20 February 2023

Social, Writing

Easily-accessible places online where customers can post questions and receive answers from both company employees and the surrounding community.

Also Known As: Support Forums; Bulletin Boards

Problem: Customers want to have a place in which to obtain answers without having to schedule conversations, comb through documentation, or read through lots of tests--in essence, they want to be able to post a question and get an answer (or a confirmation of what they think is a bug).

Context: Customers often want to do this Q-and-A style interaction asynchronously, with the ability to write code to support their question and/or see code in the answer. Customers also like helping other customers who are in similar situations--which helps build a sense of community around the product/service. However, they want some reasonable reassurance that the answers they are receiving are from "people who know", so that they do not have to wade through incorrect or incomplete or untested answers.

Solution: One solution is for the company to host a forums system on the company's domain umbrella (see Apple Developer Forums for an example), in which customers can post questions and receive answers from employees or other customers. Another solution is to make use of a third-party-hosted forum system, like Stack Overflow or Reddit, by creating a "channel" or a "tag" by which questions from the community on the product/service can be easily identified. In either case, the DevRel team commits to being a visible presence on the forums, directly answering questions and/or visibly taking questions or issues internally and promising an answer within a reasonable period of time.

Consequences: Hosting forums requires a commitment to moderation, or the company runs the risk of creating a hostile environment that will alienate customers.

Additionally, hosting forums can have the benefit of being accessible to both internal employees as well as external customers, allowing for a degree of interaction without creating opportunities for customers to bypass traditional company information channels. (Customers having direct access to internal software engineers, by having their email address for example, can often have the negative side-effect of customers using those engineers for tech support purposes, distracting them from their other duties and/or creating issues for the Tech Support team.)

Forums make for an easy way to identify potential Ambassadors from the community. Forums can also suggest Samples/Examples, enhancements to Guides or Reference Documentation, or even extensions or providers for future development.


Tags: devrel   patterns