How to get help in an online forum

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

Amazon Kindle Forum

and

Kindle Help Forum

a lot.

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

http://www.amazon.com/help/kindle/which

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:

http://www.amazon.com/help/kindle/which

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 theĀ I Love My Kindle blog.

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11 Responses to “How to get help in an online forum”

  1. Tuli Reno Says:

    I used to go to the forums a lot when I got my first Kindle in 2008. Now I go if I’m looking for something specific and then I use the search function. Something I don’t understand is why people go to those forums rather than call customer service. It seems to me that CS would be easier to find on the Amazon site than the forums. Oh, well.

    Sometimes the responders get really snarky, don’t they? But I noticed early on that no matter how snarky they get, you were always the voice of reason.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuli!

      Thanks also for the kind words! I do make an effort to be nice and helpful. :) I go with what Kurt Vonnegut said: “We are what we pretend to be.” Some people like to “pretend” that they have a cutting wit when acting anonymously online…and then believe that they would never behave that way in real life. However, I do think it will eventually affect you. It’s like scheduling yourself to smile or laugh: after a while, that will make you happier.

      As to why they don’t go to Customer Service first, I think there are a few reasons:

      * They’ve had a bad experience with Customer Service elsewhere. They assume, based on that, that dealing with Amazon will be unpleasant and/or unhelpful, when in fact, Amazon has very highly rated Customer Service

      * They don’t trust authority. If you look at polls, distrust in institutions has been increasing. They may think they are likely to get a better answer from “the people” than from the corporation

      * They are afraid that what they are asking would get them in trouble with Amazon (and sometimes, they are asking about illegal things). In a situation like that, they are happy with the status quo in their relationship with Amazon, and don’t want to mess with it

      * The forum is right on the Kindle product page, a place where they may have bought their Kindles previously. While I do think that getting to Kindle Support is easy, I many times see people posting that there is no way or they’ve been looking for one for hours. It’s not uncommon that they are posting that in the Kindle Help Forum…where there is a big orange button that says, “Contact Us”. :) Maybe Amazon should put a symbol for “help” on the Kindle itself, near the symbol for Home or up by the clock. I’m not sure what that symbol would be…perhaps they could put the “Amazon smile” up there, as a general way to contact Amazon, and then have a set of choices including Help.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Excellent and helpful post. (I was struck by your marvelous phrase “vanishingly difficult.”)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Johanna!

      I’m glad you liked it. :) I guess I’m most familiar with the phrase “vanishingly small”. That can be used to indicate a very tiny probability. I wasn’t trying to turn a phrase, particularly, although I do have awareness when I write, of course. What I write for the blog is mostly stream of consciousness, although I do (rarely) edit it.

      I just meant to convey that it is very difficult to use English without an error, in part because it is so irregular and borrows from so many different language sources.

      I have heard it said that, “English is the hardest language to learn to speak properly as a second language…but it is the easiest in which to be understood.” Get something slightly wrong in Russian, and your intended meaning may be lost. Get it quite a bit wrong in English, and you may be fine.

  3. Cassandra Blankenship Says:

    Bufo….when i asked about the purpose and use of ES Explorer app sometime ago, you were the only one who was patient and took the time to explain it. Yes, i learn a lot reading forum….always amazed how rude some people are. Thank you for your blog….keep up the good work…You are appreciated. Cassie

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Cassandra!

      I think the majority of people are nice, but people who are rude are rarely rude quietly. ;)

  4. Jennifer J. Martin (Gran Jen) Says:

    I, too, was struck by your phrase “vanishingly difficult.” That is way cool, and says a lot. I love reading your replies in the forums. I wish I had your patience! Many thanks for all you do! Gran Jen

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Gran Jen!

      Thanks for your kind words!

      Well, I’m a trainer and I train medical people. This one makes more sense said out loud, but I like to say that, “Doctors and trainers both have patients…we just spell it differently.” ;)

  5. Tuxgirl Says:

    Please don’t use chat speak. Most of the forum pros aren’t fluent in chat speak.

    Please at least glance at the manual and help files. If you don’t understand them, that’s fine. You can tell us what you were looking at and where you got stuck.

    I totally agree with including as much information as possible EXCEPT:
    Do *NOT* post private information! Don’t give us your home address, phone number, email address, password, or order number!

    And… Remember that we are people. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t know the answer for sure. Sometimes, a couple of us answer at the same time. Sometimes its a while before you get an answer. Sometimes we get sidetracked, or we are grouchy (although we try to avoid that last one). Sometimes, we even crack jokes while responding. Please be patient with us! We aren’t paid. We just like helping people use their kindles.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuxgirl!

      Good points all, from another Kindle Forum Pro. :) That personal information thing is especially important. Clearly, a lot of people don’t understand what is public and what is private online…

  6. Why it doesn’t make sense for Amazon to “bait and switch” e-books | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Before I address that, let me say that some people were surprised when other people were offended by the term. Do they not think that it is an accusation? I wrote about that “offense blindness” (a condition with which people can’t see that they are being offensive) in How to get help in an onlineĀ forum. […]

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