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How to Find the Right Support Community

February 17, 2011
at 2:51 pm PST

A vendor-sponsored community provides the inside track for more than just problem resolution

Where do you go when you need to find information about a product or a technology? Of course, the Internet is teeming with technology websites and forums, but not all of them are particularly useful or even accurate. When a router or switch goes down or you can’t find a critical file in your storage system, you need an answer—fast. Online support forums and communities often have the exact information you need to fix your tech problem. There are two different types of support communities you can turn to—those sponsored by a vendor (discussions focused around a product, i.e. WAP4410N access point) or those hosted by an independent third party. (discussions focused around a technology, i.e. wireless LAN)  Each has its benefits, but you’re likely to find the best insider info on a vendor’s support community.

Third-party support communities are a fine source of general technology information, such as when you’re researching a particular product category or learning how a particular technology works. You’re likely to find good information from fellow users and possibly experts who have hands-on experience with the technology. You may also find guidance that helps you determine if a technology is a good fit for your small business. But if you need product expertise to solve a tricky problem, you should look for it in a support community that is monitored by a vendor.

A vendor-sponsored support community is rich with helpful information about the products you’re using. The community is also populated by people who can help you with your specific technical issue, including peers  who’ve worked through similar issues as well as the vendor’s product managers and engineers who know the products inside and out. For example, Cisco’s Small Business Support Community exists to help Cisco small business partners and customers solve technical problems, and Cisco engineers spend a lot of time answering their questions and participating in discussions. Chances are good that the fix for your problem already exists in the community because someone there has experienced your particular problem before and knows how to resolve it.

More than tech support

A vendor community like Cisco’s Small Business Support Community offers much more than tech support assistance. Cisco’s product experts encourage users to participate in a two-way conversation with the company. Often, an engineer will post a question and ask for feedback, perhaps a features wish list for an upcoming release or feedback about a product’s usability. Cisco’s CCA Team, for example, has a feedback page

where it asks users to post their ideas and experiences with the product. This feedback often results in new product features.

As part of the community, you also get to be the first to know about product updates and new releases as well as the latest bug fixes and support issues. Cisco’s engineers often post important announcements to the Small Business Support Community first. They also will turn to the community’s users when they need recruits for early field trials.

What to look for in a support community

The ideal support communities have three key features: a lot of recent activity by users and moderators, easy navigation and search functionality, and no registration requirement for browsing the site’s content. Cisco’s Small Business Support Community is designed to be easily navigated; it’s divided by product, such as routers or security, and by support groups, such as design and deploy support and break-fix support.

An online support community can be an excellent place to find the help you need to quickly solve a tech problem. But a robust community can provide you with much more. In Cisco’s Small Business Support Community, you can network with other small business peers, learn about technologies to help your company operate more efficiently and competitively, and influence the next generation of products to better meet small business needs.

What do you look for in an online support community?

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