Optimize Social Media by Building Your Own Discussion Forum

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

Although discussion forums aren’t technically forms of social media, they generate compelling engagement. A successful forum creates a community of users who come to your site to interact with you and with one another. Nothing builds brand affinity like repeat visits and a personal stake in content creation; forums deliver both of those items.

Discussion forums are powerful tools when harnessed properly. Given the right setup and management, discussion forums can help you achieve some lofty goals:

  • Build a sense of community.

  • Provide a space for knowledge sharing.

  • Elevate customer service and support.

  • Create brand affinity.

  • Provide an SEO boost by adding more content to your site.

If you’re thinking that “lofty goals” implies a steep climb, you’re right. Discussion forums also have significant overhead in terms of technology and time management, particularly the latter.

Start small, and grow organically. Launch with a limited number of forum topics, focusing on major topics most likely to be of interest to your visitors. As activity grows, your users will tell you what new topics you need to open.

You can implement discussion forums on your site in several ways. Several stand‐alone systems have good reputations and power many of the forums you see today on the web. Following are some frequently used tools:

Although the systems in the preceding list require you to download and set up the forum on your own server, other hosted alternatives require little technical skill. The route you choose is up to you, but open‐source packages (that is, the free packages!) invariably require you to have some technical knowledge and to do some of the setup and maintenance yourself. Some of the popular hosted forum options include

Many hosting companies provide turnkey installation of the most common forum systems, streamlining setup.

Forum management is an issue you absolutely must consider. Forum startup can be hard work that takes effort over time. Moderating a forum can be a hugely time‐consuming, and often frustrating, endeavor. This area is one in which you can be a victim of your own success.

If your forum takes off, you may find yourself facing long nights in front of a computer dealing with argumentative users, spammers, and trolls! Forums can also be a lot of fun and are very likely to create new personal relationships, however, so you simply have to weigh the pros against the cons before you decide to implement a forum on your site.

Lay down clear rules for forum participation, and keep the rules short and to the point. Complex terms and conditions don’t get read and fail to achieve their goals.