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I'm Tim Post, a Stack Exchange community manager and as you might have noticed, I've been looking at ways that Parenting SE could be better promoted.

We've had discussions about what experts we want to attract, and how as well as who the evangelists for our site could be, and where to find them. This led us to come up with a good list of reasons why we're better than many other sites that serve this topic, where many bullets hinge on the fact that our quality is consistently excellent. Looking forward to graduation, all signs point to excellent except that we average only one new question each day.

That's a lot of links, so if you're new to Parenting SE's meta site, or simply haven't been here for a while, please take a moment and read through the linked posts. My goal for the last few weeks has been to figure out why new users aren't asking very many questions in an effort to see what could be done to encourage it more.

My research and brain storming has led to several conclusions, expressed below as rather simple statements:

  1. Parenting SE needs more experts in the field of child development and psychology. We have many seasoned, experienced parents that provide great answers and insights based on their experience, but not that many degree or certified professionals speaking from academic knowledge or professional training.
  2. Parenting SE could really use some parents with a large online following to let a broader portion of the world know that we exist, and what we're about. Our extremely friendly community and very high signal to noise ratio cuts the 'snark', we get down to the business of helping one another right away. This solves a common complaint about more traditional parenting forums, if more people knew about it from someone that they trust.
  3. As a parent's bond with their child grows, some become increasingly reluctant to ask questions that entail divulging tender, sensitive parts of their child's life. While it is possible and very easy to post anonymously, some would rather not share these circumstances at all. This partly explains the overwhelming frequency of baby questions.

There are of course other things that could be impacting the number of questions we receive every day; some people may just hate blue and a more parenting oriented design might make folks feel more at ease. The bullets above are the main things that I've identified.

I'm opening this conversation with my thoughts on the items I've listed above, and making this post community wiki. If I've missed any major but possibly actionable points, please don't hesitate to add them. By actionable, I mean something that needs improvement that could conceivably be improved through a reasonable amount of collaborative effort.

Please take some time to consider the above items, and then post a single answer regarding the item(s) where you have some ideas. Hopefully, the resulting discussion will serve as more than an outline; a plan for long term promotion that can take place over the remainder of the year.

Participation in this discussion is of course completely voluntary, I realize that these conversations have been touched on previously, some numerous times. My hope is to consolidate ideas here, as a source of inspiration for the community as well as Stack Exchange.

  • Tim, why don't we have a facebook page for this site? To get the likes and thus the attention etc? – Aquarius_Girl Aug 17 '13 at 14:42
  • @user462608 I'm not sure, we don't have official Facebook pages for any of the sites as far as I know. Something I'm going to check on. – Tim Post Aug 17 '13 at 14:43
  • I think if we have pages on twitter facebook googleplus etc, I think that'll be a great promotion factor for our site. See this: facebook.com/stackoverflowpage – Aquarius_Girl Aug 17 '13 at 15:56
  • @user462608 It's basically what I thought, we just don't have the official bandwidth to manage them. Official social media channels are something we'd like to do more, but we're not going to it until we're well equipped to do it right. That said, unofficial community driven pages could be just as effective, provided that they don't cast us as the company responsible for the page itself (the trademark guidelines explain that a bit better.) – Tim Post Aug 23 '13 at 15:48
  • Movies and TV has one - it's fairly new: facebook.com/pages/Movies-and-TV/… – MJ6 Oct 26 '13 at 15:07
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Bullet 3

I heavily second the "welcome new users with ... votes" part in particular. As I mentioned in another meta answer, voting for quality answers is crucial. I'm glad to see that we've had 5 more people earn the civic duty badge in the past 4 months, but we need more!

We still don't have any 20k users, and only 2 10k users. I've been trying to post more bounties (and any that I earn I promptly put onto other questions), but I feel that's a poor substitute for voting.

We even had one bounty go to waste largely because an excellent answer went unnoticed, and didn't get enough votes to auto-award (and I must admit I didn't vote on that answer until it was too late, so I'm not in a position to point fingers!).

Aside from the votes, I would like to encourage people to be careful in their comments, particularly to new users. It's absolutely acceptable (essential, really), to ask questions to clarify what they are asking and what the context of their problem is.

It's another thing, though, to make comments that might unintentionally come across as critical. I've seen comments in the past few months that felt like they were suggesting that the premise of the question was based upon a "wrong" decision by the OP (i.e. "I decided not to do x, but now I have a question about how to do alternative y instead" and getting a comment asking why they decided not to do x in the first place; while this could provide clarifying background context, it could also be interpreted as "you should have done x").

I've also seen comments that were outright accusatory. I know we have some hot-button topics within parenting, but if someone says that they tried a parenting technique that you feel is harmful, but they are now asking what they can do instead, don't point out where they went wrong. Instead, focus on what they can do now to fix the problem.

I have always had a hard time avoiding getting into discussion in comments, but perhaps we need to start becoming more aggressive in flagging purging comments that aren't constructively positive.

  • Echoing the concern about using bounties to give other's a leg up: When it works, it's wonderful, but unless you are rewarding an existing answer, bounties are a crap shoot. See also: Vote Early, Vote Often. – Jon Ericson Aug 5 '13 at 19:09
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Perhaps in addition to focusing on attracting new users, we might also focus on animating the users we have. We have over 4000 registered users, but only 366 of those have been active enough to amass 200 or more points. Thousands of those users have never asked or answered a question. They've already found us - how do we encourage contribution?

It would be nice of beta sites had more data available to them - the path to improvement often lies in analysis of stats, yet beta sites have few stats available to them.

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  • I think I cam compile some data on retention and things influencing it - I'll see what I can do. We don't make too many stats public only because folks often obsess over them rather needlessly, even the Area 51 stats cause some folks to think a site that's doing perfectly fine by our standards might be doomed :) – Tim Post Oct 26 '13 at 16:02
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As noted in the question, I'm kicking off the discussion with some ideas that I have, which also serves as an example of how to add to the discussion.

Bullet 1 - More Experts

This was a theme that echoed quite frequently as I looked at past discussions, and similar discussions on other parenting communities. This ties directly into the second reason, as some indicated that the lack of credentialed experts gives them apprehension when promoting the site.

We as parents have somewhat frequent encounters with these very experts; our pediatricians, therapists, school guidance counselors, social workers and even family physicians that are needed to vet the knowledge that we have accumulated. In my experience, a great way to tempt an expert into participation is to show them something that might be technically flawed - you'd be amazed at the power of OCD in brilliant people.

In general, just letting these folks know what we're doing and that their professional knowledge and expertise can be put to work for many with very little effort is sufficient. Our system tends to be addictive if you can get someone to use it initially. We do have professionally designed flyers and folks are free to make their own.

Let these people know that we're not a forum, explain why our signal to noise ratio is extremely high and that participation will be incredibly easy for them. We're well optimized for their time.

Bullet 2 - More Evangelists

Jeff Atwood did something rather interesting, an expert had a question and Jeff got him an answer almost instantly. This works unbelievably well at attracting folks that can put their following behind us. These opportunities don't come every day, but the yield they bring if you can jump on them is amazing.

This item also ties closely into number 1 - if you see someone that earns their living by helping children develop answer a question - then To Twitter! To Twitter! To Twitter! you can go. More professionals in child development participating here will help other users feel more confident about promoting the site as a resource.

Bullet 3 - Easing Apprehension

This is tough, and it's not something that will ever be entirely overcome. There are, however, things that we're currently doing which we can continue that will help make someone on the fence when it comes to asking a question comfortable enough to do so:

  • Welcome new users with warmth in the form of words and votes whenever appropriate. A few up votes can be the difference between a drive-by and engaged user, we've seen this across the network.

  • Blog all ye arcane wisdom, Q&A style - If you're comfortable sharing experiences that can instill incredible insight into others, please don't hesitate to do it. The presence of these can be a source of encouragement and confidence for others that are unsure of whether or not to ask a question. Please make sure that the posts are relevant and appropriate, and try to receive them well as warranted when others do the same.

These are just my thoughts, and I'm sure I've missed plenty. Please add your own answer if you have more to contribute and after a period of time we can combine this into a canonical plan.

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    I am thinking about this, as I am sure others are... didn't want you to think your efforts were being ignored! – MJ6 Jul 12 '13 at 22:59
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There are two things I don't see mentioned earlier:

I'm finding a lot of people I know, are just unwilling to publicly sign up for yet another site - so many sites out there produce so much spam, or you have to log in and make a profile for everything and they just don't want "one more" to check on and feel obligated toward. If there was a way of reassuring people they could vote and participate without a bunch of spam from the site (thank you for NOT sending a bunch of emails all the time SE!!) AND convince them this will be the one and only parenting site they are likely to need once they start using it regularly, it might encourage those who stumble on the site to give it a try and return.

The second thing. Well, let me premise this by saying, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but . . .

The site does often feel quite masculine. Between the look (which I know we want to work on) and the seemingly large number of males on the site relative to the low numbers on many other parenting sites, (Oh! and I love both moderators, but one can't deny they are also both masculine) It does have a masculine quality to it.

This, in some ways is GREAT!! active dads - you have to love that. Masculine voices NEED to be a bigger part of the din on all parenting sites in my opinion. There is a sense of humor males have that is wonderful and different from the feminine and it adds so much. However, it also might be a little startling to some moms used to finding info on sites dominated by other mothers.

I really wish there was a way to work on the look and "graduate" anyway. If the Blue bar could at least be changed to a more neutral color? It might actually raise activity to a graduation worthy level.

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  • hahahahah +1 too funny Stack Exchange is indeed masculine and I find it a challenge at times.. as I am not an expert programmer with bits downstairs.. they're a special breed!! (and I mean this in the nicest possible way :p ) – user4784 Oct 25 '13 at 2:42
  • I should add, it's great to see so many enthusiastic dads! – user4784 Oct 25 '13 at 2:43

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