Forums and Newsgroups

May 31, 2011

Chapter 10 – Written Communication

Forums and newsgroups are an industry-standard way for engineers to communicate with customers. They work very similarly to archived mailing lists. Forums are an archiving non-editable form of communication. What you write will be there forever and you probably can’t edit it. They are also very public. When you communicate with a customer on a forum you are the voice of your company. A single good interaction with an engineer can create a loyal customer and a bad one can send them to your competition.

Clear and Focused Subject Lines

Most forums are display lists of subjects separate into specific categories. A reader will choose whether to read your posting based almost entirely on the subject. Make your subjects descriptive, short, and very focused.

Small, Transient, and Readable

Forums have basically no formatting and very limited context which means your writing should be small, transient, and readable. Forums are not the place to post design documents or explore large and complex ideas. A forum may feel like a wiki page if you post to it with your web browser, but it is a lot more like a mailing list where postings are quickly obsolete. Your forum post should be short enough that it only takes a few moments to read.

Forums and newsgroups are a transient form of communication. Your post on a forum will last a few days at most before new content pushes it out. Focus your forum writing on short-term topics. “What should we do for this dialog?” is much better than “What should our new product look like?”

User Forums Make You More Visible

User forums will make your customers feel more connected to your product and your company. They are a good place for them to get support for your products. Customers will appreciate the time you spend helping them in the forums. It will also help your career.

As a remote engineer, staying visible within your company is a constant struggle. The people outside your team may not even know your name. When you help customers you are building customer loyalty to you personally as well as to your company. Your company’s management will notice this customer loyalty.

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