7 Things Not To Do With An Online Q&A Site

In a previous post, I advocated numerous ways on how a Q&A section on your website benefits your business. According to a Reuters report published a while ago, about three-quarters of small businesses have not taken to social media yet — some 86% percent of small businesses in the United States alone.

Good news is that, according to the same report, about 42% of small businesses in U.S have used social media to generate leads, develop communities and make sales. But roughly 38% of those who do use social marketing have no idea how to do it and are still “trying to learn”. Learning is good, but making mistakes can be expensive. Here are 7 Things not to do with your online Q&A site:

Don’t treat customers like sheep that need to be herded, because they are not

SheepSome of the administrators of forums, communities, Q&A sites and other social media hubs tend to take on a “holier-than-thou” attitude and generally be tough to please. When you are moderating a Q&A site or having someone do it for you, make sure that the administrators or moderators of the forum are pleasant, lively and enthusiastic folks. Treating customers like little school children, getting irritated for some seemingly innocent questions customers ask, etc., are signs of patronizing your customers and this must be totally avoided on your online Q&A program.

Don’t do a hard-sell

Hard sellBusinesses are usually tempted to advertise or promote their respective products and services. It just makes sense to do so because of the high-interest levels of participants in the Q&A forum about whatever it is that the business deals with. However, a hard-sell is sure to repel customers, especially on a Q&A site or a forum. Any such attempt will be considered spam (even if it is your own site).

Don’t threaten, bad-mouth, flame-out or raise hell

Threatening faceOne of the worst things you could end up doing is to find your moderators or administrators — or even yourself — involved in a thread that seems to go up in flames with abuse, threats, malicious comments, and slandering. This is a usual occurrence in forums online but you or your staff should be last to be involved in here. Instead, you should enforce strict anti-flaming rules on your Q&A and expend efforts to control any such events.

Don’t lash out at your competitors

Boxing glovesI learnt this first when I was in sales and then Tom Hopkins, a leading sales guru, also happens to substantiate and justify the lesson: never bad-mouth your competition. Don’t say anything negative about your competitors. While you may allow your users to objectively point out the differences between your products and services, you should not allow any bold, strong comments belittling or disparaging your competitor products.  I found a good example — where users discuss competition more or less peacefully — of this kind of forum thread moderation on Elance Water Cooler, where Elance users discuss Guru.com – A competitor for Elance and other freelance bidding sites.

Don’t brag

Nothing turns people off more than a compulsive bragging disorder – this applies to companies and Individuals both offline and on the Internet too. If you intend to get the most of your Q&A, resist the temptation to brag and boast. The loudest of any group of people is usually the most detested later on. You don’t want to end up like that on your own Q&A forum, do you? The very reason people gravitate towards your Q&A website is to ask simple questions and find answers for those questions; don’t muddle it with your relentless bragging about how big your company is and how earth-shattering your products or services are – even if your products can solve your customers problems.

Don’t use Jargon

Avoid using JargonYour customers aren’t your engineers, venture capitalists or loyalists (although they can be). Have you ever felt the increasing distance – and certainly frustration – when people around suddenly to begin to talk in a tongue you don’t understand at all? Jargon is a turn-off in social conversations and it is the same online too. Avoid using Jargon pertaining to your products or business online, unless you are very sure your customers understand what you are talking about. Don’t bore your customers to the point that they desert you. On your Q&A site, help them and talk to them in “their” language; not yours.


Don’t adopt a “We are big, Fortune 500 company, you teeny-weeny nobody” approach

Big Corporation
Some companies just can’t help it – they sound big and hence very intimidating to most customers. For instance, try to find someone to talk to on the Whirlpool site. You know what I mean, don’t you? You can’t find a single soul to talk to. Whatever content you have on their website talks about how big the company is, or that they are “going green” and that they are products that you can’t help but buy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like closed websites with fancy flash and a “See how big we are? Isn’t that reason enough for you to buy, my tiny little customer?” kind of tone on their content.

Use your Q&A site to your advantage. Don’t let it be the reason why you are losing your customers, your business and ultimately diluting your brand. Reputation is a funny thing: it takes years to build one and a second to lose it all.

What do you think?