Successful Group Communities

Successful Support Communities

Published by

The Association of

Support Professionals

More than ever, technology companies have embraced the idea that it’s good to encourage communities of customers and other stakeholders. Of course, many of the benefits that communities are supposed to bring—self-service call resolution, enhanced loyalty, early warning about public relations blow-ups—can be tricky to quantify. And plenty of managers still feel that “letting customers talk to each other is just asking for trouble.” But for better or worse, communities exist whenever a company has customers. The only real question is whether these informal communities can be transformed into serious corporate assets.

That’s often a frustrating question even for managers who are strong voice-of-the-customer

advocates. Plenty of communities, both online and live, never get beyond a zombie-like

state, not quite dead, not quite alive. Investments in promotion, new technology, and

community organizing often don’t seem to make a difference—the hoped-for members just don’t show up. Oops.

What does it take to create a successful community? There doesn’t seem to be a set of simple guidelines. The social media experts mostly focus on consumer companies with huge customer bases; the recommendations they emphasize include openness and quick response to complaints about service snafus—good practices, but not much of a formula for much smaller, technically-oriented communities.

In fact, support communities tend to be about:  expertise more than anything else. The chief attraction of these communities is likely to be the presence (real or virtual) of exceptionally knowledgeable users and advisors, people with hands-on experience with products and solutions. These experts show up because it’s good for their reputations—or maybe just their egos—to be seen as extra-smart, plugged-in, and influential. And the rest of the community shows up to learn from the experts and perhaps to share an occasional bit

 

of wisdom themselves. That’s a very different dynamic than you might see on a site for

 

disgruntled airline passengers or Lady Gaga fans.

 

It’s also worth noting that successful communities aren’t necessarily Web-based. Our

 

industry (and the world in general) has a long history of communities that came together

 

regularly for live events—conferences, user group meetings, trade shows, roundtables,

 

and the like. Yes, online communities are cheaper to organize and more spontaneous. But

 

human beings are social animals: We love to get together in crowds and hold near-chaotic

 

conversations that would make little sense online. (Heck, even social media enthusiasts

 

hold big conferences all the time…)

 

The variety of community formats creates its own questions. How do we measure the

 

relative value of an online forum vs. an annual user group meeting? Should we invest

 

in a special home for highly influential community members, such as power users, press

 

and analysts, and third-party resource people (e.g., consultants, resellers, and trainers)?

 

Is there a risk that community members will air their grievances in public, compete with

 

our company’s own services, or expose us to legal liabilities?

 

To help answer questions about best practices for building support communities, the

 

ASP surveyed a variety of software and technology-based companies about the role

 

such communities play in each company’s business. We collected useful data from 120

 

respondents, and we also asked an open-ended question about the “most important lesson

 

learned” about generating high levels of participation.

 

Here’s what they told us:

 

 

COMMUNITIES • 3

TYPES OF COMMUNITIES

As the chart above suggests, technology companies typically support a variety of community

types, ranging from substantial projects like online forums and user group conferences to

simple Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups. These communities serve different functions—

call deflection, revenue generation, brand enhancement, etc.—and it’s not always easy to

tell when investments in community-building have been “successful” in terms of ROI and

performance.

But the common perception is that

growth

is almost always a good way to measure a

community’s relative success. A fast-growing community is clearly delivering significant

 

value to its participants, while a community with low participation and low growth is almost

 

certainly in trouble. There may not be industry-standard growth benchmarks, but growth is

 

a long-term metric: If the trendline is steadily upward (or even better, steeply upward), the

 

community is on the right track.

 

What kind of relative growth can be expected for these various types of communities? We

 

asked our respondents to rate the activity level of each type of community they supported:

 

 

• “Online forum (hosted by your company or

independent)”:

 

Online discussion forums have

become an essential—or nearly essential—

 

component of Web support sites: 79% of our

 

respondents said they either host their own

 

forum, or a company-specific site is independently

 

operated. But almost two-thirds of these forums

 

are either “Barely alive” or “Growing slowly”—

 

not an encouraging sign. Nevertheless, the

 

potential for active participation certainly exists:

 

The remaining one-third are either “Growing fast”

 

or in a “Wow!” state.

 

“Which of the following types of user communities currently

exist for your company?”

Number of

TYPES OF COMMUNITIES

As the chart above suggests, technology companies typically support a variety of community

types, ranging from substantial projects like online forums and user group conferences to

simple Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups. These communities serve different functions—

call deflection, revenue generation, brand enhancement, etc.—and it’s not always easy to

tell when investments in community-building have been “successful” in terms of ROI and

performance.

But the common perception is that

growth

is almost always a good way to measure a

community’s relative success. A fast-growing community is clearly delivering significant

 

value to its participants, while a community with low participation and low growth is almost

 

certainly in trouble. There may not be industry-standard growth benchmarks, but growth is

 

a long-term metric: If the trendline is steadily upward (or even better, steeply upward), the

 

community is on the right track.

 

What kind of relative growth can be expected for these various types of communities? We

 

asked our respondents to rate the activity level of each type of community they supported:

 

 

• “Online forum (hosted by your company or

independent)”:

 

Online discussion forums have

become an essential—or nearly essential—

 

component of Web support sites: 79% of our

 

respondents said they either host their own

 

forum, or a company-specific site is independently

 

operated. But almost two-thirds of these forums

 

are either “Barely alive” or “Growing slowly”—

 

not an encouraging sign. Nevertheless, the

 

potential for active participation certainly exists:

 

The remaining one-third are either “Growing fast”

 

or in a “Wow!” state.

 

“Which of the following types of user communities currently

exist for your company?”

Number of respondents: 120

21%

44%

23%

12%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

66%

65%

65%

59%

55%

33%

Online forum

 

79%

 

Facebook

User group conference

Press & analyst network

Third-party network

LinkedIn group

Developer network

4 • COMMUNITIES

• “Facebook community”:

 

Surprisingly, Facebook

pages have become the second most popular type

 

of support community among our respondents,

 

which probably reflects Facebook’s popularity

 

and the minimal effort involved in setting up a

 

page. But ease of setup doesn’t always translate

 

into active participation: A third of Facebook

 

communities are “Barely alive” and only 4% are

 

growing at a “Wow!” rate. Moreover, Facebook

 

discussions often seem to be more entertaining

 

than serious: “Facebook has been growing

 

slowly,” one respondent reported. “We find we

 

get the best interactions by sharing ‘fun facts’ about our company, the history of statistics,

 

and how our products are connected to business and industry.”

 

• “User group conference (company sponsored or

independent)”:

 

Organizing a good user group

event is a major undertaking, so it’s remarkable

 

that this type of forum ranks so highly among

 

community types. One likely reason: User group

 

conferences are popular. Almost half of our

 

respondents report that their events are growing

 

rapidly, and 19% say the growth is in the “Wow!”

 

range (the highest rate in our survey). Said one

 

respondent: “This is the first year we had a user

 

conference and we have had a overwhelming

 

success rate with clients wanting to attend.”

 

• “Network of press, analysts, and bloggers

who follow the company”:

 

The press and

analyst community typically gets little attention

 

from support and services groups, but our

 

respondents at least recognize that there’s a body

 

of influencers out there who can have a large

 

impact on the company’s reputation, especially

 

in enterprise markets.

 

• “Network of third-party consultants, resellers,

trainers, services providers”:

 

Support group

members tend to be actively involved with thirdparty

 

services providers, many of whom have

 

offerings that either complement or compete with

 

the company’s own post-sale services offerings.

 

In this community segment, high growth is

 

not necessarily a goal: Most companies would

 

prefer a relatively stable, experienced thirdparty

 

network, and that’s what about half of our

 

respondents said they have.

 

32%

42%

23%

4%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

14%

39%

28%

19%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

18%

50%

22%

10%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

17%

52%

20%

11%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

COMMUNITIES • 5

• “LinkedIn group”:

 

LinkedIn has a lower profile

than Facebook at this point, though LinkedIn’s focus

 

on business users may make it a better community

 

platform in the long run. (The ASP has a very active

 

forum on LinkedIn, incidentally.) One respondent

 

reported that “Our LinkedIn group is the most active

 

and productive channel within our social media

 

program. We moderate membership and encourage

 

people to ask best-practices questions so that they can

 

learn from each other. Our members have been very

 

responsive and highly professional in their approach.”

 

Nevertheless, LinkedIn usually seems to be a tough

 

place to establish a community: 81% of our respondents said their LinkedIn groups are either

 

“Barely alive” or “Growing slowly.”

 

• “Network of developers (membership required)”:

For high-end, complex products, many companies

now offer special programs for outside developers

and other power users. These are generally fee-based

programs that require expert-level skills, so this is

another community where “Growing slowly” is

normal (69% of respondents).

WHAT’S THE PAYOFF?

Even with low-overhead communities like Facebook and LinkedIn, most companies expect to

see at least some payoff—

preferably more concrete than “the group is growing like crazy” or

“customers love it”. To identify the success factors that are typically most persuasive, we asked

our respondents to select factors that play a “signficant” role in generating internal support for

support communities. Here’s how they ranked our six choices (multiple selections were allowed):

36%

45%

14%

4%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

15%

69%

13%

3%

Barely alive Growing

slowly

Growing

fast

Wow!

“Which of the following factors play a *significant* role in

generating internal support for your support communities?”

Number of respondents: 120

65%

63%

48%

31%

22%

18%

Retention

Call deflection

Competitive edge

Renewal

Resources

Sales channel

6 • COMMUNITIES

• “Improves customer retention”:

 

It’s somewhat unexpected to find retention as the topranking

success factor for communities, since retention is relatively hard to measure—

 

especially as distinct from such traditional retention factors as product quality, price, and

 

customer satisfaction. But if top management typically seems persuaded that investing in

 

better support communities is a strategy for hanging on to more customers, that’s good

 

news.

 

• “Reduces demand for tech support”:

 

The more conventional argument for support

communities—especially online forums—is that they’re part of a self-service cost

 

management strategy. In fact, communities usually do reduce a company’s support burden;

 

the risk is that too often simple call deflection becomes the

 

only

measure of a community’s

value, to the detriment of investments in other aspects of success.

 

 

• “Gives the company a competitive edge”:

 

Again, this is a factor that’s a little tough to

measure. But robust community activity—online and real-world—is certainly a positive

 

sign to buyers that a company has an enthusiastic installed base and is unlikely to stonewall

 

customers with problems. “It helps that customers love our software to begin with,”

 

one respondent said, “but offering great support and a passionate user community are

 

differentiators our competitors can’t compete with.”

 

• “Improves support renewal rates”:

 

Renewal rates as a factor apply only to companies

that sell fee-based support and maintenance plans, so the total of responses here is smaller

 

than we see with the more general “customer retention” factor. But maintenance renewal

 

rates represent large revenue streams and are easily tracked, which makes the community

 

contribution especially compelling in generating internal backing. As one respondent

 

noted, “The better the participation, the more likely the customer will renew.”

 

• “Gives users access to third-party resources”:

 

One less-mentioned but important value

of communities is that they provide a neutral platform for showcasing developers,

 

trainers, consultants, authors, and other independent support resources. Many vendors

 

are sensitive about endorsing third-party resources; by letting community members make

 

recommendations, the legal exposure is (presumably) reduced.

 

• “Serves as a major product sales channel”:

 

Community members tend to be enthusiastic

about discussing a company’s latest products, technology breakthroughs, services

 

offerings, and the like. An especially good way to give community members a stake in

 

the product pipeline is to solicit their feedback and suggestions. “Make the participants

 

feel important and wanted,” one manager recommended. “We found that setting up a

 

forum for feedback on the site and another for feedback on the product was helpful.” Very

 

often, these product-related discussions reach more actual customers than the mainstream

 

trade and business press, and a community’s enthusiasm usually translates directly into

 

an uptick in sales.

 

TANGIBLE BENEFITS

Since most companies seem to have a reasonable idea of the benefits their communities

generate, a natural follow-on question would be: How do you measure and demonstrate

those benefits? When we asked our respondents this question, however, the results suggest a

surprising lack of hard data: 60% of respondents reported that they have little or no feedback

about the impact of their communities, and only 13% had any “formal metrics.” Support

organizations are ordinarily serious collectors of performance data, so this absence of data

is striking:

COMMUNITIES • 7

But when we look more closely at these groups of respondents, some interesting patterns

emerge. In particular, there are dramatic differences between the 13% of respondents with

formal metrics (best performers) and the 14% whose “customers don’t seem to care” (worst

performers):

• The best performers support many

more total communities

(an average of five different

types of communities per company), vs. an average of 2.7 community types for the

 

worst performers.

 

• The best performers have

 

 

better growth rates

for their communities (5% “barely alive,

41% “growing slowly”, 37% “growing fast”, and 16% “Wow!”) vs. overall poor growth

 

for the worst performers (67% “barely alive”, 19% “growing slowly,” 14% “growing

 

fast,” and none with “Wow!” growth rates).

 

What do these differences suggest? A reasonable conclusion is that the top performers

 

manage their communities more aggressively, while the worst performers are more passive.

 

For example, intensive management means that a “barely alive” community wouldn’t be

 

left untended: It would either be energized or terminated. And the greater use of formal

 

metrics by the top performers has two implications—first, that support managers in this

 

group have real data to use for diagnosing problems, and second, that they have a way to

 

show a tangible ROI on their investments in community building, and thus a better chance

 

of getting additional funding.

 

 

THREE SUCCESS STRATEGIES

As part of our support community survey questionnaire, we asked respondents to describe “the

most important lesson you’ve learned about generating high levels of participation.” Their answers

identified three areas that are likely to be key priorities for any kind of support community:

• Get to critical mass quickly:

 

Rapid growth isn’t just a symptom of success—it’s almost

always an essential part of making the community

 

interesting.

Just as people are drawn

to big, lively cities, customers gravitate toward robust online forums, well-attended user

 

group conferences, and rich third-party networks. “To some extent, communities are

 

a numbers game,” said community development expert David Kay. “A fraction of the

 

 

“Has your company been able to measure these benefits in

tangible ways?”

Number of respondents: 120

13%

27%

46%

14%

Definitely, based on formal

metrics (renewals, sales, call

deflection, etc.)

Somewhat, based mostly on

favorable customer feedback

Little tangible feedback, but we

feel our communities create a

positive impression

Customers don’t seem to care, so

we’re reluctant to commit further

resources

8 • COMMUNITIES

people you invite will join, and a fraction of those who join will participate, and fewer

still will participate on a grand scale. So, along with everything else, make sure you’re

reaching lots of people.”

“The community must be active, when it slows down, traffic dies off fast.”

“Gotta market it like it’s a product. We tried to do a forum just by adding the feature to

our support website, with no success. Now we have Facebook, Twitter and blogs, and

we are highly publicizing it and it is gaining much more momentum.”

“First impressions are key. If a user visits a support forum and finds old, abandoned

threads without people providing answers… the user will move on and typically never

come back. We started with a few communities based on top products (those with

significantly higher repetitive and Tier 1 type issues being reported) and assigned a

number of staff people to those communities to monitor threads, post tips, answer

questions, etc. After a period of time, we ramped down internal participation as external

participation picked up. We continued to have a few people monitoring for frequent

questions/issues, but they remained mainly in the background. We then ramped up

staffing on new communities and repeated the process.”

“Focus on the kickoff process. If you don’t get enough hype around the community at

its launch, it will be difficult to increase usage down the road.”

“Content is king. Customers will use your community if they know they’ll get interaction

from other members and be able to learn and solve issues. The new generation of business

employees expects a community. They’ll look there first and seem to prefer that medium

of communication. Find ways to foster and grow the community!”

• Make sure you attract experts and champions:

 

Critical mass is more than a straight

numbers game. In fact, the vast majority of participants are likely to be “lurkers”—people

 

who come to read postings (or who act like wallflowers at live events). The real backbone

 

of a support community is invariably a core group of experts, mavens, and super-users.

 

They see the community as a place where they can show off their knowledge, so one

 

way to attract more experts is to reward their contributions with reputation-enhancing

 

visibility.

 

“You need knowledgeable customers actively engaged on the forum and willing to share

 

with other customers about possible solutions. If customers post questions and no one

 

answers (except our company staff), it’s not deemed successful. They have other routes

 

to get to our support; the forum is designed for customer-to-customer relationships.”

 

“Super-user development and management is a delicate and time-consuming process.

 

Super-users need to be managed to make sure that they stay on friendly terms with the

 

company, and that their expectations need to be properly managed so that they do not

 

become detractors.”

 

“Make sure the community super-users feel the system is theirs.”

 

“Building an advocate base is the most important aspect. Users come to speak to other

 

users, not just us.”

 

“The contributors must be quickly viewed as technical power users. Thorough responses

 

are important to adding value—speed is less of an issue if the response is accurate and

 

reflects a good understanding of the topic.”

 

COMMUNITIES • 9

“Look for the influencers outside the community, and personally invite them in. Ask

for their help in making design decisions. Ask them to try having their conversations

inside the community and see how it works for them.”

• Define your own role:

 

One remarkably tough problem, our respondents note, is figuring

out their own position in the community hierarchy. The community can’t be left on autopilot,

 

but moderators who jump in too quickly can be a turnoff for expert participants

 

who want to show off their own knowledge.

 

“We find that even though we have a community (added in 2010), customers would

 

still rather call or e-mail support for answers. Part of this, I think, is we’re just too quick

 

to respond.”

 

“Getting an official response from the company in 17-21 hours helps keep members

 

coming back for answers, thus reducing phone center support costs.”

 

“We maintain a 24-hour moderator-response service level for posts that don’t have a

 

community-generated response. This helps deflect cases from assisted support.”

 

“The more employees from all over the company participate, the more customers feel

 

that they are being listened to. Surprisingly, it has required quite substantial efforts to

 

get our employees to understand the value of the community and to encourage them

 

to participate.”

 

“Employee engagement is essential in our community. Roughly 25% of the answers

 

to customer questions come from employees, and customers appreciate that we’re

 

involved.”

 

“If there is a notable staff presence in a role beyond that of a moderator, the forum

 

basically becomes another support channel, as opposed to something valuable to users

 

that is differentiated from support via a support contract.”

 

“Be human! Speak in your own voice—don’t be robotic. Don’t shy away from negative

 

threads, use them as an opportunity to build relationships and show the world how

 

your company responds when things go wrong.”

 

“Fight the urge to ‘police’ and ‘shape’ the community conversation. Allow your customers

 

a rich forum in terms of features and content and allow them to openly share their

 

experiences with your company, both good and bad. This will result in a more vibrant

 

community and offer your company an important feedback channel to improve your

 

products and services.”

 

SIX SIMPLE METRICS

By David Kay

Not long ago, it seemed like there weren’t any reasonable measures for the health and

effectiveness of communities. Now it seems like there are too many! We often see eSupport

and community leaders trying to grapple with page after page of bar charts, line charts,

and tables, unsure what to pay attention to, and unsure what to report up the management

chain.

10 • COMMUNITIES

When we look at communities, we can simplify matters by cutting things down to six

measures—three activities, and three outcomes. Activities, and trends in activities, will

tell us if the community is healthy. The outcomes let us know if they’re effective—or, more

precisely, part of an effective eSupport strategy.

Activities: Monitoring Community Health

Activity measures in general tell us if the things we’re planning are happening. Good

activity measures don’t guarantee success, but poor measures are a good indicator that

something’s wrong. (A cocktail party with 30 guests isn’t necessarily a good party, but

one with only three guests is likely to be a bust.) Activity measures for communities tell

us if people are participating in the conversations. If enough people are participating, that

suggests they’re finding it valuable.

• Page views:

 

We’re still not sure whether a tree falling in a forest makes any noise, but

it’s a sure bet that a post that isn’t seen isn’t doing any good. More page views equals

 

more opportunities for value creation. This is important to trend over time. It’s also

 

interesting to see where the page views are coming from—your community site? Selfservice

 

search? Google and other Internet search engines? This metric can help you

 

refine your marketing strategy, and perhaps help you fend off those colleagues who

 

want to lock your community behind a paywall.

 

• Active contributors:

 

How many people are not only registered and looking, but actively

participating in a discussion (either starting a thread or following up) within the last

 

thirty days? In the standard 90/9/1 model of community engagement, this measures

 

the nominal 9%—although in the real world, the number is often significantly less than

 

9%. Trends are as important as the actual numbers for this measure.

 

• Posts per day by forum:

 

This is what communities researcher Dr. Michael Wu refers to

as “liveliness”—is there a good buzz? Are we at critical mass? For a specific forum, it

 

takes at least five posts a day to be lively; those with fewer might best be merged with

 

other forums until the topic attains sufficient momentum.

 

Outcomes: Gauging Community Effectiveness

Outcomes are the business results we are seeking from our community initiatives… and in

fact, from all our eSupport initiatives. If the activities tell us the “what,” outcomes tell us

the “so what.”

A challenge with outcome measures is that no one activity can “take credit” for the outcome.

This is frustrating when trying to justify investment in a specific program, but it makes

sense: Wouldn’t it be odd if a self-service program and a communities program were trying

to accomplish different outcomes? Shared goals encourage teamwork, and are a fact of life

in the enterprise—no one group gets credit for company profitability, either (not that the

sales team won’t try.)

If teasing the value created by communities apart from other efforts becomes a paramount

consideration, the activity measures at least provide a rough order-of-magnitude starting

point. If there are 100 times as many community interactions as there are live chats, it’s

reasonable to argue that the community program is a more significant driver of a Net

Promoter Score, while if there are ten times more page views in the knowledgebase than in

communities, the knowledgebase might be making a bigger impact.

• Deflection:

 

The most easily quantified financial benefit from communities is contact

COMMUNITIES • 11

(or case) deflection. Deflection in communities is measured just like deflection in selfservice:

It’s the percentage of people who are successful in accomplishing their goal,

times the percentage who are entitled and intending to open a case, times the number of

times people use the communities to resolve an issue. That is, Deflection = Success Rate

x Escalation Rate x Sessions. While calculating success and escalation rate are worthy

of a paper all their own, the quick answer is that you should call your community users

and ask them about their last experience—were they successful? Did they or would they

have escalated? (As you might suspect, escalation rates are lower—often far lower—

than people assume.)

Note that communities deflect call center contacts by having a customer ask a question

and get a helpful response. But it’s far more common that a third person will come along

later, see the exchange, and use it to solve his or her problem. Accordingly, if community

posts are returned by self-service search or by Google, it makes sense to calculate a

blended deflection number across communities and self-service.

• Satisfied demand for support:

 

Support is in the business of creating value for customers,

not just closing and deflecting cases. So every successful interaction in the communities

 

provides value. It’s hard to assign a dollar value to satisfying a customer’s need, but

 

that doesn’t make it less real. Satisfied Demand = Success Rate x Sessions. As with

 

deflections, this may be a combined number across self-service and communities.

 

• Loyalty:

 

However you measure loyalty—typically as a Net Promoter Score, Renewal

Rate, or Repurchase Rate—communities should affect this positively. Look for changes

 

in loyalty especially when community activity measures have changed significantly

 

within a given time period.

 

Six measures, two slides… and a very telling picture of just how well your communities are

 

going.

 

David Kay is an independent consultant to customer service and support organizations, and the vendors who serve them.

David’s focus is on knowledge and collaboration as vehicles to deliver radically improved support, cost effectively. He can

be reached via e-mail at david@dbkay.com

 

.

SUPPORT AND THE ONLINE CONVERSATION

By Mikael Blaisdell

Call the technology what you will—Social Media, Support 2.0, Forums—it’s still a conversation

that takes place online among anywhere from two to literally thousands of people. Such

conversations have been of incredible value to many people. They have also been hugely

frustrating, for like all conversations, there is… the Noise Factor.

In the typical trade-show, speed-networking, or post-seminar time, the volume level in the

room can reach deafening levels. If you can even get to the people you really want to engage,

you may not be able to hear them or they you. At the same time, the golden informational

nuggets can be completely obscured by the incorrect or off-topic idle chatter all around.

The online conversation is no different from the crowded, noisy room: Without effective

moderation, the value can quickly be lost.

In many online resources, the topic list of conversations may stretch across dozens or even

hundreds of pages. While inexperienced participants, “newbies,” often routinely create new

threads for questions that have already been answered over and over, even veterans can fall

12 • COMMUNITIES

into the same trap because they simply can’t find an existing discussion that’s relevant. Even

if you happen to stumble upon the “right” discussion, the thread may go on for literally

hundreds of entries before a viable solution emerges.

Today’s online discussion applications offer some powerful tools that can reduce the noise

level considerably if used properly. To discourage the creation of duplicate topic threads,

for instance, the system may first search and display existing threads before creating a new

topic. Unfortunately, even this method may not catch all of the duplicates, so there needs to

be effective pruning and transfer functionality to help moderators merge duplicates into a

single thread. Another feature in some systems allows the moderator or the thread’s creator

to select an individual reply as the primary answer to a search query.

Another feature of new systems is that they can automatically notify members by e-mail about

new posts on a topic of ongoing interest. However, these notifications can also contribute to

the noise factor for individual users if the conversation goes on for too long or if there are

people posting off-topic or irrelevant notes.

Just as a good facilitator in a small group discussion keeps the focus going, a good moderator

will intervene to reduce the level of chatter. A useful feature in this regard is when the

moderator can set a particular user’s profile so that all of their posts have to be approved

before they can be published to the group.

There is a balance to be found between permitting too many individual discussions to

remain in the overall topic list, and having too few. Too many, and it can become increasingly

difficult to find anything worthwhile, and the resource will tend to decline in effectiveness

and participation. At the same time, too few discussions can discourage visitors and set

an impression of overall inactivity. Here is where the role of the moderators is especially

important, for they should be the ones who turn completed conversations into knowledge

articles before archiving the thread and removing it from view. They should also start useful

topics themselves.

Keep in mind that a good online conversation is just that: a conversation. The benefits to

both the participants and the sponsoring company can be enormous. But it isn’t something

that reliably happens by accident, and it won’t maintain itself.

Mikael Blaisdell was the “wizop” of two CompuServe forums in the 80’s and early 90’s, starting when access was via a

300-baud telephone modem and only in the evening hours. He has advised companies for many years about the use of forums

and other technology resources for effective customer support, customer retention and enhancing per-customer profitability

levels. Based in Alameda, California, he may be reached via e-mail at: mikael@mblaisdell.com.

COMMUNITIES • 13

COMPLIMENTS OF THE ASP

This complimentary report is part of an ongoing series of research monographs

published by the Association of Support Professionals (ASP). ASP research reports are

designed to provide relevant benchmarks and actionable “best practices” guidelines

for technical support operations.

Each year, the ASP publishes four or five reports like this one, available to members at

no charge. In addition, the ASP maintains an extensive library of reports from previous

years (a complete list with executive summaries is available on the ASP Web site), along

with various directories, forums, articles, and other resources.

Recent reports have covered topics such as these:

• Tech Support Salary Survey

• Front-Line Support Incentives

• A Guide to 7×24 Support Plans

• Setting Limits on Unlimited Support

• Maintenance & Services Ratios

• A Guide to Better Tech Notes

• The Great Customer Experience

• Trends in Fee-Based Support

• Management Performance Benchmarks

• A Guide to Packaged Services

• Customer Satisfaction Benchmarking

• Web Support Assessment Techniques

• How to Grow Professional Services

• Maintenance Renewal Rates

• Tech Support Reporting Channels

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s