Recently, I started a short series of blog post on using a community forum to exchange with your users. In this second part, we'll look at why we chose a particular platform and how we've used it since launch.
Part I: Why and when should I start my own community forum? Part II: Setting up your forum: Top tips for using Get Satisfaction Part III: Making the most of user feedback
Why we chose Get Satisfaction
From the first time I came across Get Satisfaction in 2007, I've been looking for a suitable context in which to use it but the opportunity never came until now.
In the early days, what struck me about it was that there was a natural positive aura to the service. Users weren't simply encouraged to post questions and problems, they also were prompted to praise the product when applicable!
I'll admit I was also swayed by the cupcake images that are used as default icons for new users. As co-founder Amy Muller said in a 2009 interview with Ciara Byrne, "we felt that cupcakes were associated with satisfaction and happiness. What's not to love about a cupcake?" Indeed, what's not to love about a cupcake?
Get Satisfaction is by no means the only option out there. Some companies may prefer to create their own forum platform, use popular off-the-shelf discussion board software like phpBB or Vanilla, or sign up to web-based community forums like Ning.
In my limited experience with phpBB, more time was spent managing spammers than talking to users. In addition, these forums aren't oriented towards customer care and conversations are more likely to veer off topic. As we wanted to spend any available time on improving the product, we wanted a forum that allowed us to be fairly focused; Get Satisfaction felt like a perfect match.
While I'm also a big fan of UserVoice, it didn't feel right in this context as we were looking for more than purely feature requests from users.
Two weeks ago, we launched the forum at http://getsatisfaction.com/alfredapp on the Start plan at a manageable $19. We started with a company update and invited users in through Twitter. As the usual email feature requests trickled in, we encouraged these people (in particular those with feature suggestions, rather than bugs) to share their ideas in the forum.
What happened instantly?
- Immediately, some of the top feature requests (1Password integration, Things support) became quantifiable.
- Users were able to share their super clever use of Custom Searches with each other.
- A few commonly asked questions were tackled, giving us a solution to send other users to.
- We received the most blush-inducing praise from a few very happy fans.
Within two weeks of launch, we now have over 185 participants, nearly 110 posted topics and a ton of extremely useful feedback. To me, one of the best aspects is just how freeing it is to finally be able to respond in more than 140 characters!
Tips to make the most of your forum
1. Formulate questions clearly
This may seem obvious and doesn't have a huge impact in the early days of the forum. However, when a topic is titled "Feature request", 3 months down the line, it's not very helpful. As a moderator, I can rename it to "Del.icio.us Bookmarks integration", making everyone's life much easier later on.
2. Label post types correctly
Get Satisfaction offers users 4 post types: Questions, Ideas, Problems and Praise. By categorising these accurately, ideas can be marked as "Under investigation", "Planned", "Implemented" or "Not planned" as the case may be. It makes it easy to return to an old entry later on and let users know that the feature has been implemented, making them happy that their ideas were heard!
3. Use tags
We love tags, they help us organise content without having to worry about pigeon holing them. Add a few extra tags when users missed important keywords. For example, by tagging all requests for third party integration with "3rd party", I can easily dig them all out when our plugin API becomes public. I'd then be able to let super keen users know that they can develop their own plugins for the more niche services we may not create an official one for.
4. Pre-populate with FAQs
There is no formal FAQ section on a Get Satisfaction forum but it's possible to create an account within a company that is "Company FAQ". This account would be used solely to create FAQ items, publishing and answering commonly asked questions. The profile page could then feasibly be used as an FAQ.
It's a bit of a hack and, regardless, the Highlights tab forms its own summary of most frequent questions so it isn't strictly necessary.
Tips to make the most of user participation
1. Encourage customer champions
Over time, you'll find that your community has a few superstars who love and know your product well. You can engage with them and, when the right people crop up, make them customer Champions. This enables them to respond to others as themselves, but with the added credibility you lend them. You can then focus your efforts on answering the tough, new or unusual questions, leaving your champions to answer to pick the low-hanging fruit.
Champions may come and go, and you can't ask too much of them as they're doing it out of kindness but, while it lasts, they can give a helping hand to their fellow users.
2. Ask them questions
Take the time to quiz your users every so often. Sometimes for useful purposes, other times just for fun. Everyone has an opinion and we all love sharing it.
Some of our most popular questions were the simplest. For example, when we needed to set the default Alfred colour scheme in the early days, we asked users whether they used the light or dark theme the most. Within minutes, we had over a hundred answers, helping us make a choice.
If you're actively using forums, do you also have tips to share?
In the third and final post of this series, we'll look at making the most of user feedback once they take the time to share it.
Note: I'm in no way associated with Get Satisfaction, other than as a happy customer, using GS daily since I set it up. We experienced a slight hiccup in the first week, but the bug was tackled quickly. I'll revisit this post in a few months to see whether my opinion remains the same as Alfred and my understanding of Get Satisfaction evolve.
[Photo credit: Sierra Romeo on Flickr]