Have you ever asked for help on an online forum but got no answer? It happens. Each forum has its own culture and personality. Unless you’re a regular visitor, it can be difficult to figure out how to get what you need. So here’s the skinny on working with forums and user groups.
- Read the forum rules first.
- Look for your answer in the existing questions and answers before adding yours.
- Choose your subject line carefully.
- Manners count.
- Don’t feed the trolls.
1. Read the forum rules first.
Most groups are particular about what can be posted and where you should post. Fortunately, group guidelines are easy to find. Just look for a heading that says ‘read me first’ or ‘posting guidelines.’ Advertising your services is almost never acceptable, so watch out for that. If questions are separated by category, you’ll want to read through each heading to see where you belong.
2. Look for your answer in the existing questions and answers before adding yours.
It’s very likely that someone has already asked your question. That’s great news because you may find several people have contributed answers which you can read through right now to get at potential solutions. To do this, look for a search box and do your best to think of the words that others would use to describe your problem. It’s considered rude to post your question without first looking to see if it has already been answered by another.
3. Choose your subject line carefully.
Vague subject lines are the #1 reason why messages go unanswered — and here’s why. Forum boards rely on volunteers. Most of us will scan subject lines quickly to look for the ones we’re qualified to comment on. If a volunteer has only 20 minutes to contribute, many – if not all – vague messages will be ignored in favour of those who took the time to identify the subject. This means your subject line should never be ‘Help’ or ‘Quick question’ or ‘What does this mean’. Instead, be specific. Try something like ‘Gmail spam problem on Chrome’ or ‘Microsoft Outlook 2010 question on multiple calendars.’
4. Manners Count
Be careful about sounding demanding or sarcastic. The people working the forum boards are there to help. They may make mistakes or they may not be knowledgeable on your particular matter, but everyone merits respect.
5. Don’t Feed The Trolls
Yes, it’s true. There are trolls. They thrive on pointing out others’ errors and live for arguments. Fortunately, they can’t live without these and that makes them very easy to starve. Just stop feeding them and they will go away.
Forums are a great place to increase your knowledge and solve problems. Learning how to work with them effectively could serve you for years.