Support forums are essential to life in a digital world. We depend on them to learn, get answers to questions, and understand how to better use a particular tool. Behaving badly in a forum can make the forum fairies think you’re a jerk. Nobody likes to help jerks.
Below are some common mistakes to avoid (and forum posting tips for success!) to help you become a top citizen of the digital community:
1. Not Reading the Rules
Just about every forum has some type of FAQs or posting guidelines. You’ll learn some basic details, like whether it’s a paid support forum, a community support forum, and what typical response times might be.
Forum posting tip: If you’re new to a forum, take a moment to read over the guidelines. Knowing the “rules” will help keep your expectations on par with the realities of that forum.
2. Posting in the Wrong Forum
This is an honest mistake. There are official WordPress.org forums, free plugin forums, premium plugin forums, theme and framework forums, etc. If you’re a new kid on the block you may not know the best venue to post your question.
Forum posting tip: Make your best effort to identify the root of your problem – is it your theme, a single plugin, or WordPress itself? Narrow down the problem as far as you can and post in the most appropriate forum. Here are a couple of flowcharts to can help you narrow things down:
Once you’ve taken some effort to troubleshoot, be sure to include that information in your forum post. Which leads me to the next mistake…
3. Thinking People Can Read Your Mind
I’m guilty of this one myself. You get zoned in on a problem and obsess over it. Then you head over to a forum and blurt out a fireball, assuming we’re all on the same page.
Forum posting tip: Back up the bus. Breathe. Start at the beginning. Make sure your post includes all pertinent details (i.e. your URL, what theme you’re using, whether your plugins are all up to date, steps you’ve tried to fix it, etc.) The more information you can provide about your problem, the better folks can help you find a solution.
4. Taking a Tone
If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in a forum. And even if you would say it someone’s face, think twice about saying it in a forum. 🙂 Nobody wants to help a jerk. People want to punch jerks. Don’t make people want to punch you.
Forum posting tip: Tone of voice is so easily mis-interpreted online. Go out of your way to be gracious and appreciative.
5. Assuming a Right to a Speedy Response
It’s easy to get snippy or impatient if someone doesn’t answer a question RIGHT AWAY. After all, solving my problem is MY TOP PRIORITY AND IT SHOULD BE YOURS, TOO, DAMMIT. (See, I just sounded like a big fat jerk there.)
If you’ve been guilty of any of the previous mistakes (especially not reading forum guidelines or failure to provide adequate information), it can slow down the time it takes for someone to help you.
Forum posting tip: Recognize that often people are giving of their own time and knowledge to help you, but even if it’s a paid support situation, always be respectful. You’ll win more flies with honey than vinegar.
6. Repeating Your Question
Oh ho, I like this one. The World Wide Web is a big place, so if I don’t get help in a particular forum thread, I’ll just tweak and re-post in different threads, ad-naseum, until somebody helps.
What you may not realize is the support community (especially the WordPress support community) is a SMALL WORLD. There are precious few people helping in forums compared to the tidal wave of people seeking help.
Forum posting tip: Make sure you’ve posted in the right spot and be patient. While you’re waiting on a response, keep digging for a solution, or just move on to something else for a bit. Sometimes questions go unanswered out there, so be prepared to find alternative solutions.
Do the Right Thing
I worked many years in retail and still consider myself in the customer service business. Any time someone is incredibly rude or demanding, I sentence them (in my head, of course) to 6 months hard labor behind a cash register. My thinking is, if they could stand in my shoes a bit, they might not be such a jerk next time.
Now, I KNOW none of my dear readers are jerks (at least not on purpose), but I’d still like to issue a challenge: Go offer help to someone in a forum.
Pick a forum, any forum that you’ve sought help in, and find a question you can answer. You’ll feel good about helping someone else, plus you’ll gain some insight into what it feels like to be on the receiving end in a forum. It’ll make you a better member of the digital community, I promise.