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How to Decide Whether to Add a Forum to Your Blog

The neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has a blog combined with a forum on his website. Sam is sometimes known as “America's leading atheist,” and his writings cover the intersection of religion and science.

As you can imagine, this is a set of topics that generates a huge amount of discussion, and Sam has responded by housing some of this conversation on the forums of his website. This neatly solves one of Sam's biggest problems — as a single individual, he simply can't respond to the sheer volume of conversation that his chosen field generates, but discussion of which he encourages.

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There are many reasons to add a forum to your blog. The first and most common reason is that your frequent visitors may ask you to add one, but you may also see the need for it yourself.

The second most common reason is that discussions have simply outgrown the blog commenting system. This isn't a bad thing; it just means your blog is incredibly popular. You should be pleased that visitors enjoy what you are doing so much!

Some bloggers find that comments are great ways for dialogue to start, and that forums allow that discussion to expand. But how does a forum benefit your blog itself? How can you use a forum to grow your community? Here are a few examples of what a forum can do besides give your readers a way to chat:

  • Increase traffic to and page views on your blog: By offering a place where people can exchange ideas and chat directly with one another, you can reap the rewards of additional content. Each posting on your blog is an individual page that people can find by searching the Internet. \

    The same thing applies to forum posts. The more discussions you facilitate, the more pages and locations search engines can index. This means that you can use your forum as a place for friendly conversation and to generate more traffic and page views.

  • Find a new type of audience: A forum may attract a whole new type of readership. People who like to leave comments on blog posts may not be invested enough to carry on longer chats with other commenting visitors.

    Providing them with a platform where they can expand on their comments and offer additional opinions can, however, help build a new audience by tapping into a larger audience that enjoys participating in wider discussions that are not specific to individual blog posts. People may be attracted to your forum and then start participating in the comments.

  • Keep tabs on your audience's interests: Even though you write your blog to put your ideas out into the blogosphere, you may run dry from time to time. You can look through the comments on your blog to find new ideas or expand on existing posts, but a forum can generate a whole new set of ideas.

    This is a great tool for taking the pulse of what your community finds compelling or interesting and what its members have questions about, all of which can feed directly back into what you choose to discuss on your blog.

  • Build additional credibility: If you are already blogging and attracting readers, you are likely developing some visible expertise with your community. Forums can help build that reputation with a larger audience, and on a broader set of topics. (You may even learn a thing or two from your community members while you're at it!)

  • Have more “you” time: Comments on blogs tend to be directed toward you, the blogger. This means that people who leave comments want to hear your reaction to their thoughts. You need to spend a lot of your time not just writing your blog but also responding to comments.

    Adding a forum gives your community members the chance to help each other out, taking a bit of the pressure off you to be the only source of information.

Does it sound as though adding a forum to your blog is worthwhile? Don't worry if the answer is “No,” “I’m not sure,” or “Not right now.” Forums aren't for every blog, or every blogger, but they can naturally evolve from online discussions and commentary.

No stock answer exists — the final call is up to you! If you're on the fence, you might want to write a blog post and see what your readers think.

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