Forums might sound old school, but they still have a place in this social media centric world. Should you consider adding one to your own company’s website? While forums aren’t right for all businesses, they do have some advantages and there are specific functions that forums still serve well.
Let’s take a look at why forums are still relevant and some situations where it might make sense to add one to your company’s website.
Why Forums Are Still Relevant
Even though we might talk about it more since the “social media” buzzword came along, the Web has always been a social place. Community interaction is nothing new. And forums are an example of Web communities that have so far stood the test of time.
Some of the biggest niche networks are forum-based. And forums are used by businesses to turn customers into communities. Their familiarity makes them easy for your average user to take part in (unlike creating a custom social network they have to learn).
One of the biggest benefits of forums is that they allow for more open communication. Users don’t have to follow or friend each other to see what the larger community is talking about, nor do they have to hope someone else brings interesting content to their attention. At the same time, forums give people the option of communicating privately when appropriate and the ability to block users they don’t want to see posts from.
Good Uses for a Company Forum
Forums are a good option when you want the entire community interacting rather than putting a focus on choosing who members want in their more personal networks. For example, you might successfully use a forum in the following ways.
- Support forums — Forums are frequently used in the tech community to offer customer support. They’re a great way to archive past requests and questions (so you don’t answer the same ones over and over) while also allowing the community members to help each other with problems rather than you having to address each one personally.
- Niche communities — Forums are great for smaller niche communities (as opposed to more generic or personal social networks) because emphasis is on the conversations about shared interests rather than who knows whom. Running a successful forum can help you stay on top of what’s interesting to people in your niche.
- Marketplaces — Forums are also decent platforms for offering open marketplaces. This won’t be relevant to most businesses, but there are some situations when you might want one. For example professional organizations might want to offer a job board for companies to hire members. Marketplaces are also common forum features in the larger tech community. Another option is an app or add-on marketplace. For example, if you run a software company you might host a marketplace where customers can submit or sell their own add-ons related to your product (like blog themes for your blogging software).
Forums are far from dead. They’re great community platforms, and they have definite benefits over other options. That said, if you want to run a more modern “social network” styled site, don’t ignore forums just yet. Some forum software (like vBulletin) lets you run a combination of the two site styles — a forum with social groups.
Did you add a forum to your company’s website (or are you planning to)? Leave a comment below to tell us why and let us know how a forum-based community is meeting, or not meeting, your needs.
I’m really not a huge fan of forums because they are so time-consuming to use and there isn’t really any good way to find information again. Personally, I believe that businesses could more easily create communities by letting their customers meet each other and discuss information in the comments of blog posts and pages. It is much easier to learn how to comment than it is to learn to use a forum.
That is why I really like the CommentLuv plugin – because it allows commenters to get to know each other and share what they’re most interested in. By making that simple those with similar interests can more easily find each other. It makes me wonder if a different type of CommentLuv could be used within a blog for readers who aren’t bloggers instead of across blogs as it is today.