The “More Ways To Use” Forum

Blue Peter makes imageFor anyone who grew up with Blue Peter on the BBC, it’s second nature to look at an object and think “I could make a Christmas Decoration/lovely present for Aunt Mabel/Tracey Island out of that”.  Do you sell “objects”? Well if so, wouldn’t it be great to collect together all your customers’ ideas of what else they’ve done with your products that you haven’t thought of yet?

That’s the idea behind this kind of forum.

It works for all kinds of  things.  Do you sell clothing? Ask buyers to post pictures of themselves in your outfits. Do you sell food? Ask for recipes – here you could encourage feedback from people who’ve tried out the recipes too.

Of course the “More Ways To Use..” forum is an ideal addition to any site which is selling the raw materials for making other things, whether that’s food or hobbycraft, or full-scale construction materials.

Your Own Ideas

Naturally you will have many ideas of your own on how your products could be used. These should be used to kick off the forum topics and invite comparisons and further success stories. I am of course assuming that we are not talking about any items subject to licensing requirements, since non-standard use of some things could be outside the license and create all kinds of problems.

But putting that aside, a great way of kicking off the forum would be to post pictures, recipes, worksheets or instructions for downloading. Then invite comments from readers, and encourage them to share their own stories.

You could offer an incentive such as a monthly prize for the best idea – this has an added benefit if you can get people to provide you with addresses for your mailing list at the same time.

People usually enjoy talking about their ideas and successes, especially to a receptive audience which will give them lots of appreciation. Make sure you at least are that appreciative audience! Commenting on people’s comments will inspire others to take part in a conversation. In no time, there you are personalising your company to its customer base, and inspiring confidence in the products.

Can you afford not to run a forum like this?!

As ever, you need to be vigilant about what is posted on your site. You or a team of invited moderators will need to check the comments and respond or prune as appropriate.

But so long as you sort out that aspect, you could end up with a self-generating, keyword rich resource helping your Search Engine  Optimisation and building customer  loyalty with less effort than you’d need to generate the same level of content yourself.

If you’d like a forum installing to complement your website, Sort Out Your Site would be very happy to help you.

Just Contact Us.

Using A Forum/Bulletin Board For Technical Support

FAQ pictureThis is an excellent way to both collect and answer “Frequently Asked Questions”.

Starting Up

Well you probably have a set of questions that you know people either have asked or will ask. Your first Topic should therefore be FAQ and you can list each one of your questions and the response. I’d suggest that you close this topic, so that users can’t simply add more comments or responses – set up a separate Topic for them to do that. Best to keep the FAQ section clean as it will be somewhere that you would expect a lot of traffic.

Developing the community

Allow new topics to spring up in something like an “Ask the Community” topic or subforum. You could divide this from the start into “Questions” and “Successes”.  Encourage users who have a query which isn’t covered in the FAQ to put it in the Questions section. You will naturally need to haunt this forum in order to provide answers, but you may well find that there are other enthusiasts who take part regularly. If some of these are genuinely helpful and keen, it could be worth your while to set them up as official “gurus” with some kind of incentive. As these are people who are not employed by you, you must remember to add some sort of disclaimer about answers on the site being given in good faith, and that views expressed are not necessarily representative of the Company.


As your community develops, you will need to keep a close eye on the content of your forum. If it starts to really get going, you may no longer be able to manage moderation (i.e. policing the content) yourself and you may need to rope in other moderators. This is where enthusiastic community members could perhaps be enlisted if you don’t have enough people in-house to manage it. You’ll need a set of clear rules for the forum, to ensure a consistent approach and avoid argument. Moderators should be invited, and some sort of incentive such as a discount for long-service or answering a particular number of queries could be a good idea. Special “rank” seems to go down well. Don’t forget that if the moderators themselves operate their own websites, and they are allowed to use a signature including a link, then that gives an additional benefit of increasing traffic to their site and is an incentive in its own right.

Building FAQ

Don’t forget to collect more FAQ from regular queries in the forum. Your main aim is customer service, and a customer would rather be able to go straight to the right place for an answer. I’ve seen too many boards where the answer to a common question is buried in a long discussion somewhere.

Which leads to another Must – make sure you have a good search facility as the forum grows. Only the desperate are going to spend a long time looking for an answer to their query. If they don’t find it quickly, they’ll search elsewhere and you’ll lose control of the answer they are given….

What Use is a Forum/Bulletin Board Anyway?

Zebra TalkingCapturing Conversations

I first came across forums in connection with one of my hobbies. Here at last was a means of communicating across the world with the otherwise isolated fellow-enthusiasts I’d longed to make contact with. Essentially, a forum or bulletin board is a way of capturing conversations on the internet. Unlike chat-rooms (or instant messaging services) where the individual messages are generally short and disposable, on a forum you can often include articles or instructions for discussion, and the responses are all captured and can be further organised if necessary into separate conversation “threads”.


Now if you think about it there are several ways in which capturing a conversation could benefit your business. This is a way of engaging and consulting your customers with relatively little effort or cost after all.

Here are some ideas. I’ll develop these in more detail in later posts.

1. Technical Support

Support fora are very popular in the IT world in particular. What a great idea to tap into the combined expertise of all the users of your particular product. You may well find that ideas are generated for new uses for the product, you will certainly pick up any signs of recurrent problems or weak areas, and so often enthusiastic users will come up with new ideas for incorporation – “It’s great but I wish it could do…”

2. More Ways To Use…

Sell something that can be made into something else? This could include foodstuffs or craft materials. A forum can be an excellent way to collect suggestions for recipes or patterns. You can seed it yourself and ask for contributions from customers – you could give prizes or discounts to encourage quality contributions.

3. Feedback

To be  used with caution and a stiff upper lip!

Feedback from customers is known to be a great influence on potential purchasers. How you answer the feedback is key – if there is a complaint or dissatisfaction you’ll need to deal with it, and publish the results. However if you’re really serious about your customer service and product quality, this could be a powerful tool in your favour.

4. Building Credibility

Particularly useful for consultants who are basically selling information and their own expertise. If you set the scene by creating a series of articles and then inviting comments to which you respond, you are establishing your own expertise and developing that essential sense of relating individually to potential clients.

Don’t forget that if any of these forums are directly connected/part of your website, then all the information that is generated on the fora will contribute to your search engine optimisation efforts. Just imagine, loads of new, keyword-rich  content that you haven’t had to write yourself!

Read more information about membership sites here.

Simple Anti-nuisance Steps For Bulletin Boards

We are all used to screening our email for the dreaded spam. Fake Rolex, dodgy pharmaceuticals, charming ladies who’d just love to meet us (why never charming gentlemen?!) and worst of all, naked photos. I had them all before my ISP smartened up its act – my mailbox is fairly clean now, and I’d guess that’s typical for most people.

Sadly the spammers are all too ingenious and started to look elsewhere for targets. Blogs and bulletin boards were a magnet.

I manage a bulletin board for an interest group. When it was set up, the brief was quite clear that although the discussions could be viewed by anyone, taking part was only for registered members, and only paid-up members of the society could be registered. Despite this, I am constantly  having to delete attempts at signing up from usernames like “ffggdd”  or “cheappills”. Barack Obama has tried to sign up twice now!

Why is it important to keep your board clear of spammers? I’m afraid I’ve seen a few boards that have been attacked and they quickly become nothing but a stream of adverts and links for all kinds of rubbish. Because the postings are often automated, it would be practically impossible to keep up manually deleting bad posts. Much better to keep them out in the first place.

So what to do?

I’m basing my comments on phpBB but you will find similar features in all good bulletin board systems.

Firstly, avoid allowing just anyone to sign up. Ensure that new applications are held in a moderation queue for checking. If you are planning on building a big community site where it would be impossible for you to single-handedly administer all registrations, make it a priority to enlist moderators who can do some of the screening for you. You could even charge a very small fee for joining – Amember is a good system for this. Anyone who is really interested will pay up, especially if you can give away some digital product at the same time.

Secondly, as you screen new members, use the “Whois” or IP lookup facility to check where the new members come from. If like me you are administering a site for a highly regional group, it will be clear that applications from Russia or the Netherlands or USA are not legit.

Thirdly, keep an eye on the discussions (this can also be farmed out to moderators). At the first sign of any unwelcome posting, don’t hesitate to block the member and add the related IP to a blocked list.

Fourthly, use a “CAPTCHA” of some kind to help screen out automated applications – not totally foolproof but will help. That’s where part of the sign-up process includes typing in disguised letters. In theory computers can’t recognise these, but they are getting cleverer so it doesn’t always work and there are a small number of genuine potential members who have problems distinguishing the type.

Constant Vigilance

Above all, do keep an eye on your bulletin boards. If you’re running one because it’s your own interest, it sets a good example and helps keep things lively if you take part in discussions regularly. If you’re running one for someone else, you still need to watch what’s happening so you can stop problems early.

One of the saddest things I ever saw was a forum which was supposed to be for software support, totally ruined by spam postings. You would go in with some quite innocent question related to the software, and retreat feeling, well, contamintated, so horrible were the spam posts! Not pleasant, not professional, and most definitely not a good advert for your business or society.