One of the great things about a hosted forum solution is that we are able to eliminate the grunt work associated with running a forum. This allows site owners to reap the benefits of a vibrant forum community without the hassle. That does not mean that we don’t get any help requests from users. We just resolve them before they reach the site owner’s desk.
The most common types of help requests we get from our forum communities are as follows:
- Technical issues. “I’m having trouble uploading photos. Can you help?”
- Account requests. “I’m can’t log into my account” or “Can you change my user name?”
- Spam. Posts flagged as spam for removal.
- User disagreements. “Someone called me an ‘ignoramus.’ Can you ban him?”
Technical issues and account requests can be quickly dealt with by Ninja Post staff because the platform is ours and we know it so well. Spam can be an issue on any board open to the public. While we have many defense mechanisms in place to stop spam, if a spammer does slip through, their ilk is easy to recognize. Finally user disagreements can usually be resolved with a simple reminder to be courteous and constructive. If that warning fails, then we bring out the ban hammer. Problem solved.
Bear in mind these requests are rare and represent a miniscule fraction of the total activity. They’re sporadic, but when these issues do come up, we work hard to resolve them instantly. Our clients tell us they love working with us because they never have to get their hands dirty. We love hearing feedback like that!
Legend has it that King Arthur created the Round Table to prevent infighting between his Knights at company meetings. Since the table was round instead of rectangular, everyone at the table held equal status. This allowed King Arthur and the Knights to focus on pressing matters like slaying dragons, drinking mead at Yuletide feasts, and rescuing damsels in distress.
Even though the “Round Table” concept dates back to medieval times, only recently have business organizations begun to realize the benefits of a flat community structure. Starbucks, for example, is famous for its efforts to empower employees with the knowledge to make smart decisions and reduce organizational bottlenecks. By contrast, top-down military-style hierarchies are ineffective because such rigidity makes cross-organization communication difficult, and sometimes impossible.
In addition to changing an organization’s hierarchy like Starbucks and others have done, a private, employee-only forum is one way to improve communication throughout a company and flatten its organizational structure. For example, research has shown that the same communication patterns that result from a flat organizational structure lead to:
- Faster decisions
- More accurate decisions
- Greater employee satisfaction
- Rapid on-the-job learning
- Superior performance
Buy-in from employees at all levels of the organization is paramount to make a forum successful but the benefits are enormous. Better decision making and greater job satisfaction are crucial drivers of company morale. Plus, a private forum lays the foundation for an environment that nurtures employees and values their input.
Private forums appeal to many organizations because they provide an environment that is safe and secure from prying eyes but accessible to approved members from virtually any device. If your goal is to help employees connect with one another and create a persistent knowledgebase, a private forum makes perfect sense.
Although an email list can be limited to members-only and is relatively secure, mailing list content is not easy to browse, support for rich media is limited at best, and the content is difficult to categorize and search. On the other side of the spectrum, enterprise level social networks like Yammer and Jive tend to be overkill: their complexity can hinder adoption and their vast feature set only makes sense for a handful of the most gigantic corporations.
A private forum launched with Ninja Post strikes a good balance because it’s neither too simplistic nor too complicated. This balance encourages participation and, at the same time, preserves content for years to come. It creates a foundation for progress and improved camaraderie. For example, a private forum allows an organization to:
- Improve sales. A sales team can quickly disseminate information to one another.
- Improve company-wide communication. An entire organization—from CEO to front-line employees—can interact.
- Improve on-boarding of new employees. New hires can get instant advice and feedback from company veterans.
These benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, they demonstrate how powerful—and just how integral—a private forum can be for many organizations.
Thanks to inspiration from the book, The Power of Habit, we recently examined how strong ties, weak ties, and a sense of identity can be used to understand how forum communities start from a small group, grow to achieve critical mass, and eventually become self-propelling knowledge machines. Perhaps the most interesting and surprising part of this framework is the power of weak ties.
You can think of “strong ties” as your closest circle of friends. People you see all the time and interact with most often. Weak ties are more like casual acquaintances or friends of friends. This might defy expectations but it turns out that weak ties are extraordinarily important when it comes to sharing news and novel information.
To illustrate the power of weak ties, Habit author Charles Duhigg cites research by Mark Granovetter, a pioneer in the field of social phenomena. In the 1960s, Granovetter studied how a group of 282 men found their current job. Granovetter determined that weak ties were crucial to finding employment because “weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.”
Weak ties are absolutely critical for news of job openings to spread from one clique to another. However, the power of weak ties is not limited to news about job openings. It is equally relevant to the way habits, schools of thought, and social patterns permeate through the world at large.
The power of weak ties is especially pertinent to forum communities. Forums excel at creating weak ties for many reasons. For example, forums connect people who:
- …are likely to be friendly due to a shared interest.
- …would otherwise never meet in real life.
- …possess different levels of expertise.
- …come from different social circles and parts of the world.
- …are keen to share knowledge with one another have an eye toward self-improvement.
We know that weak ties are like bridges that shuttle novel information from one group to another. While it could be argued that forum communities are prone to isolation, more like an island in the middle of the Pacific than a diverse and well connected city-state, we believe that open platforms which foster civil discussions, even among users with unique viewpoints, allow weak ties to flourish. When weak ties abound, we like to say they bind together to create a motivational force field.
Last week we examined how Nir Eyal’s Hooked Model applies to forum software. We acknowledge the power of the Hooked Model and argue that as more and more users make a habit of using a given forum, powerful network effects occur that strengthen existing hooks which in turn attracts new users and keeps existing users engaged.
During his presentation, Nir said, “The unknown is fascinating.” He went on to explain that variable rewards (as opposed to constant or predictable rewards) cause users to increase focus and engagement. He presented findings from various studies that prove dopamine spikes in anticipation of random rewards. And what’s more is that variable rewards can be used to instill habits in users.
Variable rewards are meaningless if they’re devoid of any real substance. Imagine, for example, “winning” a search badge but not getting the desired search results. This is not a positive outcome. However, coupling variable rewards with whatever the user is seeking is a powerful and virtually irresistible 1-2 punch.
Let’s put variable rewards in the context of forum software. Some common rewards from participating in a forum include:
- Answer to a question
- New friends
- Satisfaction from helping others
- Reputation points, badges, etc.
The reason these rewards are so appealing is that they are infinitely variable. There is no shortage of knowledge that can be gained, new people to meet, or ways to impress others. When these endless possibilities result in something new and fun and positive and exciting, we call them serendipitous flukes. A serendipitous fluke is a chance encounter that results in a net gain of some kind for all parties. As a forum owner and community manager there are few things more gratifying that engineering serendipitous flukes on a daily basis.
Ninja Post forum software is fast, nimble, and powerful like Manny Pacquiao. Meanwhile, traditional forum software is bloated and slow like Butterbean. Yes, Butterbean-type software can get the job done, but not in the most elegant way. Feature bloat is ugly and an unfortunate trait inherent in most forum software packages.
We believe that, pound for pound, Ninja Post is the best forum software. Speed and power are combined within a lightweight framework. Threads update in real time, like a chat so the user does not need to constantly refresh the page to see if new items have been posted. Speed, elegance, and power trump an endless array of features. Ninja Post has the most essential features for users in your community to engage with one another.
A lightweight framework that is fast, nimble, and powerful
Can get the job done, but not in the most elegant way
I recently completed an interview about Ninja Post for the website AdminFusion.com. The interview covers a range of topics including the inspiration for Ninja Post, challenges inherent in launching new forums, and how Ninja Post works, among other things. In response to a question about the future of online forums. I offered:
There is a broader trend that web apps must be simple to use in order to succeed, and I think this trend should apply to forum software. There is a great opportunity for a forum solution that is simple, modern, and elegant and that’s what I’m striving to achieve with Ninja Post.
Read the full interview »
Ninja Post forum software combines the best of both worlds: the speed and simplicity of a chat room and the structure and stability of a forum.
Chat rooms are poorly organized and their content tends to be fleeting: if you’re not there in the moment, the conversation disappears. Meanwhile, traditional forums tend to dilute their conversations across too many sub forums.
Ninja Post provides just the right amount of organization so that users can quickly get up to speed on the latest topics of conversation.
Here is a handy Venn Diagram: