I have had two distinct periods of using online forums as I moved through the process of becoming a full-time RVer. I received tremendous value from using forums and wanted to share my thoughts and a few tips for getting the most from online forums. While my experience is specific to RVs, the information and tips should apply to most forums.
Being a Looky-Loo
I started as a looky-loo. I suspect many people do. Many forums allow you to read threads without registering. Generally, you have to register to participate.
When I was in the initial phase of researching rigs, I wanted to see the problems and issues owners were having with particular brands and types so if I decided to purchase that brand, I’d have a full picture of the rig. Good and bad.
It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted a fiberglass trailer. From there I found a website called Fiberglass RV. That site has a forum. And, as you probably guessed, it’s about all about rigs made from fiberglass.
Primarily because of my need for a rig of a certain size, it didn’t take me long to narrow my selection to the Final Four. I scoured Fiberglass RV for thread titles that included the brands Casita, Escape, Bigfoot or Oliver. I spent a lot of time educating myself on the problems owners had with each. Fortunately, none of what was said dissuaded me from those final four. But it could have. What it did, instead, was gave me realistic expectations of each trailer.
For example, one of the trailers had rather weak/cheap stairs. So I knew that if I bought that particular trailer, I would be creating a modification to make sure the stairs were more stable and sturdy.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Over and over again I read that things go wrong with RVs and if you expect perfection (even on an expensive, high-end trailer like the Oliver), you are setting yourself up for a world of frustration.
Visiting forums in the initial research stage left me feeling like I was walking into my purchase with my eyes wide open.
You know that expression that a happy customer will tell one person but an unhappy one will tell seven? Keep in mind, everything you read on a forum is one person’s view of her or his experience. There is no way to know if you are reading an accurate account of that experience. If only one person complains about XX, consider that it might be the person, not the rig. However, if several people have a similar complaint, it’s reasonable to give that complaint more weight.
Likewise, pay attention to the writer’s tone. I gave more consideration to those who were sharing a difficulty that was said in an informational way or included possible solutions. Those who merely vent or who shoot down proposed solutions that other people offered, I dismissed as an unlikely reliable source of information.
Make a mental note of that user’s name so in other threads you can keep a healthy skepticism of what she or he shares. In the same vein, if you find a user who is particularly helpful or insightful on one thread, keep an eye out for other posts by that person.
Being an Active User
I remained a looky-loo for a long time. Once I was confident in my decision to purchase an Oliver, I stopped my regular visits to forums.
Then, a couple months back, it came time to make those final decisions about upgrades, add-ons and customizations for the Oliver. It was five months after I’d visited the factory and things I felt sure of while I was there, were no longer as clear in my mind. This time, I went to the Oliver forum.
I registered as a user and eased into participation. I was half afraid of sounding like a dork with so little knowledge that someone might actually suggest I should not be a full-time RVer. Or even an owner.
But like so many things in life, after I posted a question or two, I started feeling more confident. Less of a dork.
When starting a thread, the title is really important. It has to be short and clear. It will make a big difference whether or not others click to read (and reply) to your thread.
Let me give you an example. On the Oliver trailer, there are four possible choices for the doors of the cabinets. There is white, black, mirrored and frosted. At the factory, I sat in an Oliver with frosted and liked the look. I decided frosted was what I wanted. But when it came time to make my final selection, I wasn’t nearly as confident. So I decided to ask the forum.
My title choice for the thread was Choosing Cabinet Colors. I explained my concern about the frosted. Then I asked anyone with frosted cabinets to share photos. Users were unbelievably generous. On my thread, I ended up with photos of all four options. And user explained why they chose what they chose.
The information they provided influenced my decision 100%.
You’ll have to wait until the big reveal when I pick up the trailer to see the color of cabinet doors I chose. If you have a few minutes, click on the link above to go to my thread, look through the photos the forum users provided and share in the comments which option you would choose.
A forum is simply another online community. Successful communities involve give and take. Don’t just be a taker. While the time you spend on a forum might ebb and flow, it’s important to stay engaged. Strive to give as much as you receive. Strive to be as helpful as you have been helped.
You never know when you might influence someone on her cabinet color choice.