How to get help in an online forum
I spend a lot of time in forums at Amazon. I probably read hundreds of “threads” (that’s a series of comments, or posts, all on the same subject…one person says something first, then other people comment on that and on the comments) every week.
Specifically, I’m in the
In fact, I probably wouldn’t have this blog or have written the books I have in the Kindle store if it wasn’t for stumbling on to the Kindle forum years ago.
I found the people there helpful and funny, and it became a big part of my life.
I was named by Amazon one of their “Kindle Forum Pros”, which is a way that they recognize people who contribute strongly to the forums. We aren’t paid, and we aren’t Amazon employees…we are just a group of Kindle owners who volunteer to help other people.
I do it mostly because I like to help people…I enjoy it.
With all those threads read and now several years of experience, I have a pretty good idea of how those forums work.
When people want help, sometimes they get it…and sometimes, they don’t.
I thought I’d give you some of my insight on why that is, especially the latter.
Let me say first, though, that not everybody who posts on a forum wants help. Some people just want to complain, and they just want other people to commiserate with them. They aren’t looking for a fix for anything…they just want other people to tell them they are right.
Other people just want to stir up trouble. They really don’t care what the forum is about: they are just about making people feel bad and get angry, because it gives them a sense of power. They do something, and it provokes a response which they have predicted. The bigger the response, the more they think they have shown their power over others. Online, those people are commonly referred to as “trolls”. I don’t like to use terms which denigrate and dehumanize people, even people who do things I don’t like…so you won’t find me using that term.
What about the people who actually want help? What stops them getting it? That might be the right way to express it, because I think the neutral level is that you will get help. However, I like to approach things more positively, so rather than setting this up as what you might do that won’t get you help, I’m going to explore it by looking at what you can do right.
1. Read the forum first
You want to start out with making sure you are in the right place. I’ve seen people post in the Kindle forum about problems they have with, oh, a guitar they purchased (I’m just making up that example). Take a minute to read a page or two of threads to see what the feel is. If there is a search box, go ahead and search for your topic…at least make sure similar things are being asked and answered
2. Be nice
I’m sometimes surprised by people who don’t seem to realize that they are being insulting. They’ll have a headline, or post a comment, calling Amazon “stupid” or “greedy”…and then be surprised when people who are regular Amazon customers defend the company. It’s like walking up to a table full of diners in a restaurant and saying, “Your friend is ugly…and do you know where the restroom is?” It would take an unusual person to focus on your question at that point. I have to really steel myself not to engage in a case like that…I used to do it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at just paying attention to the question and not the way it is asked. For me, even a jerk deserves my help.
I’ve alway been proud of my ability to work with difficult people. I always remember that I knew someone (who was somewhat of a public figure) who used to say, “I didn’t come here to make everybody love me. I came here to get the job done.” One time I said, “But wouldn’t it be easier to get the job done if everybody loved you?” The person just sort of blinked and fell silent…that was absolutely a thought which couldn’t be processed. I doubt that person even remembered I said it.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen somebody come in with guns blazing, have people make some defense (often not even an emotional one) of Amazon, and then the first person seems genuinely surprised by the response. They may then also resort to a dehumanizing term, like “fanboys” or assume the commenters are employees of Amazon. Somewhere in the first post, though, there may have been a real question.
3. Be specific
You aren’t typically going to see somebody complain that you put in too much information about your situation. I’ve seen posts where the entire thing was something like, “It won’t work.” No mention of what won’t work. Writing about a Kindle? Give the model…the solutions often vary. I find that I need to send people to
so they can figure it out, but that’s fine. I could give you three or four different solutions for different model families, but that’s going to be confusing.
Let us know: what is happening; what would you like to have happen; and what you have tried so far.
If there an error message? Tell us what it says, not just “I get an error.”
One of my favorite least useful things is when somebody says, “I’ve been having this problem, and I’ve tried everything.” If you’ve tried everything, by definition, nothing else can be suggested. Please tell the forum members what you have tried…a restart, turning it on and off, whatever it might be.
I’d say those are the three main principles. It helps if you aren’t too slangy or jargony. I’m not saying that you need to use completely proper English (that is vanishingly difficult), but you do want people to understand what you are trying to say. I do understand that some people are using adaptive technology because of disabilities…capitalizing something can be very difficult with some of those, and I can be forgiving of that. Personally, I don’t mind some common online abbreviations, as long as people understanding it is a reasonable expectation in context. I’ve mentioned before that I have an irrationally negative reaction to “serial puncs”*…when someone puts in multiple exclamation points or question marks, or both. That’s mostly me, though. I think most people are okay with it…aren’t they???? I’m able to override that “trigger” for me and still help somebody. I’d also say that patience makes sense. I’ve seen someone post, and then post again two minutes later complaining that no one has answered yet. If you are in a community forum (one populated by people like you, rather than people who are paid to answer your questions), it can take a while sometimes. If you need help right away, you can always contact Kindle Support:
I hope that advice helps. You can always ask questions here, and I’ll try to answer them…but I do think the forums are fun and I’d like you to get the most out of them.
What do you think? Do you have any other important suggestions for people? Do you have a great story about being helped on a forum…or of helping someone else? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.
* Hm…is “serial punc” a dehumanizing term? I like the pun, but I’ll have to think about that one
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.