Something of the old
Creative Commons License photo credit: tompagenet

Séoghán Mac Mathúna asked: How would you recommend growing and actively engaging a community that is largely only present to seek support?

Support forums and communities exist to give support. There is no getting around that and you can never forget it because if you fail at that, you fail at everything. Certainly, that is the cornerstone.

In running a support communities, you will find that a large portion of the people who register and post are there to get help and go. They need what they need and then they want to get back to their lives – and back to using whatever it is that you are supporting.

You have to understand and respect this. Once you accept that, there are opportunities to go beyond that and to engage people in other ways, hopefully giving them a reason to stay longer.

Getting Off Topic

Do you want people to engage on a more personal level, beyond just around your software? Provide a means of doing so. If people don’t see a section to post off topic, they are way less likely to try doing so in the on topic sections because of widely recognized, established norms of communities across the web.

To address this, create a general chat area or a section where people can talk about things not related to the thing you are supporting. In other words, facilitate off topic discussions. Participate in this section yourself and encourage members of your team and company to do so, as a way to showcase their personalities. From that point, there are a lot of directions that you can go in.

Furthermore, consider how you can showcase individuals within your community. For example, you can create and lead initiatives that honor great members and contributions, such as a member of the month or a yearly award program.

Back On Topic

Ask yourself this question: beyond helping people, what else can I share that relates to the product or service that I am supporting? Or our company?

People like access and they like exclusive stuff. What can you provide them with? You know your company better than I do. What stories can you tell?

Beyond support, help them use the product better. Showcase cool uses and encourage others to share their cool uses through a dedicated section. You can write and publish tips and tutorials and host educational webcasts. You can also host chat events where new and upcoming features are revealed (exclusively!).

You’ll always have a large concentration of members who simply want to get help and go, but with these tips in mind, hopefully you’ll be more likely to engage with the portion of your membership that would like to stick around and get to know you a little better.