If You Want More Participation, Reduce The Social Costs Of Asking Questions

If you want more participation, an obvious area to target is to reduce the costs (that crippling anxiety) of asking a question.

There are many reasons why members don’t ask a question, they include:

  • They’re afraid of looking inferior to others.
  • They’re too invested as being seen as the experts themselves.
  • They don’t think they will get an answer.
  • They don’t think they will get a good/the right answer.
  • They’re afraid of spamming the community with a question.
  • They don’t know the right words to describe their problem.
  • They don’t know if the question has been asked many times before.
  • They don’t want to be in debt to others.
  • They don’t want to exploit friendships.

The more effective solutions remove the problem entirely. You need the technology to let members:

1) Ask questions anonymously. Let members ask questions anonymously. If your platform doesn’t offer this, request it.

2) Let members set a time period for questions. Allow members to ask a question which only shows for a limited amount of time (or until they’ve accepted the answer).

3) Let members decide who sees the questions. Categories help, but it would be better to let members decide whether the question can be seen by the entire community, only those who have posted in a category before, or just a handful of top experts/close connections. Group @mentions can help here. Create groups of experts and let members tag in relevant groups.

However, if technology solutions aren’t an option, you need to eliminate the fears members have through persuasion. That might mean:

4) Tell members ‘top professionals aren’t scared to ask questions’. Help members to rethink asking a question from an act of weakness to an act of courage. Support boldness and the bravery it takes to ask questions – especially on really beginner topics. Reward members by the number of collective visits their questions receive.

5) Develop on-page nudges of great questions. See in the social design webinar how platforms like StackOverflow, Apple’s community and others provide nudges to help members ask great questions. Guide people through asking a great question that’s going to get great responses.

6) Tag newcomers to ask their first question. Most won’t respond, but we’ve seen you can raise the number of newcomers who ask a question by double-digit percentage points if you tag them in to ask questions they might be struggling with.

Getting more members to ask questions is one of the most intriguing challenges you can tackle. You need to get into the minds of your members, isolate their social fears, and then design effective solutions to tackle them.

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