Online Communities as a Source of Information and Answers - dummies

Online Communities as a Source of Information and Answers

By Deborah Ng

In today’s age, you can find answers to anything you want online. This quest for knowledge goes beyond Googling for answers, however. Online communities can be knowledge bases where participants come to share their know-how and walk away with something far more valuable:

  • Professional expertise: Professional online communities are out there for everything from dog walking to chimney sweeping. Members are using the virtual world to promote their businesses, for sure, but they’re also joining these networks to trade experiences. People do tasks differently in different regions, for example, and online communities allow them to meet and share their knowledge.

  • Answers to common questions: Some people call it laziness, and others call it crowdsourcing, but people are now finding getting answers to their questions simply by asking online. Rather than consult a thesaurus, writers are using Twitter to ask for synonyms, moms are using Facebook to ask their friends how to remove grass stains from baseball uniforms, and customer service personnel are tossing out “What would you do?” situations.

  • Coaching: Virtual friends can help community members prep for job interviews and speaking engagements, as well as advise them on legal issues. Though members have to be sure that they’re accepting advice from true professionals, the community can help them advance their careers, brands, and lives in ways that were impossible 20 years ago.

    To be sure you’re receiving advice from someone who knows his stuff, check his member profile to see whether he has a few words detailing his background. Also, don’t be afraid to give him a Google to be sure he is who he says he is. Sometimes well-intentioned people offer what they feel is sound advice, but they’re not necessarily speaking from experience.

  • Redirection: Maybe no one in a community has the answer to a specific question, but more than a few members can help members find what they need by sending them in the right direction. If you’re hunting in the wrong place, they’ll help you get back on track. If you’re headed in the right direction, they’ll get you there quicker.

  • Practical advice and how-to information: Do-it-yourselfers and hobbyists can receive valuable step-by-step instructions that help them complete their projects.

  • Homework help: Safe social networks for students provide tutoring, homework help, and encouragement.

  • Recommendations: Looking for book or movie recommendations? Want to find the best Mexican or seafood place in your area? Your local online community can help.