There are many ways to give back and support WordPress and WordPress.com, as an experienced user or a coder and developer. The WordPress Forums are the first place to begin.
There are two support forums for WordPress.
The WordPress.com Forums are dedicated to providing help to WordPress.com users. It is staffed by Automattic employees who monitor and moderate forum posts but a majority of the support comes from volunteers, fellow users who want to give back and help others but also learn more about how WordPress works.
The WordPress Support Forums are for those using the self-hosted version of WordPress or WordPress MS (Multisite). This is mostly a volunteer support forum where experienced users help others get their questions answered.
WordPress.com questions will not be answered on the WordPress.org forum, and the reverse is true. Questions must be posted (and answered) in the appropriate forum section as well.
WordPress Support Forum References and Resources
The following are articles written specifically for WordPress users and volunteers on using the WordPress Support Forums:
- Contributing to WordPress « WordPress Codex
- Using the Support Forums « WordPress Codex
- Finding WordPress Help « WordPress Codex
- WordPress Forum Welcome
- Mailing Lists « WordPress Codex
- Support Forum Volunteers « WordPress Codex
- WordPress.com Support Via Feedback and Email – bloggersblurt
- WordPress IRC Live Help « WordPress Codex
- A Guide to the WordPress Code, The Online Manual for WordPress Users
Getting help with WordPress begins with Search First, something you will see repeated on the forums. The majority of the questions being asked have been asked many times before and the answers are out there. Rarely are the questions new, so encourage yourself and others to search for the answers, and help them by providing a search link or the results of your quick search.
If you decide to help frequently, start a list of the answers to the most commonly asked questions and keep them in a text file ready for you to copy and paste. You can edit your response, but having the links to answers and solutions saves a lot of time. It is also a great resource for yourself.
Providing support is a lesson in education. Always strive to educate the users on how the entire process works while not frustrating them or getting in the way of their ability to get a quick answer.
The majority of the answers are found in the WordPress Help screens, the Learn WordPress tutorials for WordPress.com (and basic WordPress.org), the WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress Users, WordPress.tv, and in the forums through already answered questions.
Don’t just point someone to the WordPress Codex and hope they find the information. Give them a link to the answer and tell them you found it in the WordPress Codex so they will think to look there next time.
Title Posts Appropriately
“Help” is not a good forum post title when looking for assistance. “Footer is now a sidebar” makes more sense and is more likely to attract the attention of someone who specializes in web design.
Support members look for questions they can answer. The clues lie in the post titles. Use very specific words to name the issue.
As a support volunteer, look for keywords and tags to questions you can answer. Don’t try to answer everything as you may not have the answer.
When a topic has been resolved, make sure it is marked as resolved.
Please add additional tags to help micro-categorize the support inquiries.
Please Answer Completely, Nicely, and Accurately
Answer a question completely and politely. Never let emotion enter into the equation. It’s not personal. Say thank you repeatedly (and you are grateful that they need your help) and really help them, not placate them.
Lead them down the path to the answer directly and specifically. Find the resource to link to or give them specific instructions on how to solve their problems. Use proper naming conventions and help them understand them. A half-way answer will only cause confusion and frustration. Be accurate. If you don’t know the answer, don’t respond to the question. Let someone experienced help them.
If a forum post shows two or more responses, it will get ignored as people assume the person is getting help. The person might not be getting the help they need.
Don’t answer with “someone will be along to help you” or offer platitudes. Give specific answers to help them. Sometimes it will take multiple people to get the right answer, but stay focused and on-topic. The need help, give them the help they need and hold friendly discussions elsewhere.
Also, while many will thank you, don’t expect thanks for the help you provide. This isn’t a gratitude competition. It is giving without expectation of return. The reward is in learning more about how WordPress works in being challenged by others who need the help.
Learn By Lurking
Study closely how long time volunteers respond to questions. Learn from their examples.
For instance, they often use numbered steps to break down instructions. They use breadcrumb navigation to direct people to the Administration Panels > Appearance > Widgets following the natural flow of the menus.
There have been volunteers providing support in the WordPress.org Forums since 2004 and in the WordPress.com Forums since 2005. Learn from them. They have a lot to teach.
Go the Extra Mile/Kilometer
Test and verify their issues on your own site or test site. Really dig to find out if this is a serious issue or just a misstep they’ve taken.
If you can repeat it, is it a bug or just a communication issue?
It takes a few extra minutes to sometimes find the answer, but the joy in finding the answer to educate yourself is often greater than giving the answer. Take the extra time to learn more, not just answer well.
- Never give out personal or private information about yourself or the user.
- Do not give out your personal email, phone number, or contact information.
- Don’t link to offsite helpful resources until you’ve exhausted the official resources.
- Don’t debate, argue, or participate in any emotional discussions on the forums.
- Don’t answer what you do not know. Let someone else do it.
- Don’t spell WordPress without the uppercase P and spell everything else according to naming conventions.
Differences Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org Forums
In addition to serving two different but similar audiences, there are some other differences you need to know about the forums of WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
The WordPress.com Forum:
- WordPress.com is a business.
- It is managed by Staff, moderating and reviewing posts before releasing them for others to answer, thus protecting the privacy and security of users who post their passwords and private information publicly.
- There are just some questions you will not be able to answer as they need to be handled by the Staff. These need to be flagged as “modlook” if they get through the moderation and need Staff help.
- WordPress.com users are novices, often new to the web and computers not just to blogging and WordPress. Use simple, easy-to-understand explanations.
The WordPress.org Forum:
- WordPress.org is an open source, volunteer project and the help in their Forums is also voluntary.
- There is a huge range of questions from the most basic beginner to very advanced.
- There is a team of Automattic staff members and long-time volunteers moderating things, but they do miss things. If there is an issue, you can contact them through the Support Forum Volunteers Mailing List.
Remember, most of us turn to the WordPress forums for help when we got started. Think of it as your turn. Enjoy!