How to Answer Your Online Community’s Common Questions

You may notice that as your online community grows, you’re asked the same questions over again. Though you may roll your eyes and think “Not again,” you can’t fault new members for not knowing the same things that established members do. Thus, you want to be as gracious as possible with your responses.

Many community managers create questions-and-answers (Q&A) or frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) areas to avoid repeating responses several times over. The areas allow members to browse questions and answers at their convenience. Both types of areas have benefits:

  • Q&A: A Q&A area allows members to ask questions as they come to mind. They don’t have to hunt around for your contact info, and you know to check the area each day and respond to all questions. A prominent Q&A area also helps keep e-mail inquiries to a minimum. New members can read past questions and answers so that they don’t have to ask the same things.

  • FAQ: An FAQ doesn’t require as much effort as a Q&A area does. You post all questions and answers in a read-only document for members to read and digest at their convenience. Having an FAQ area doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be open to questions from community members, but you can recommend that they read the FAQs before asking questions. As new questions surface, you can add them to the document.

Post your FAQ or Q&A area in a prominent location where members can’t help but find it:

  • Forums: Post FAQs in your Welcome folder. This folder gives new members a starting point and ensures that they read the questions before getting started. It’s also an easy place for older members to remember. Make sure that the FAQs are sticky so that they remain at the top of the page.

  • Blogs and websites: Pages on blogs and websites are excellent venues for FAQs. Make sure that FAQs are on static pages instead of blog post pages. Posts aren’t sticky and tend to fall off the front page, but pages stay where they are. Set your FAQ page so that it’s an easy-to-find tab or link at the top of each page or in a sidebar.

  • Groups: Many Yahoo! and Google groups have areas for storing files and photos to share with members. These areas are the perfect locations for storing community FAQs. A good example is Freecycle.org’s Yahoo group, which has several documents that people must read and agree to before becoming active members.

  • Social networks: It’s difficult to post static FAQs on the social networks, as they’re not live chats, and most social networks don’t lend well to static pages. You can link to a static question page in your information area, however, or refer members to that area from time to time.

  • E-mail: Some community managers e-mail welcome packages to new members. These packages contain a welcome message, FAQs, and links to various places of interest in the community.

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