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Best Practices for Participating in an Online Community

March 25, 2011 - 2 Comments

We offer 5 tips for getting the most benefit from a support forum

Online support communities are a great resource when you need assistance—whether to resolve a technical problem or get solution recommendations. As the owner of a small company, though, your time is at a premium as you juggle the many facets of your business—marketing, accounting, and customer service just to name a few. You don’t have countless hours to spend combing a support community for the help you need.

To make the most of your time in an online support community, here are five tips:

  • Perform a search: The first thing you should do is use the community’s search function to see if an answer to your problem already exists. There’s a good chance another small business customer has experienced a similar problem and the resolution is readily available. If you do find an answer, rate it and/or leave a comment so other members will know how helpful the information was.
  • Post a detailed question: If you aren’t able to find the answer via search and you’re a registered member of the community, you can solicit help by posting a question. Although you don’t want to give away proprietary company information, you don’t want to be evasive either. The more details you provide about your tech problem or environment (if you’re looking for a solution recommendation), the better, faster response you’ll receive.
  • Try online chat: Sometimes you can’t wait for an answer. On these occasions, try the community’s online chat feature, if one is offered. For example, with Cisco’s Small Business Support Community, you can communicate directly to a Support Center engineer if you have a registered product within warranty.
  • Follow subject-matter experts: Some communities showcase those members who are subject-matter experts and actively participate in the forums. The Small Business Support Community’s Leaderboard, for example, highlights active Cisco employees and small business customers who are experts in various categories. You can add any one of these experts as a friend and receive notification when they post updates to the community. In addition, you can send them a private email.
  • Subscribe to social media channels: Instead of checking into the community for the latest updates and announcements, you can have the information come to you. You can follow the Small Business Support Community on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feeds and community manager’s blog, as well as download a mobile app.

You get what you give

In addition to these tips, there are some best practices for participating in online support communities. For starters, update your profile so other members can understand more about you; this will result in better responses and interactions. Speaking of responses, don’t get into a flame war with other members. Respect everyone and offer constructive criticism—not insults. And feel free to participate at your own comfort level. It’s okay to lurk and check out what other members are saying without participating in the conversation. Remember, you get out of a community what you put into it.

If you do post a question about a technical problem, keep your expectations realistic about response times. Don’t expect an answer within minutes or even a couple hours. For the Small Business Support Community, it can take 24 – 48 hours to receive a response, depending on the technical difficulty of your question. Rest assured, though, you will receive an answer. Also, be open to assistance from other small business customers, not just Cisco employees. Small business members share common experiences and have encountered similar problems as you and are therefore a good source of information.

Every support community platform has unique benefits. Get to know what’s offered in the communities or forums you belong to and take advantage of all the available features. It will help you make the most of your community experience.

What tips do you have for participating in online support communities?

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  1. Also once can search over the internet for the existing problem.

    • @Sarkar: Great suggestion, if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the online support community, you could always run a search over the internet!