A community forum is one part of a self-service portal where customers can interact with each other, as well as your team, and it’s the perfect place to allow your user community to take shape. Customers can ask questions and get answers quickly from other community members, or search for older posts to find previous answers or workarounds to their current question.
According to Conduent’s State of Customer Experience 2017 Tech report1, 21.6% of their survey respondents prefer self-help options because they’re the most convenient. Knowing that it’s easy to see the value in providing a space for customers to help themselves, even if only because providing that space will also reduce the number of incoming support requests your team has to handle directly.
In this post, we’ll share:
– Why a self-service forum for your product is an excellent source of engagement
– The kind of customers you’re likely to see using the forum
– How different customers will use the forum
– How to increase engagement in an existing forum
– How to identify power users and establish them as brand advocates
Community Engagement and Forums
Creating a community around a product can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort. The value you can derive once you’ve got your self-service forum up and running is vast.
Why Create a Forum for Your Product or Service
A forum created especially for your product creates the perfect space to connect your community members with each other. Offering a place to discuss your product online also expands the information publicly available about it on the web, which is helpful for bringing in new customers and educating existing ones.
Forums are Many-to-Many
A self-service forum has the distinct benefit of being a space available to many people who are familiar with your product or service. These product experts can answer questions posted by their fellow users anytime. Furthermore, a forum is public and can be found and searched by many people with similar questions seeking answers. This helps reduce the incoming ticket load for your support team since many people can find the answers they need before reaching out to them. A forum also allows power users of your product to share their knowledge. For example, TeamViewer’s community support forum2 is full of customers asking for help, confirming bugs, and chatting with other users.
Of course, getting power users to help can be an uphill battle, but some people seem to be specifically wired to want to share, help, and explain. Give them a place to do that and they’ll run with it.
Forums are Publicly Searchable
Beyond the people already on the forum looking for help or answering questions for others, self-service forums are also publicly searchable. By maintaining a space full of discussions about your products, as well as helpful tips, advice, and workarounds, you’ll help other people find your product through search engine results.
aNewSpring3 shares upcoming product announcements, receives feedback requests, and gets closer to their community through heavy use of their community forum.
Forums Create a Community
By their very nature, forums create the kind of community around your product that is hard to replicate anywhere else. By allowing users to help each other, as well as discuss your product amongst themselves, you’ll establish a group environment enjoyable to many. To expand on how the forum works for your customers, consider allowing them the space to post feedback on your product and the ideas they have for making it better. This type of data collection is beneficial in two key ways. It helps keep forum users engaged and allows them to feel heard by your team. Also, their feedback and ideas can be collected for your product teams to review and consider as they make decisions on features and updates to your product.
How Users Interact on a Self-service Forum for Your Product
People who are new to your product or service are likely to need a considerable amount of information and have lots of questions as they get started. Within your self-service forum, consider including a space for ‘getting started’ information, best practices, and advice for beginners. You can do this by creating a category for it or make a topic stay near the top by making it sticky. In a space meant for brand new customers, it’s nice to welcome them, point out the most relevant resources, and make sure they know how best to use the forum.
Experienced users of your product may join the forum for different reasons. While there’s likely always something new to learn that they may need more information on, this group is more likely to participate in discussions on the forum to give feedback and report issues or to help answer questions when they spot one they can help with.
Some of your support team should also staff your forum. Not every question will be something a customer can answer, so you’ll need to have agents available when their assistance is required. These questions will most often be account-related or require other account-specific details that only a staff member can see, so be prepared to take forum posts into a private ticket for resolution. In HP Enterprise’s community4, community managers jump in to confirm bug fixes and answer questions that need quick responses.
Your team will also need to moderate the forum and generally make sure people are following the rules. It’s important to have someone available to lock a topic if replies get out of hand and block trolls or abusive users. Staff members can also help keep it neat by merging similar topics and archiving threads as needed.
Expand Community Engagement
Starting a community can often require some investment of time to really get it off the ground. Plan to spend up to a year nurturing the community, fostering discussion, and actively growing the community. Once your forum is set up and ready go to, it’s essential to make the effort to grow the community and help it become an active, positive place for users of your product.
Grow Activity in the Community
For your self-service forum to be a success, you need users of your product or service to sign up and participate. The more voices, the better the community! Some people will automatically join once they see it exists, while others may need a nudge. When you launch your forum, look for ways to encourage people to use it. Here are a few ideas you may want to try as you find what works best for you:
– Direct users to the forums for help before they can reach you directly
– Regularly introduce topics and make sure users know about them and see staff members participating
– Request feedback on an update or a new feature on a forum thread
– Offer a reward, like a discount or swag, for participating at a certain level
However you get your customers there, the key is to stimulate quality conversations, encourage them to help each other, and have staff monitoring things to keep it a positive and welcoming environment for everyone.
Create a Community of Brand Advocates
As your forum grows, make an effort to spot power users and aim to support their further engagement with the community and your product. Brand advocates are truly valuable within the community—because of the knowledge they’ll share and their level of engagement—and are also often great at talking up their favorite products all over the web too.
To show brand advocates you appreciate all the time they spend answering questions in the forum and providing feedback, offer them perks. A high-level user of your product may be interested in early access to new features to help test them out, a discount on their renewal rate, or official swag.
Create Your Forum Today
If you haven’t created a community forum yet or if the one you have is underutilized, tackle it today. As soon as you invite your customers in and make an effort to keep it active, you’ll identify several ways it can be of value to your team. From diverting some support questions so that they’re asked on the forum, to increasing customer loyalty through activity and spotting your best brand advocates, a forum is a fantastic way to develop an engaging community for every one of your customers.
Main illustration done by Siddharth Kandoth
1 – https://www.conduent.com/insights/customer-care/state-customer-experience-2017/
2 – https://community.teamviewer.com/?category.id=en
3 – https://support.anewspring.com/support/home
4 – https://community.hpe.com/