5 Steps to Creating a Valuable Question & Answers Community

“How to unclog a kitchen sink”…

“How to clean a gutter”…

“How to do a Windsor knot”…

Each and every one of us has a problem in our lives we need a solution for, and what better place to turn to than Google? Search engines provide us with instant fixes in the privacy of our own homes. It’s no wonder then, that the most popular search queries begin with those two magical words: “how to”.

So how do your customers find their “how to” when dealing with your products and services? Hopefully your answer is loud and clear: our Question and Answer forum.

Done right, a Question and Answer Community has many benefits. Not only does it give your company great SEO, but it gives your customers the ability to ask questions in non-marketing, non-technical speak. It’s a safe place to share their problems and learn from others.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Here are just a few more ways Q&A communities can help:

  • They create an amazing knowledge base of information
  • They help you make better products by identifying problematic issues or places consumers get confused
  • They reduce your support costs by creating a self-service environment
  • They help you identify your brand ambassadors
  • They increase your organic brand awareness in search engines, and make you an even greater authority in your niche.

Truthfully, it’s almost a no-brainer. Every company that provides a product or service needs a Question & Answers community. The benefits are that important.

But creating a helpful and well-used Q&A community isn’t just throwing together some software and FAQs. A forum is more than just a glorified knowledge base. The old montage, “if you build it, they will come” is not a sound community building strategy. If you want to create a tool that actually provides value to your customers, you need to do more.

Since you’re on our blog, maybe you’ve seen how we handle it. While each community has different needs, there are some basic tenets to stick by, no matter which platform you use. Let’s focus on those.

Five Simple Steps to Creating Something Your Customers Can’t Live Without

Here are the five integral ingredients to create a Question and Answer knowledge base that helps your customers, teaches them and gives them a sense of belonging:

  1. Proper visibility of your community
  2. A queue for unanswered questions and a proactive strategy for dealing with them
  3. The selection of best answers and item resolution
  4. A solution notification system for those who ask questions
  5. A reward system for people in your community who answer questions correctly

Let’s go a bit deeper on each of these.

1. Ensuring Proper Visibility

The most common and gravest error I see people make is a lack of visibility for their Q & A community. Simply put, if you don’t tell it, you can’t sell it. Go through this checklist to make sure you’re not guilty.

When you set up categories in Vanilla, we give you the option to have a category just for questions

  • Do you have a clear link on your website to “Ask Your Questions”?
  • Do you include questions and answers in your e-mail marketing?
  • Do you regularly reach out to members of your community who you think can give an answer or share their own experiences with your product or service?
  • Is “Ask a Question” the main choice in one of your categories?
  • Do you rewrite vague or unclear subject titles ? (Don’t be shy about this. Changing a discussion title from “help” to “I need help with setting up model 4R5T, any tips?” increases the likelihood of a solution, engages people with similar problems, and of course, boosts your discovery in search engines.)
  • Do you keep a clean house? Resolving correctly answered questions and adding “solved” or “solution” to the title gets readers to click.

Ultimately, you must remember that people can’t ask or answer questions in your community if they don’t know where to go. Don’t make them think.

2. Managing Your Unanswered Queue

In Vanilla, we allow your members to see the questions still waiting for an answer.

Your principal goal as a community owner will be to provide an answer for every question asked. Therefore, when you’re starting a new Q & A community, one of your top priorities is to make sure that no one is forgotten. Notice I didn’t write “that every problem is solved”.

Although your goal will be to get everyone a response, it may not be possible to have every issue resolved. So make it a priority to acknowledge every question asked in your forum. It can be as simple as “Great question! I’m not sure about the answer, but I’ll look into it for you”.

In the beginning, you may find yourself giving this response a lot. But eventually, as your community grows, other members will certainly come to your aid.

Want to go above and beyond? Create a process to send all unanswered questions to support or customer service personnel who can assist if they are unanswered after a set period of time.

3. Selecting Best Answers and Official Answers

Let’s say that your customer Joe Smith asks a question in your Q & A Community, and he gets 5 different solutions in return. Worse yet, the responders are bickering about which is the best answer. What’s your Joe to do?

Nothing is worse than not knowing if an answer solves a problem. Trying multiple solutions can result in wasted time and energy, or it can even make the problem bigger. As the community manager, you want to make sure your forum is a helpful, useful place for your clients to find answers, fast. You want to eliminate any source of frustration. So how do you handle this?

You must make sure there’s some way for the right answer to be chosen and clearly indicate which answer is correct. Distinctly identify the question as being “resolved” in the title. Highlight when the person answering a question is actually an official staff member, and not just a community member.

All these little bits and pieces will help people quickly find the right solution, while members of your community continue providing insight as to whether or not the chosen answer worked for them.

Here’s an example below:

In Vanilla, we allow you & the question asker to choose the best answer. Others can vote with reactions on answers.

Sifting through pages and pages of solutions is a time waster, and a recipe for frustration. People with problems want to know straight up when an answer is trusted as a solution. If you make it easy to find answers in your Q & A community, you can rest assured that your forum will be the first place they go before using any other channel.

4. Creating a Solution Notification System

What’s the point of answering a question if the person with the problem never sees it? Take care of your customers. Find ways to follow them by their preferred communication method, to make sure they know that their question has been answered.

In Vanilla, members can turn on email notifications, bookmark a discussion, get notified of mention and see a pop-up when a new answer is there. Members can decide what works best for them in their user settings.

Sometimes it may take a while to get an answer. While unfortunate, if you ensure that there’s a way for your members to know that a potential solution for their problem has been found, even a week later, you will build trust within your community.

5. Rewarding Your Community Champions

When people spend their time helping your company by helping your members, it’s nice to reward them. While Google is known for organizing a yearly trip for their most valuable community members, you don’t need to compete by buying your forum champions a new car.

In Vanilla, members can earn points for answering questions. They can also earn badges and other privileges with our ranks feature.

There are many ways to celebrate and show your appreciation for these generous individuals without breaking the bank. Give them public recognition with badges, ranks, points or titles. Use a leaderboard, or some other form of measurement, to reward these community wizards with special privileges, some swag from your company, or special discounts.

You can even consider adding them to a special group for your product team to use them as beta-testers. There are lots of creative ways to motivate these important individuals to help. The options are as limitless as your imagination.

So there you have it! Vanilla’s 5 simple ways to create an amazing Question and Answer community that will keep your customers coming back for more.

Now it’s your turn! What are the best tactics you’ve used in maintaining your Q & A community? Leave your ideas in the comments!