Process: How to ask communities for help

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!

  • http://dismantr.blogspot.com/ dismantr

    Very interesting post that clearly summarize the good practices; I would like to emphasize that this post is almost entirely transposable to communities like work space.

    In your work environment you also can use forums, have to choose properly the subject of your emails and forum posts, etc…

    What I do not do today, neither in the communities I interact with, neither in my work, is to summarize and share back the results. That is a very bad point you pointed out and I will change this the soonest.

    Thanks for your help!

    P.S. An idea for an article: you could describe how you use collaborative tools in your work and what you would like to test to improve your coworkers experience. An other idea: what about coediting and reviewing tools? whiteboards on xmpp (implemented in inkscape for example), Google Wave-like services, IM, collaborative editing like wiki or softwares like Gobby (example), etc… ?

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