Yes, there’s a better way to advocate for consumers – here it is

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a better way to do things.

So when John Baker, one of our longtime contributors and moderators, suggested we add a forum to the site a few months ago, I was intrigued.

But I was also skeptical.

I’ve had a little experience with forums. Here’s a little-known fact: I used to edit FlyerTalk’s regular email newsletter, MilesLink, when Randy Petersen still owned it. That was more than a decade ago, before some of the less polite FlyerTalkers decided I was the enemy and launched an all-out rhetorical war against my advocacy work.

But that’s ancient history.

The point is, I know forums, and what they can — and can’t — do.

So Baker’s suggestion resonated. We installed a WordPress forum in September, which was a good start. Then, after joining up with BoardingArea, we migrated to a new program called Xenforo.

You can see the results here.

Done correctly, a forum can help empower a lot of consumers. It can help connect customers with subject-matter experts and put actionable information, like the names and numbers of company executives, on their screens. And it can be done quickly.

Question is: how?

That’s what I’ve been grappling with during these last few weeks, as we’ve built out the new help forums.

I think we figured it out.

This morning, while the rest of you were debating the latest US Airways case, I posted our first fully built-out subforum for cell phones. I chose the wireless telecommunications industry because it’s consolidated. (The only missing company is Verizon, and I expect to have that finished within the next 24 hours.)

How does it work?

• When consumers arrive at the subforum, they’re greeted with a “welcome” message that directs them to a company’s executive contact information. That information should be able to help them fix most common consumer problems.

• The subforum is also staffed with subject matter experts who can immediately address any problems that are not fixable by the executive contacts. The forums are open, so representatives from those companies can jump in at any point to help fix the problem or answer a question.

• If none of these are successful, a reader can always flag a comment to bring it to a moderator’s attention. Then I can work some of my own contacts and try to get the question answered.

I’m really excited about this opportunity.

One of the biggest complaints about our advocacy is that it takes too much time, and we can’t help everyone. But what if we could? What if we had a staff of dedicated advocates who know a lot about a particular industry? What if we could answer them now?

All of which brings me back to you.

I want you to get involved.

Some of you who regularly comment here have an encyclopedic knowledge of certain industries. Even though I sometimes bristle at your comments — and especially at this time of year, when I tend to be more disagreeable than usual — I want you to know how much I appreciate your input.

By commenting on these stories, you show how much you care. I want to give you an opportunity to show consumers the same thing.

Will you consider joining the new forum? We’re at the very start of the process. I need to build out all of the industries, like cell phones. And I really need your help.

Each subforum needs a lead advocate, who can oversee a group of advocates, maintain the executive contacts pages and see to it that every question is answered. Each industry needs a team of advocates who stand ready to help answer questions from consumers.

By the way, you don’t have to be a subject-matter expert to help. A lot of the helpers working with us are learning as they go, which is absolutely fine.

Will you help me make the world a better place? Email me if you are interested.

Thank you for caring, a special thanks to John Baker for suggesting these forums — and happy holidays to all of you!

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