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Answer Questions on Forums

The Internet has erased the geographical boundaries of doing business, turning every local company into a potentially global competitor.  The Web has also enabled people to join together into communities based upon like interests or like beliefs or like preferences for certain products or services. One of the best ways for a business to help foster community is to start an online forum.

Online forums allow both real and potential customers to interact with you and with each other to discuss your products or services while helping you troubleshoot flaws. They can even help you learn about possible improvements to make. Online forums often consist of a variety of different technology tools, including message board forums, chat, instant messaging and more. Community members join the forum and use these tools to communicate, while your company moderates the discussion and makes sure it's achieving your business goals.

Why start an online forum? 

"The whole point of an online forum is to create a space that connects customers with companies and customers with one another," says Keith Messick, vice president of marketing for Get Satisfaction, a San Francisco-based company that offers a software-as-a-service online community solution. "It's a great way to engage customers and a great way to get people passionate about your brand or company."

Here are some of the other potential benefits to businesses of setting up an online forum:

  • "Crowd-sourcing" service and support. Setting up an online forum is an easy way to outsource some of your customer service and support to the "crowd" -- or to your community of customers and admirers. "If someone has a question about a piece of software, hardware or a phone, there is a great chance that someone else has had that question as well," Messick says. It allows a business to speak to many customers as once by answering that question online in a way that other customers can find it. In fact, some forum software solutions help you optimize search terms to make it easy customers to find exactly the question they are looking to answer through search engines. Letting customers help each other can help you cut support and service costs by reducing the amount of e-mail or trouble tickets your staff needs to respond to.