Forums - often referred to as bulletin boards - have been a staple of the internet for decades now, though some would argue their popularity is dwindling due to the meteoric rise in the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
What is a forum?
An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes visible.
Forums have a specific set of jargon associated with them; e.g., a single conversation is called a "thread", or "topic".
A discussion forum is hierarchical or tree-like in structure: a forum can contain a number of subforums, each of which may have several topics. Within a forum's topic, each new discussion started is called a thread, and can be replied to by as many people as so wish. (source)
Forums are typically used by individuals who have a particular interest - this could be internet marketing, movies or sports.
Why should I have a forum on my website?
If managed well, a forum can be a great tool to drive up engagement and communication on your website, whether it be between staff members or beneficiaries.
User generated content
A forum will essentially generate content without you having to spend hours writing out your own, though don't make the mistake of thinking that this will come with no effort on your part. There will be a significant amount of work on your behalf before you can get to this point (such as creating an initial batch of content for new users to engage with), but once the ball is rolling you can potentially achieve an endless stream of user-generated content.
Search engine optimisation
With all of this user-generated content being added, this can also be great for search engines like Google who will have lots more content to index. Search engines love fresh, up-to-date content being added to websites, and forums are no exception. Some of the most successful websites on the internet (in terms of SEO rankings) are forums due to the sheer amount of quality content they can offer up.
Do I really need a forum on my website?
One of the biggest questions you will need to ask yourself is "do I actually need a forum?". There will be time and cost implications on you to implement one, and will this cost be worth the potential outcome? When done well, a forum can be a fantastic tool, but you will need to ensure that you not only market it well, but your members or team will actually want to use it. If you have a team of less than 20 people, it's unlikely to be worth your time or money to implement such a feature, and in this case you'd probably want to look at an alternate route.
There will also be the people who won't want to sign up for another website, and even if you manage to get them to, will they actively login and contribute? Before any software installations are undertaken or styling is done, you will need to evaluate the potential return on investment - are your users going to love this idea or is it going to remain dormant for years?
What are the alternatives to a forum?
If you decide a forum isn't the right option for you, there are other means to keep your user base connecting and in conversation.
For starters, there is the option of a Facebook Group. This can be public (i.e. open for anyone to join and discuss), or you could go down the route of a closed Facebook group for private membership. Cosmic uses a private Facebook group for its staff where we regularly share useful resources and news with each other to ensure we are all up to date on everything that's happening in the technology world, as well as local news that may affect our work. The plus side to this is that the majority of people will already have a Facebook profile and therefore wouldn't be required to sign up to another service or website. The downside is that some people may not want to associate their private Facebook profile with business/work related matters.
If your communications are solely for within your organisation, then a Yammer group may be a good option for you. Yammer is a freemium enterprise social networking service used for private communication within organizations. Access to a Yammer network is determined by a user's Internet domain so that only individuals with approved email addresses may join their respective networks.
Not sure which route to go down? Contact our helpful team today and we will be more than happy to help you with your queries!