Getting The Most Out Of Online Forums

SpeechBubblesMultipleHave 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.

  1. Read the forum rules first.
  2. Look for your answer in the existing questions and answers before adding yours.
  3. Choose your subject line carefully.
  4. Manners count.
  5. 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.


14 Replies to “Getting The Most Out Of Online Forums”

  1. Susan, I really enjoyed how you broke down the often puzzling world of forums. It does sound like if correctly used, with respect and intention, that a forum could be a wonderful way to discover the finer points of different subjects and build a community. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.


  2. This is great advice. I’ve been on way too many writers forums where snark is king. An entire writers online community forum shut down six months ago – and it had thousands of followers/members – because the atmosphere had gotten quite caustic. I don’t understand trolls, never will.


    1. Hi there –
      That is very sad. Some of the worst comments I’ve ever seen are on forums for free sites like Facebook and I guess all we can do is give them a wide berth.

      Thanks so much for visiting my site and leaving me a comment!


  3. It was interesting to see this post as I just responded to someone on a forum the other day. It is a professional group, and I felt I had something to offer. I noticed other responses, some of which were on point and some seemed to misread the request. I’ve been on many forums where people’s attitudes and emotions created havoc. Your post is framed in terms of asking for help, and I haven’t done a lot of that. Your tips are excellent and make me think about taking advantage more of forums.


    1. Hi Judy,

      I know what you mean. Sometimes a post takes a completely unintended direction based on something someone read, or misread. If only we could all drop our baggage at will! I’m so happy you’ve found value in my articles, Judy. I certainly enjoy reading yours.



  4. Thanks Susan ~ It’s always good to get some inside info in this rapidly developing tech world. I’ve often gone to forums to research how to do something, but I’ve never posted a question. Now I know more about them.


    1. Hi Christina, I’m so happy this was helpful. I started getting excellent support from forums once I figured out how to post a question properly. Hopefully this article will save you and others some time.

      I appreciate your visit and your comment. Please come back again!


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