Company participation on official forums


I’ve been having an occasional problem with my TiVo, so I decided to research the issue online. A web search quickly brought me to the official forums at, where numerous other people have experienced the same issue. Basically, the TiVo will sometimes record a gray screen instead of the program, and it doesn’t even generate an error message to explain why. After looking through the forums, the consensus seems to be a problem with the tuner software. However, the only way anyone has fixed it was to exchange the TiVo for a new one.

Obviously, doing a hardware exchange is no fun. And I bet TiVo would prefer that customers try a software or firmware fix first. But the info on the forums points strongly to a hardware swap. Meanwhile, TiVo staff is strangely absent from the dozens of forum threads about the gray screen issue. Now, I don’t expect them to police every forum posting. That would be incredibly time-consuming and also defeats much of the purpose of having a user forum in the first place (namely, the ability for users to help one another without staff intervention). But the company should be doing more than they are today, at least when it comes to this specific issue.

As a product or service provider, hosting a forum on your site or sponsoring a third-party forum involves a significant amount of responsibility. Whether you like it or not, people will assume you have approved the content on the forum, and they will perceive the content as more authoritative. Returning to my TiVo example, this means that a lot of people with the gray screen issue will see other users saying to return the device. Since it’s on TiVo’s official forum, there’s a greater chance they will follow this advice, without investigating other solutions. For TiVo, this means more hardware returns, which are clearly more costly than a remote software update, for example.

What’s the best approach here? Simple: just have some of your staff members monitor the forums for widespread or otherwise serious issues, and respond with a clarification when needed. Then, nominate some of the most active forum users to serve as moderators, and give them direct access to your senior tech support staff so they can consult on how to answer the more difficult questions. Granted, this certainly isn’t groundbreaking advice, and it all seems pretty obvious. But I get the feeling that many companies are coming up short in their forum strategy, since they’re failing to allocate the staff resources to do it right.