
core group of users "buy in" so they can generate the initial discussions.
It's like taking the first piece of cake, nobody wants to be that guy, but
once one person does, everyone jumps in.

Hannah

On Monday, September 8, 2014, Elissa K. Miller <emiller -at- doubleknot -dot- com>
wrote:

> A very small but vocal group of customers want my company to provide user
> forums so they can be in contact with other users. As "person care a lot
> about our users," it's my task to evaluate every aspect of this request.
>
>
>
> The benefits seem obvious-people can find answers instead of calling
> support, power users can use their vast expertise to help their peers, I
> can
> clearly see issues that trip people up and require better documentation,
> etc.
>
>
>
> On the other hand, I can see potential problems with a forum. It might not
> reach critical mass, and an empty forum is a sad thing. There's a vast
> skills gap between our most basic users (often administrative staff and
> nonprofit volunteers) and our power users, and power users who know the
> basic user answers may not deign to go to those areas, while the complex
> questions from power users can only be answered by our staff and the issues
> may be entirely related to custom integration and not relevant at all to
> others. And, senior management is concerned about providing our customers
> with a place to say negative things about us. Which I don't even know how
> to
> respond to other than "I appreciate your concern."
>
>
>
> Then there's the whole "so now technical communications would include a
> blog, documentation, online help, knowledge base and now forums-what's the
> mission/strategy/goal for each of them and how do they fit into the larger
> plan?" Also, "How much time will I need to spend answering posts in the
> forum if customers don't get help from their peers, or if the help is
> incorrect, unclear, or incomplete?" And, "I'll have to come up with
> policies
> and guidelines for handling off-topic or hostile posts." Also "Holy crap, I
> do not need more work."
>
>
>
> I am grateful for any suggestions, guidelines, experience, pros, cons,
> pitfalls, liabilities, and any other information you care to share.
>
>
>
> I suppose the first step would be to survey all customers to see if they
> think that they would use a forum if one existed, to find out their
> self-reported skill levels, and to learn whether they think they'd answer
> questions that they could answer in addition to posting their own
> questions.
> I expect that whatever answers I get will indicate more interest than there
> will actually be if it's launched, but it's a start.
>
>
>
> Thank you in advance for any help.
>
>
>
> Regards,
> Elissa M.
>
>
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
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>
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>
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--


*Hannah Drake * Rock Maker Product Manager & Documentation Specialist
*Formulatrix, Inc. * â *office*: +1-781-788-0228 x 137
*mobile*: +1-617-610-6456

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Read about how Georgia System Operation Corporation improved teamwork, communication, and efficiency using Doc-To-Help | http://bit.ly/1lRPd2l

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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User forums: suggestions, experiences, guidelines, pitfalls, liabilities, etc.?: From: Elissa K. Miller

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