Would you put an open discussion forum on the products website?


8

We have a website, which is the entry point to install our software product. The software is targeted to wide range of individuals.

My question is - should we put a forum on our website and allow people to conduct an open, unmoderated discussion about us, our product and related issues? If so, should be allow anonymous posts to keep the trolls out?

We see the following advantages of having an open discussion on our site:

  • If we allow people to say what they think about the problem we are solving and our dedicated solution, we can learn a lot and use this knowledge for the advantage of us and our product.
  • Even with a lot of negative feedback, it's better to have it on our forum, as we can easily solve the probems and address the issues. Negative voices will appear, if not on our site, for sure somewhere else, where we may even not know about them.
  • A community of engaged forum users may help other users solve some issues, relieving our customer support from doing this.

However, we also have some concerns:

  • Having forum on our site, we show the negative voices to all our potential customers. As in real, nondigital live, it's far easier to get criticism than praise. A dissatisfied user is more willing to put his opinion on our forum than the satisfied one.
  • If we won't block the anonymous posts, we may get a lot of unobjective, rude comments, that we would have to moderate or allow them to litter our site.
  • If we will block the anonymous posts, people may be less willing to say what they really think, knowning, that they are speaking publicly. How do you think? If that would be the case, we would lost the major advantage we are counting for - learning from the users discussion.

What technical solutions whould you use to manage such discussion?

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asked Jun 30 '10 at 19:58
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Pawel A
191 points

4 Answers


9

Excellent question!

Yes, I absolutely think that a public forum can be a great asset for your company. And negative feedback from customers isn't just bad; it can enhance your trustworthiness in the eyes of your customers, and be a net win in the long run.

Some thoughts:

  • Spend time on getting the 'tone' and culture just right for your situation. See the answers given here, fx Jason's answer about the 'seed' user group.
  • Don't allow anonymous (un-registered) posts. Sorry, but there are just too many spammers with automated spam scripts out there. But make registration real simple and quick, and allow users to use a pseudo-anonymous screen name if they want to. (If they want to be anonymous, they'll use a nondescript screen name and register from a temporary email address, leaving only their IP address.)
  • Use a platform with good built-in antispam, such as Akismet support, or user-driven spam flagging.
  • Be open and transparent about the rules. Have a FAQ or Terms of Service, and be honest about what constitutes unwanted content (abusive, hate speech, information-less, competitors) and what happens to unwanted content (deleted, downvoted).
  • Invest the time. Your company needs to be visible on the forum, and to answer questions and critique in a transparent, honest, level-headed manner.

As to which platforms to use, some of the current hot names are Stack Exchange, UserVoice, Get Satisfaction, bbPress, Vanilla Forums (also available as open source on .org), and others. Have a look at these, and Google around as well.

answered Jun 30 '10 at 22:01
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Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points

4

I think the biggest danger is actually a 'dead' forum with very few posts as it sends a bad message to potential customers. If you can get enough activity, a forum is a great addition.

answered Jul 6 '10 at 22:17
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Mark Stephens
976 points

2

I agree with Jesper - interacting with your customers in a moderated way is a good idea. But I would say that a products like UserVoice and GetSatisfaction are not the same as a forum. Sure, they support communication - but they do so in a tightly controlled fashion that helps keep the exchanges on track. Forums can be runaway troll / spam magnets - these services do pretty good protecting against it.

StackExchange would also be a good solution, but it is more aligned to Q&A than a customer feedback tool. Also, they have changed their offering and I doubt you would be able to use it. Here is a good thread pointing out some of the stack exchange alternatives. OSQA is a good one.

answered Jul 1 '10 at 05:05
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Jim Galley
9,952 points

0

I'll second the note from Jesper about spending time getting the tone right - we've found that the way you phrase the question at the top of our forums changes the feedback rather significantly. Don't just let it be a pit for people to dump complaints, get them focused on being constructive.

You can see some case studies at https://www.uservoice.com/blog/category/case-studies/. UserVoice isn't for everyone, but it sounds like, as jimg suggested, the structure of our forums could help keep your conversation from veering into the territory you're worried about.

Feel free to ping me if you'd like a demo or more info, and if you do sign up be sure to use the coupon code onstartups101 to get a 50% discount for the first year.

Good luck!

Evan Hamilton Community Manager, UserVoice evan at uservoice dot com

answered Jul 1 '10 at 06:12
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Evan Hamilton
111 points
  • I wouldn't vote this down... Evan did give some constructive info here. – Jim Galley 9 years ago

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