Turning useless feedback into useful: working with the Plesk community

    imageAll software developers agree that they need to listen to their users. But not everyone knows how to organize this process so that in hundreds, or even thousands of messages coming through different channels, find a rational kernel. As a result, for many companies, such a popular and actually useful tool for collecting feedback, such as forums, turns into a dump of messages, and communication in other forums comes down to holivars. In this post, we will tell you how to organize the process of communicating with users on the Internet in such a way as to get valuable information about the product (even if the user does not particularly want to share it) - using the Plesk community as an example. We will also give useful tips based on personally gained experience.

    We always wanted to create a sustainable and constructive community around our Plesk automation panel. Close work on its creation began a few years ago, and its main goal then was to get useful feedback from Plesk users. In a nutshell: we help you with your problems, and in return we want to hear your feedback, recommendations, suggestions, criticism. Then, within the team, we analyze, draw conclusions and make decisions on the further development of our product. To implement the entire project, first of all, we used a corporate forum , then built on the vBulletin engine (and now on XenForo) and with English for communication by default. To work with the community, coordination and mediation between developers and users, a separate employee was assigned (this is me).

    Problem number 1: people talk only about problems.

    It arose first, immediately and remains to this day. People brought a lot of technical problems to the forum, giving nothing in return. It was not possible to receive feedback in the form in which we would like. The forum has turned into a free Support Helpdesk. I, as a moderator, for the most part acted as a supportor, picking up valuable information bit by bit from a stream of technical problems. My responsibilities included the initial analysis of these problems, reporting to developers on problems similar to bugs, on the problems most often encountered, feature requests, etc. Real bugs were repaired by developers, Knowledge Base articles were created on common problemsFeature requests came under special review. A system built in this way worked, but did not bring much real benefit.

    What they did:

    1. Created a team of Plesk experts.In the forum, I already knew many especially advanced and reputable users who received the status of Plesk Expert. There are not so many of them, but they took over most of the functions for solving technical problems of users, which enabled me to focus on issues of interest and discussions. A special closed section of the forum was created for experts, where they could informally communicate with representatives of the Plesk development team, express their wishes, recommendations, and discuss issues. In return, they gained direct access to product developers (including to solve their own problems) and the right to free certification for Parallels products . Particularly Outstanding Experts Receive Invitation to Parallels Summit Annual Conferencein USA. On holidays we give gifts - branded T-shirts, mugs and more.

    These people are from different countries, mainly from Europe. But there is a very reputable expert from Uganda, for example. Everyone has a different motivation. Someone works for their own development, someone uses this opportunity to advertise their own hosting or support-services, and someone directly asks for something significant from us for their work. They look like supernovae - as a rule, they have a small overactive period when they write and help a lot and are useful, and then either a complete disappearance or a sharp decrease in activity. In general, this is expected, and my task is to maximize their activity period. With some of them, quite intensive and productive personal communication is formed through Private Messages. During my vacation, the experts take on some of my responsibilities in the forum.

    2. Made the presence of Parallels employees on the forum mandatory and visible.In addition to me, the forum has many of our other employees who answer especially specific, narrow questions. The newcomer to our forum is impressed by the constant presence of Parallels employees in addition to the very experienced and reputable experts who are ready to help. They see that there is a lively, active, serious community of professionals and that their voice, their question will be heard. Yes, there are situations when, within the framework of a forum discussion, helping a person is extremely problematic. It takes a long and detailed study of his problem directly on his server. In such cases, we try to gently convince the person to contact our official technical support service. Moreover, In especially complex and interesting cases, I myself create a ticket for Support Helpdesk for the user for free and his problem is processed by support in the usual way. If in the process of working on this problem the support finds a bug, lack of functionality, or something else interesting for us, then we get new, useful information, and the user solves the problem in the form of a free support.

    Problem number 2: other forums

    The objectivity of the information received is extremely important. Cooking in one's own juice from one’s own rules, colleagues, and familiar experts on one’s cozy platform is counterproductive. Thus, our expansion to create the Plesk community has been expanded to other reputable Internet resources related to the hosting business. At the same time, we faced the expected problem - the existing communities there and even moderators can not always be friendly to your product.

    As decided:

    1. We have significantly expanded our presence on various Internet resources, where they discuss issues of hosting, hosting panels, the work of service providers, etc. We began to actively participate in the WebHostinTalk forum, participate in discussions related to Plesk on Reddit, Quora, Stackoverflow, ServerFault, Amazon Web Services forum and others. Of course, we could not but use social networks. It’s easy to find us on Twitter , Facebook , Google+ .

    It should be noted that it was not easy at first to break into the established communities of some forums. The local users and moderators instantly recognized in me “the very guy from the Parallels forum” and began to treat my posts with some skepticism, they say, this is a Parallels person what to take from him. For example, I was warned by moderators for posting information about new Plesk releases with links to the Parallels website, and after my objection that the authors of posts with exactly the same content about competitors ’products were not prosecuted in any way, I was temporarily banned. Later I was informed that no one knows about those authors, that they are employees of competing companies, but everyone knows about me.

    Later, my attitude there softened, there were users loyal to Plesk who often supported me, and their argument in favor of our hosting panel was convincing and professional. Thus, although we were not able to breach the citadel of hostile forums, our presence there became noticeable, and now more and more people are interested in Plesk, ask good questions and receive serious, thoughtful answers from the formed circle of loyal Plesk users.

    2. Refused from comparisons and holivars.For us, the main rule of participation in various discussions of our product was a complete and principled refusal to participate holivars on the topic of comparing our products with competitors' products. We avoid non-constructive bickering in topics like “Some kind of hosting panel against Plesk” and prefer to inform the community more about our advantages and benefits, accept any business criticism and try to help solve specific problems of users. We believe that we must prove our advantage by deeds, concrete proposals, and not useless bickering with users who prefer to use other solutions.


    However, this does not mean that we do not read such discussions. Yes, their level is usually low, there are a lot of peremptory statements, declarations. But often there you can find very valuable opinions and criticism addressed to us. We carefully read these topics and collect bit by bit all the important and useful information from there.

    Problem number 3: the language barrier

    I would also like to talk about the aspects of communication. Plesk is focused on the foreign market, there are relatively few Russian-speaking users, so initially the language of communication in our community was English. It is clear that a huge number of members of our community are not from English-speaking countries at all, and this has caused some features of communication within the community. People with extremely poor English often write, and it can be very difficult to understand what they need. Beginners often come and just write in their own language. I noticed that most often Russians and Germans do this.

    As decided:

    1. Still English.In such cases, I must, in English, politely ask you to continue the discussion in the English language, justifying this by the fact that the discussed problem may be interesting to many other people who do not speak the language that used the top starter. In addition, I believe that it is not necessary to create separate sections of the forum for different national languages. English should be the only default language. There is a fear that many non-English users will be scattered across their language sections and their contribution to the community will be lost for us. A single language of communication should consolidate the community.

    2. But simpler.In the answers I always try to use the most simple English with the construction of short, easy to read phrases. In my opinion, a very good knowledge of English can even be harmful. Intermediate level is quite sufficient as a kind of middle ground between very badly speaking and writing in English and native speakers. People with poor English can be frightened off by a misunderstanding of your exquisite turns using quite rare words, idioms, and terms. I must say that in private communications the level of communication often becomes completely informal. People understand that only the addressee reads them there and open more easily and willingly. In such discussions, informal English skills come in handy. I highly recommend developing these skills specifically for such cases. Using informal English in public is not worth it, although some jokes, humor, and even sometimes sarcasm are always perceived very positively. The terminology used should be clear to everyone, although funny cases also happen. For example, once, in a lively discussion with one very emotional user, I used the word atavism. For the interlocutor, it was a revelation. It got to the Wikipedia link. As a result, my interlocutor wrote -“I will try to remember that word and impress someone with it :)” A simple, polite and restrained style in public discussions without going personal and informal communication in personal correspondence, unless, of course, the interlocutor admits this is your key to success in productive communication with the community.

    3. Without going to the individual.I highly do not recommend in public discussions to tell something personal about yourself, about your work, about your plans. Such familiarity may subsequently lead to the use of this information against you and to other unpredictable results. It is also strongly not recommended to disclose detailed information about the features of the new version, the exact release dates and other insider information. There were cases when I gave people some exact deadlines, but in the end they were not fulfilled for reasons beyond my control, and I had to get out and apologize.

    4. The relationship "love-hate."There is a special category of users who have been using Plesk for a long time, know a lot about it, ask very serious and deep questions, but are negatively and even aggressive. With such people you need to work very accurately and accurately. Answers should be verified and verified as much as possible. The slightest flaw in the answer they instantly use for new nit-picking. Sometimes it comes to the point that you understand that it will be better to stop the discussion. Fortunately, there are very few such users and such discussions.

    5. When the problem is already known.I also have a very useful rule. In the case when I have to inform the user that the problem that he writes about is already known and the developers are working on it, I always give him the ID of this bug report from our internal bug tracker. Yes, it is not available to the user, but he can use this ID in further discussions with representatives of our company, with support, and so on. In addition, in the published Changelogs for the next update, he can find this ID in the list of fixed bugs. There is an idea to add these IDs to the thread title so that anyone can see right away that Parallels developers have a problem.

    In general, it is very interesting to communicate with people with different degrees of loyalty to our products, with different temperaments, which are sometimes so overwhelming that their grateful gratitude for their help is sometimes discouraging.

    I wrote this article to talk about our experience working with the community and inviting us to discuss its shortcomings. It would be interesting to listen to stories about working with communities of other IT companies, about their problems and how to overcome them. Write in the comments how this works for you.

    Yes, you can also leave your Plesk feedback in the comments on this post. Just remember our holivar rule.

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