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What is TechSoup Community Forum Success?

What is TechSoup Community Forum Success?

  • Your challenge, should you wish to accept it, is to finish this sentence:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if.........

    You can finish the sentence more than once, you can finish it from a nonprofit's point of view, from a volunteer at a nonprofit's point of view, from nonprofit IT staff's point of view specifically, what you imagine TechSoup's point of view to be - as you like. For instance:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if there are new, on-topic posts from new community members at least once a day. 

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if every forum branch has a new, on-topic post from employees, consultants or volunteers at nonprofits, libraries, ngos or other mission-based organizations at least once a week.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if every question gets at least two responses with helpful information.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if at least five new nonprofits create online profiles and join the conversation in some way every week.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if the question I ask regarding computers, applications, or other computer or Internet tools I use on behalf of a nonprofit get answered within 48 hours.

    Looking forward to YOUR responses!

  • Jayne,

    From my perspective, as a volunteer forum moderator, the forums are successful if every week there are several posts in the most popular forums from nonprofit staff and others who are looking to be of service to others. Also, that those posts get answered quickly, accurately, and in a friendly manner.

    In addition, there is the aspect of how user friendly the forum is technologically. It needs to be simple and intuitive.

    Thanks,

    Sasha

    ________________________
    Sasha Daucus
    www.FundRaiserSoftware.com
    www.FundRaiserBasic.com
    Volunteer TechSoup Moderator

  • Thanks, Sasha! Let's hear more ideas for definitive measures for success of the TechSoup community forum!

  • In an effort to make the TS forums more successful, the first thing that comes to mind is to do what Jayne is doing; posting well-crafted inquiries and conversation starters. Unfortunately, we have so little traffic that many of her posts go unanswered, or we end up talking among ourselves.

    So my next thought is to look at the forums as realistically as possible to figure out how they could better serve the client base.

    In order to do that, I think we have to view TS in the proper context of competing with every other forum on the Internet. I think it's also important to remember that most needs experienced by non-profits are not exclusive to non-profits. That is, a server crash is a server crash, a printer jam is a printer jam and a shared calendar on a mobile device is a shared calendar on a mobile device. It makes little difference whether the company is large, small or non-profit.

    So our "technical support" oriented forums may have lost their importance.  I have the greatest respect and confidence in Dave, Gary, Tim, Chris and some of the other regulars here. But if I have a problem, I'm going to type the hardware model or software title into a Google search, along with an error code or a few words describing the problem, and usually find a specific, authoritative answer in a few minutes.  I'm not going to post the question here and wait a couple days for a generic response.

    And the Help forum seems less than useful. Aside from having very few posts, I'm not sure that readers learn anything by looking at someone else's complaint.  Maybe that thread should be removed.

    Some of the threads are relatively social in nature.  That's not my area so I'll let those who are warmer and fuzzier than I am (which is almost everyone) deal with that. But every TS page that sends readers to facebook, second life or twitter is essentially saying, "Go away.  Hang out someplace else."   That might be well and good for TS overall.  But it pushes traffic away from the forums.

    So is there any hope?  Sure.  But I just got paged so I'll have to return later.  Meanwhile, feel free to agree, disagree, whatever.

  • Thanks for the reply! Let's get more! finish this sentence:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if.........

    You can finish the sentence more than once, you can finish it from a nonprofit's point of view, from a volunteer at a nonprofit's point of view, from nonprofit IT staff's point of view specifically, what you imagine TechSoup's point of view to be - as you like.

    See the first post in the thread for more.

  • Picking up where I left off...

    There are many on-line forums that are still highly successful. One need only look at a few to find the shared characteristics such as remaining focused on their niche audience, avoiding distractions and keeping all activity within the forums themselves.

    But the more I think about it, the more I realize that TS has put a lot of effort into moving activity and "presence" over to Facebook, no doubt realizing the inevitable negative impact it would have on the TS forums.

    The TS management presumably has the metrics to support their decision. So I guess my response to Jayne's original question is that the success of The TechSoup Community Forum is no longer relevant, much less critical to the needs of the audience or the success of the overall TS mission.  

    -ENO

  • Hi guys and gals,

    I've been offline here for a while and enjoying a few catch-ups!

    Some observations from someone who hasn't been around here for a while... (and yes that in itself might be indicative of some of the issues TS is facing with these forums)

    First up; I found the forums quite hard to find from the TS frontpage given the link is anchored near the bottom of the page... certainly not as prominant as the link for the blog or learning centre etc. If I hadn't been specifically looking for the forums I doubt I would have found them...

    Secondly I guess everyone knows that spammers are hitting the 'Accessible Technology and Public Computing' forum fairly hard? (and possibly others) - In my experience the longer these posts stay on-forum; the more people will be turned away from using the forums... blocking these sort of posts really should be automated because if this is not done, taking out the trash does become a 24x7 job for volunteer admins.

    Lastly ... TS can, umm, "over-moderate" at times...  while it's good from a housekeeping perspective to tell people they should post in another forum; that a post may not be exactly forum specific etc... Is this something that really encourages contributions? How do we feel when someone else tells us we are "speaking in the wrong place".... moderation should be friendly and mostly invisible to 99% of contributors ... IMO TS moderation can at times be a little "in your face".... :-)

    ... and (OK this time really lastly!) - what about tossing in a few teasers  once in a while? - There was a time the TS software forum was one of the most active around, and we kept it that way by regularly offering teasers for other people to contribute and share their expertise.

    Just a few friendly observations!!!

    Take care all...

    Don (one-time software forum host)

  • I think these comments deserve immediate response:

    "TS has put a lot of effort into moving activity and "presence" over to Facebook, no doubt realizing the inevitable negative impact it would have on the TS forums."

    Being a responsive organization, one in tune with what nonprofits are doing online, TechSoup has a lot of activity going on at Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Flicr, and various other places online. To *not* go where nonprofits and those that support such are, where they ask questions and share resources, would have been a poor choice for an organization that is working to support nonprofits in their use of computer & Internet tools.

    IMO, TechSoup's Facebook activity hasn't driven anyone away from the TechSoup community forum - rather, Facebook *itself* has, as have any online social networking tool, as well as things like wikis. All of these social networking platforms and other new online areas have affected *all* traditional web-based communities - I'm on several YahooGroups that are focused on various subjects and that flourished with ever-growing membership and lively discussions for years - until Facebook and LinkedIn groups became so popular. Rather than lamenting that, organizations are going where their audience goes but without doing away with their traditional web-based community.  

    It's worth noting that posting about the TechSoup community forum to Twitter has drawn renewed interest in the forum and *more* traffic, which is reflected in the number of new members signing up to the forum and the new posts being generated. That Twitter seems to generate traffic to the site, while Facebook *seems* not to, is a worthy discussion for the TS community forum - so I've started a thread on the Virtual Community branch of the Community forum to weigh in on your experience and thoughts.

    forums.techsoup.org/.../121349.aspx

    TechSoup will continue to go where nonprofits are online - and evaluate new areas where they, perhaps should be.

    "the success of The TechSoup Community Forum is no longer relevant, much less critical to the needs of the audience or the success of the overall TS mission."

    Wow. Not sure how this opinion can be said, given the thread that was started by me on behalf of TechSoup, that you are responding to! This thread was started specfically *because* the forum is so relevant to TechSoup! This thread is one of many things TechSoup is doing to ensure that the TechSoup community remains relevant to nonprofit organizations - but we're always looking for constructive ways to get more activity on the forum - IF that's what people want (a few people actually *don't* like the forum being so busy - they would like less messages, not more!), hence why this thread was started - the staff at TechSoup wants to hear what success looks like on the forum, and continues to welcome the comments from everyone regarding such.

    So, let's keep the conversation going:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if.........

    You can finish the sentence more than once, you can finish it from a nonprofit's point of view, from a volunteer at a nonprofit's point of view, from nonprofit IT staff's point of view specifically, what you imagine TechSoup's point of view to be - as you like.

    See the first post in the thread for more.

  • My view is similar to Sasha's vision of success: the forums are successful if:

    • They're one of the first places nonprofits turn to when they have questions about buying or managing technology.  My emphasis is on strategic questions -- vendor forums are usually better at answering tactical questions about specific pieces of hardware or software.
    • They're used -- there's a steady flow of questions and answers.
    • Posts get answered quickly, accurately, and in a friendly, respectful manner.
    • The moderators are able to keep the onslaught of spam under control.

    Robert

    Robert L. Weiner Consulting
    Strategic Technology Advisors to Nonprofit and Educational Organizations
    San Francisco, CA
    robert [AT] rlweiner [DOT] com
    www.rlweiner.com

  • Hi, Don,

    Nice to see you back here and enjoyed your message. One thing that catches my attention is your comment on the 'in your face' moderation practiced here.

    donc
    Lastly ... TS can, umm, "over-moderate" at times...  while it's good from a housekeeping perspective to tell people they should post in another forum; that a post may not be exactly forum specific etc... Is this something that really encourages contributions? How do we feel when someone else tells us we are "speaking in the wrong place".... moderation should be friendly and mostly invisible to 99% of contributors ... IMO TS moderation can at times be a little "in your face".... :-)

    I agree with you, even though I also am one of the guilty at times. However, this is such a long standing tone of the forum (been that way ever since I've joined) that I don't know if it is going to change. You were a moderator when I first began participating, and I wonder how it felt to you at that time?

    It is certainly a fine art to keep order here in the forums while maintaining a friendly and inoffensive tone. Keeping clean boundaries (with spam, eager vendors, and the like) while encouraging shy nonprofit posters is difficult and one that I think is a major challenge to the tone of the conversation here.

    Hope all goes well with you since you last popped in,

    Sasha

    ________________________
    Sasha Daucus
    www.FundRaiserSoftware.com
    www.FundRaiserBasic.com
    Volunteer TechSoup Moderator

  • Sasha, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that maintaining the balance can be a high wire act. And I appreciate that you walk that tight rope here. For what it's worth, I think your tone is pitch perfect.

    Thanks, Jayne, for sparking this discussion, and thank you for all of your thoughts. I look forward to more.

    Michael DeLong | Online Community Manager

  • Hi Sasha, all,

    Thanks and lovely to catch-up again :-)

    Yes it has been a few years now – From memory I first started participating on the software forum here back in the late 90’s and was invited to moderate sometime in 2000 or 2001. The half-dozen or so TS forums we had back then really were a breath of fresh air to the NPO’s I was working with and this was something particularly special considering we were running non-profit POP’s, Telecentre’s and ISP’s so technical literacy wasn’t a problem. What attracted people to TechSoup (Compumentor?) was the easy going tone and manner of the support on offer. People didn’t feel intimidated posting on here and I think (and hope) our replies were genuinely helpfull. That's really what made TechSoup stand out (at the time I was hosting about 300 forums on our respective ISP's and TS really was a standout from the crowd).

    So I guess in some contrast, TS can be a little intimidating nowadays because there are so many separate topic forums meaning people don’t always know where to post a question. This can be worse if they are subsequently reminded to “stay on topic” or that a post is not appropriate. We might understand the rationalle for this as the ‘technical guru’s’ here; a lot of our guests and people needing help may not. As you say it is a fine line.

    Maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned in nearly two decades running Internet support forums and generic IT support (nearly 4 decades here, damn I'm getting old :-) is the importance of the “friendly, supportive, informed yet jargon-free approach”. A lot of people are not comfortable providing information on IT issues unless the forum of choice is very welcoming and supportive.

    So in my humble response to the terrific question from Jayne that kicked-off this discussion may I add:

    The TechSoup Community Forums can be called successful if...

    ... people find the forums beneficial for technical help and support (not necessarily limited to helping accredited NPO’s as volunteerism is a process involving the offer of help to anyone in need). That people really want to contribute here both for help, and as helpers.

    ... people are able to find helpful information when searching outside the forums (eg a Google search returns a helpful TS forum post, noting most NPO “techies” Google for answers before considering posting a question to any forum). In my experience over the years this is the most common way all forums are used; people do not post to the forum at all, they find a TechSoup response on Google. This is a terrific way to help people as well as promote the TechSoup brand beyond the forums.

    ... the spirit of volunteerism continues to be promoted by moderators and the many contributors who make TechSoup what it is; a place where people can post and contribute on a forum in a spirit of friendly camaraderie; that we aren’t too hung up on people always “staying on topic” in acknowledgement that a good conversation that ebbs and flows is valuable of itself and often adds terrific worth to an original thread.

    ... that is spam-free (my personal pet hate :-) )

  • The TechSoup forums can be called successful if:

    1. Each forum receives a specified level of "engagement" from "X" number of users on a daily or weekly basis. "Engagement" can be defined as users who post a new topic and/or response to a forum; also visitors who arrive at the forums from threads appearing in external search results (Google, etc.).  A quantitative metric that defines acceptable engagement should be determined for each forum.  This metric should be specific and unique to each forum, and serve as a baseline to measure the success of that forum.
    2. Every question posted to the forums receives one or more timely responses.  Answers to questions should be posted within 1-2 days.  Urgent questions (customer support, etc.) should be answered even more promptly.
    3. TechSoup's social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) successfully drives increased traffic to the forums.  How are TechSoup's social media efforts diving new and repeat members to the forums?  To get even more granular here: Which forum threads receive a "Share this" click, and how many per week/month? How about a "Favorite this thread" click, and how many per week/month?  It's not always an easy thing to measure the direct impact of social media, but it is still important to get some sense of the quantitative impact these efforts are having on the forums.  TechSoup should strive to describe the social media impact achieved on the forums.  It's not enough to say something along the lines of: "Since we held our Tweet Chat earlier this month, we're now seeing a lot more activity on the forums."  That's nice.  How so?  Drill down and analyze this more closely.  In what specific ways did your Twitter campaign produce increased traffic to the forums?  How many visitors came to the forums from Twitter?  What did these visitors do on the forums once they got here?  Post new threads?  Respond to existing ones?  How many new threads got started?  How many got started by first-time posters?  What forums were most active?  And so on...
    4. Spam posts are totally removed from public visibility within a few hours of being posted.  The moderators/admins should ensure that all spam is under control and out of the public view as quickly as possible. Spam that lingers on takes away from the quality of our community.  It should be considered unacceptable for any spam message to remain visible for longer than 1 day under the "Recent Activity" tab.

    Yann Toledano, Digital Marketing Strategist
    YTConsulting.com
    Host, Web Building Forum, TechSoup.org
    Twitter: @webmanyann

  • Yann I suspect your “engagement” suggestion really gets to the heart of this. A quick click on my profile above tells me I have made more than 3,500 contributions to TechSoup (probably many more considering from memory stats only started to be collated from about 2003 onwards), yet I have made only 5 contributions in the past two years.

    Perusing the stats of a few other regular volunteers and contributors suggests similar declines in activity - Why?

    Perhaps answering this question will come some way towards answering the larger question underpinning this thread - what is it that makes volunteers wish to contribute to TechSoup; what is it that makes people want to seek our help here?

    Cheers, Don

  • Thanks everyone for responses so far. Really want this particular thread to stay on topic, so here is the challenge again - to finish this sentence:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if.........

    You can finish the sentence more than once, you can finish it from a nonprofit's point of view, from a volunteer at a nonprofit's point of view, from nonprofit IT staff's point of view specifically, what you imagine TechSoup's point of view to be - as you like. For instance:

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if there are new, on-topic posts from new community members at least once a day. 

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if every forum branch has a new, on-topic post from employees, consultants or volunteers at nonprofits, libraries, ngos or other mission-based organizations at least once a week.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if every question gets at least two responses with helpful information.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if at least five new nonprofits create online profiles and join the conversation in some way every week.

    The TechSoup Community Forum can be called successful if the question I ask regarding computers, applications, or other computer or Internet tools I use on behalf of a nonprofit get answered within 48 hours.

    Looking forward to more responses! And if you want to discuss any aspect of TechSoup on any other subject, feel free to start a new thread!