Have you ever asked for help on an online forum but got no answer? It happens. Unless you’re a regular visitor, it can be difficult to figure out how to get what you need. So here’s the skinny on working with forums and user groups.
- Read the forum rules first.
- Look for your answer in the existing questions and answers before adding yours.
- Choose your subject line carefully.
- Manners count.
- Don’t feed the trolls.
On to the details... and a bonus section at the bottom.
READ THE FORUM RULES FIRST
Boring, I know, but here's why you want to do this. Most groups are particular about what can be posted and where you should post. The guidelines are usually easy to find. Just look for a heading that says ‘read me first’ or ‘posting guidelines.’ Advertising your services is almost never allowed, so watch out for that. If questions are separated by category, you’ll want to read through each heading to see where you belong.
LOOK FOR YOUR ANSWER IN THE EXISTING Q & A BEFORE ADDING YOURS
It’s likely that someone has already asked your question. That’s great news because you may find several people have contributed answers which you can read through right now. To do this, look for a search box and do your best to think of words others would use to describe your problem. It’s considered rude to post your question without first looking to see if it has already been answered and cross-posting the same question in multiple categories can get you banned for forum spamming.
CHOOSE YOUR SUBJECT LINE CAREFULLY
Problems with the subject line are the #1 reason why messages go unanswered — and here’s why. Forum boards rely on volunteers. Most of us will scan subject lines quickly to look for the ones we’re qualified to comment on. If a volunteer has only 20 minutes to contribute, vague messages will be ignored in favour of messages that clearly identify what's needed. This means your subject line should never be ‘Help’ or ‘Quick question’ or ‘What does this mean.’ Instead, be specific. Try something like ‘Gmail spam problem on Chrome’ or ‘Microsoft Outlook 2010 question on multiple calendars.’
See the bonus section at the end for the top 10 worst subject lines ever (according to me).
Be careful about sounding demanding or sarcastic. Forum board volunteers and users are there to help and to learn. They may make mistakes or they may not be knowledgeable on your particular matter, but everyone deserves respect.
DON’T FEED THE TROLLS
Yes, it’s true. There are trolls on forums. They thrive on arguments. Fortunately, they can’t live without these and that makes them very easy to starve. Just stop feeding them and most will go away.
Forums are a great place to increase your knowledge and solve problems. You'll get a lot more out of them if you invest 5 minutes to poke around on the site before posting your question.
Bonus Section: Top 10 Worst Subject Lines Ever
1. Newbie question
2. This needs to be fixed now
4. Why doesn't this work?
6. Does this look right?
7. Email me
8. This site sucks
10. How do I do this?