In January, I wrote about how not to lock topics. Reader Jeremy wrote this comment:

There is a certain online forum for a photo gallery I use where the Moderators are just plain mean. A good portion of the time when someone asks a question the moderator is the second or third person to respond, and it’s with a snippy comment about searching before you post, and not posting questions that have already been asked/answered. They often go on to lock the thread. Often times when searching for information, I’ll come across these threads long before the ones where the original question was answered!

I’ve even seen people ask questions about that gallery on other websites, just because they were afraid to be scolded by these mean moderators.

The moderators never help by providing links, just rude comments. It’s a shame their product is so good, because their attitude is not…

The emphasis is mine here as this is what I’d like to talk about today. There are a lot of support communities out there. I run two communities that would fit in that vein: the Support Forums and

But, back before I had them – before I had, specifically – I noted a tactic I saw all too much. The moderators on some support forums, or the support team, would chastise people for asking questions they deemed repetitive or simple. They’d tell the people they should search, they’d lock their topic – they’d be snide and disrespectful. It bothered me so much that I made it a founding principle at for my Support Team. That policy was, simply, if you are on my staff and someone asks you for a solution, you don’t tell them to search – you link them to what they need. Even if the question has been answered a million times. No exceptions. While I am sure there were slip ups, I am always quick to correct them. I am pretty fanatical about this.

When you are on staff at a support forum, chances are that part of your responsibilities are to actually help people – to support them. If you are telling people to search, you aren’t doing that. I don’t count this as teaching a man to fish – rather than giving him a fish. Teaching people how to search is another discussion for another day. What you exist to do is to give people a solution, not to send them off into the never ending search results.

The reason that they are using your forums is because they really don’t want to search. They want an answer, that’s why they are asking a question. Provide them with that answer, if you can. If you don’t know, don’t tell them to search. If it’s a question that has been asked a million times, write a tutorial and link to it each time. People will ask the same question over and over again – that’s natural. Maybe the more important thing to ask yourself is why – why are they asking this question so much? Can you do something to prevent that? Or help it? But, if you can’t, just write a detailed tutorial and whenever someone asks the question, link them to it and encourage them to ask questions if they have any, after reading it.

The same goes to pointing people to an FAQ in a flippant manner. “Did you read the FAQ?” “Why didn’t you read the FAQ?” “Before you posted, you should have read the FAQ.” Don’t send people to long FAQs, send people to what they need. Give them their answer. That’s your task. It’ll make them happier and you’ll be better off. And people will come back.

Do I allow regular members to suggest that people search? Yes… but, it has to be done respectfully and not in a condescending, “you’re a newbie” way. When it comes to a support community, it’s important that both the question answerers and the question askers receive respect.

Questions for the comments: Do you run a support community? If so, how do you instruct your staff to handle repetitive questions?