To a certain extent, the social media crowd is guilty of being addicted to the next new, shiny toy.  If you’re so inclined, simply keeping up with the latest web 2.0 toy tool of the month can be a huge investment of time and attention. 

However, in this particular post, I’d like to take a quick look at a tried, true, established type of social media site that is often overlooked when companies and organizations are considering getting involved, or expanding their involvement, in the social media space.  They’re not sexy.  They’re not “hot”–but depending on your needs, they may just be the best choice with the most potential value for time spent. 

Discussion boards, also known as forums or message boards, were doing community on the web before ”community” was the latest buzzword. 

What’s the appeal?   Discussion forums have been around for a long time.  Many people are already familiar with how they work, and the basic functionality is pretty straightforward, so there isn’t a huge investment necessary to acheive decent usability.  With good moderation and leadership in place, the community can grow rapidly.  After the initial launch phase, the users often provide most of the content. 

What’s the problem?  Because they’ve been around a long time, they lack the ”sexyness factor” that newer social media site formats have.  But probably more than that, forums are scary for corporate use, for two big reasons.  

The first reason is that as opposed to a corporate blog, the default setting is for moderation to take place after a comment or post goes live, rather than going through an approval queue beforehand.   This lack of “gatekeeping” can make corporate marketing folks extremely nervous. 

The second fear factor centers around volume.  Reviewing and moderating the volume of content that a really active forum community is capable of producing can be a daunting task.  Of course, the alternative is a community where there is little activity–which is not exactly a winning situation, either.   

Essentially, to be done well, a discussion forum requires a higher level of effort than a corporate blog–and many companies balk at the level of effort required to keep a blog updated regularly.  So historically, companies have tended to shy away from discussion boards, with the notable exception of using them for tech support.   

Tech support is one area where discussion boards have really excelled in delivering high value for a low cost.  Typically, there is a relatively low cost for development and setup of the site itself.   Also, the tendency of “power users” for software applications to congregate on support boards, often providing free support to new users, increases the value of these sites. 

As more companies move into the social media sphere, discussion boards relevant to their vertical are worth taking a look at.  If not developing their own, then possibly sponsoring an existing, thriving message board community.

Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.buzzstream.com/blog Paul May

    Nice post. I've also seen companies that have seen big success in community building by getting involved in the discussion at existing, third-party forums (particularly forums that are very niche). Brands are talked about on these forums all the time and many of them never hear from a vendor. In most cases, the community is appreciative of the vendor's participation, as long as they're being transparent and adding value to the conversation (e.g., helping them solve problems, pointing them to valuable content, etc.). The lack of competition provides an opportunity to build loyalty and trust with a group that's often a company's exact target market.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Paul, that's the first place I would tell companies to start! If you can find a forum where people are already talking about your brand, industry, etc., being an active participant in that community and learning the ropes of how to behave there without “marketing” etc., is a good way to get your feet wet in social media. Of course, you have to be careful to not cross those lines into promotional posts, etc., or you can get skewered or kicked out quickly, but watching, then dabbling, then full-on participating is a good approach. Thanks for the feedback.

    • KatFrench

      I agree, with one caveat: you have to be really scrupulous and toe the line when it comes to the particular forum's guidelines and TOS. So many marketers of all stripes and at all levels are flocking to all kinds of social media sites, including forums, that many admins and moderators are getting very strict when it comes to “adverposting.”

  • http://www.buzzstream.com/blog Paul May

    Nice post. I've also seen companies that have seen big success in community building by getting involved in the discussion at existing, third-party forums (particularly forums that are very niche). Brands are talked about on these forums all the time and many of them never hear from a vendor. In most cases, the community is appreciative of the vendor's participation, as long as they're being transparent and adding value to the conversation (e.g., helping them solve problems, pointing them to valuable content, etc.). The lack of competition provides an opportunity to build loyalty and trust with a group that's often a company's exact target market.

  • http://www.sysomos.com Steve_Dodd_Sysomos

    We couldn't agree more. As a media monitoring and analytic solution provider we find that content from message / discussion boards is very valuable because it is more open in nature and doesn't necessarily have the “Corporate” watchdog to be sure the discussions adhere to “Corporate” strategy.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed. While you do get a fair amount more of trolls, turds and the like in forums, you do also get a more on-the-ground look at brands and what people are saying about them. Thanks for chiming in.

      • http://www.sysomos.com Steve_Dodd_Sysomos

        True enough but a good monitoring tool will eliminate most of the noise. And, when you analyze this content to other forms of online media, it can really tell an important story.

  • http://www.sysomos.com Steve_Dodd_Sysomos

    We couldn't agree more. As a media monitoring and analytic solution provider we find that content from message / discussion boards is very valuable because it is more open in nature and doesn't necessarily have the “Corporate” watchdog to be sure the discussions adhere to “Corporate” strategy.

  • http://www.BryanPerson.com Bryan Person, LiveWorld

    Jason, good post here. I'll admit that when I first took over the management of the career message boards at my last job with Monster.com, I wasn't all jazzed about it. As a guy who spends his time on blogs and the “cooler” social networks, message boards/forums did, indeed, seem very much “old school.”

    But you know what? I've come around on my thinking. Message boards may be one of the oldest tools of online communities, but they still can be very useful and effective — and well beyond those that serve as support boards.

    Some of those members on those Monster forums had been on our boards for more than 5 years. Over that time, our members had developed meaningful relationships with each other, knew each other's likes/dislikes, encouraged and supported each other (and pissed each other off — sometimes deliberately — from time to time, too). Our members shared very personal stories as well, and that is because they felt like they were part of a community with people they could trust.

    So, no, most forums aren't flashy, but they certainly can support community.

    Moderation
    And as for moderation, I think that most vendors/applications include the options of post-moderated and pre-moderated comments. The default option isn't necessarily post-moderated comments. That really depends on the client, type of community, etc.

    At LiveWorld, my new employer, we often advise clients to go with the post-moderated-comments route. This works well for two main reasons:
    1) Community members see their posts go live instantly, which helps to keep conversations flowing.
    2) It actually makes communities *more* scalable, because the client or its community partner doesn't have to manually approve or deny each message. Instead, a “flag as inappropriate” option can be included next to each message, empowering community members to police themselves. Those flagged posts are then reviewed by moderators — making the whole process much more efficient.

    Always happy to talk to you more about these topics, Jason. It's our bread and butter at LiveWorld!

    –Bryan Person
    LiveWorld social media evangelist

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great stuff Bryan. Your references to me also reminded me I've got to incorporate avatars for the authors. (Kat wrote this particular piece.)

      Love the insight, however and am happy to let folks here know about LiveWorld. I guess we'll do a deeper dive with you soon and give it the full go.

      Thanks again!

      • http://www.BryanPerson.com Bryan Person, LiveWorld.com

        Jason, sorry that I missed that Kat had done the original post. So, let me revise the first line from my first comment: “Kat, good post here.”

        And just to add a statistic that might surprise you: on many of our branded community sites, less than 2% of total posts are flagged as potentially inappropriate. It's not a very big number. That's another reason why post-moderated comments usually usually work just fine.

        • KatFrench

          :) Bryan – Let me just echo Jason's thanks for your meaty reply–I've been without internet access most of the day. Will most definitely have to check out LiveWorld.

  • http://www.BryanPerson.com Bryan Person, LiveWorld

    Jason, good post here. I'll admit that when I first took over the management of the career message boards at my last job with Monster.com, I wasn't all jazzed about it. As a guy who spends his time on blogs and the “cooler” social networks, message boards/forums did, indeed, seem very much “old school.”

    But you know what? I've come around on my thinking. Message boards may be one of the oldest tools of online communities, but they still can be very useful and effective — and well beyond those that serve as support boards.

    Some of those members on those Monster forums had been on our boards for more than 5 years. Over that time, our members had developed meaningful relationships with each other, knew each other's likes/dislikes, encouraged and supported each other (and pissed each other off — sometimes deliberately — from time to time, too). Our members shared very personal stories as well, and that is because they felt like they were part of a community with people they could trust.

    So, no, most forums aren't flashy, but they certainly can support community.

    Moderation
    And as for moderation, I think that most vendors/applications include the options of post-moderated and pre-moderated comments. The default option isn't necessarily post-moderated comments. That really depends on the client, type of community, etc.

    At LiveWorld, my new employer, we often advise clients to go with the post-moderated-comments route. This works well for two main reasons:
    1) Community members see their posts go live instantly, which helps to keep conversations flowing.
    2) It actually makes communities *more* scalable, because the client or its community partner doesn't have to manually approve or deny each message. Instead, a “flag as inappropriate” option can be included next to each message, empowering community members to police themselves. Those flagged posts are then reviewed by moderators — making the whole process much more efficient.

    Always happy to talk to you more about these topics, Jason. It's our bread and butter at LiveWorld!

    –Bryan Person
    LiveWorld social media evangelist

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Great stuff Bryan. Your references to me also reminded me I've got to incorporate avatars for the authors. (Kat wrote this particular piece.)

    Love the insight, however and am happy to let folks here know about LiveWorld. I guess we'll do a deeper dive with you soon and give it the full go.

    Thanks again!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Paul, that's the first place I would tell companies to start! If you can find a forum where people are already talking about your brand, industry, etc., being an active participant in that community and learning the ropes of how to behave there without “marketing” etc., is a good way to get your feet wet in social media. Of course, you have to be careful to not cross those lines into promotional posts, etc., or you can get skewered or kicked out quickly, but watching, then dabbling, then full-on participating is a good approach. Thanks for the feedback.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed. While you do get a fair amount more of trolls, turds and the like in forums, you do also get a more on-the-ground look at brands and what people are saying about them. Thanks for chiming in.

  • http://www.sysomos.com Steve_Dodd_Sysomos

    True enough but a good monitoring tool will eliminate most of the noise. And, when you analyze this content to other forms of online media, it can really tell an important story.

  • http://www.BryanPerson.com Bryan Person, LiveWorld.com

    Jason, sorry that I missed that Kat had done the original post. So, let me revise the first line from my first comment: “Kat, good post here.”

    And just to add a statistic that might surprise you: on many of our branded community sites, less than 2% of total posts are flagged as potentially inappropriate. It's not a very big number. That's another reason why post-moderated comments usually usually work just fine.

  • KatFrench

    :) Bryan – Let me just echo Jason's thanks for your meaty reply–I've been without internet access most of the day. Will most definitely have to check out LiveWorld.

  • KatFrench

    I agree, with one caveat: you have to be really scrupulous and toe the line when it comes to the particular forum's guidelines and TOS. So many marketers of all stripes and at all levels are flocking to all kinds of social media sites, including forums, that many admins and moderators are getting very strict when it comes to “adverposting.”

  • http://tri-win.com tri-win

    I still support the use of community forums to build my networks and my personal branding. Once that goes up, everything will fall into place :)
    As for the reputation of corporate companies when it comes to moderation, you just got to be careful. Its always a risk.
    It's worth it in the long run

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed. Playing appropriately there is a challenge. Hopefully discussions like this will enlighten folks with companies and brands. Appreciate the comment.

  • http://tri-win.com tri-win

    I still support the use of community forums to build my networks and my personal branding. Once that goes up, everything will fall into place :)
    As for the reputation of corporate companies when it comes to moderation, you just got to be careful. Its always a risk.
    It's worth it in the long run

  • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

    “Because they’ve been around a long time, they lack the ”sexyness factor””
    There are many companies out there trying to fix that and they are adding a lot of the newer social media tools into tired old forums and give them an injection of that “sexiness factor”. UserPlane, Tangler, Lefora, ForumUp, Sparklit, PhpBB, vBulletin, Vanilla, and even solutions like Grouply are making headway with revamping one of the original forms of digital social media.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Josh. We've heard of a few of those, but appreciate the listing. Would love to know if there are any that stand out in your mind.

      • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

        Sure, UserPlane is my favorite of the ones I have looked at and is what I am trying to get my work to deploy. The others all have benefits that will either enhance or just get in your way depending on how you intend to use the forum.

        Tangler lets you use real time discussion and has features that make it easy to embed discussions into your blog. Lefora has many of the features that Tangler has but it's also got the ability to add widgets to the forums and make your discussion more of an “immersive” experience. PhpBB and Vanilla are both very “standard” forums but they have a plethora of add-ons so you can fully customize your forums to suit your needs.

        UserPlane (Boards is the actual product name) is my favorite because it's clean, it's got some great features like real time updates so you can see people typing in their messages and watch the conversation evolve right in front of you and it helps keep from having 33 of the same post show up, you can include videos and images in your posts, has some really awesome IM features, fully customizable CSS so you can get it to match your site, and if you already have a vBulletin board or similar forum then you can just transfer all your user data and conversations over.

        I'm sure there are more out there and that they have great features but for a very professional look and feel I would nominate UserPlane as the winner, if you are doing like a gaming or entertainment forum (where the forum is the focus or a very large part of the site) I would say Lefora so you could add all of the crazy widgets and just make the whole page an experience.

  • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

    “Because they’ve been around a long time, they lack the ”sexyness factor””
    There are many companies out there trying to fix that and they are adding a lot of the newer social media tools into tired old forums and give them an injection of that “sexiness factor”. UserPlane, Tangler, Lefora, ForumUp, Sparklit, PhpBB, vBulletin, Vanilla, and even solutions like Grouply are making headway with revamping one of the original forms of digital social media.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks Josh. We've heard of a few of those, but appreciate the listing. Would love to know if there are any that stand out in your mind.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed. Playing appropriately there is a challenge. Hopefully discussions like this will enlighten folks with companies and brands. Appreciate the comment.

  • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

    Sure, UserPlane is my favorite of the ones I have looked at and is what I am trying to get my work to deploy. The others all have benefits that will either enhance or just get in your way depending on how you intend to use the forum.

    Tangler lets you use real time discussion and has features that make it easy to embed discussions into your blog. Lefora has many of the features that Tangler has but it's also got the ability to add widgets to the forums and make your discussion more of an “immersive” experience. PhpBB and Vanilla are both very “standard” forums but they have a plethora of add-ons so you can fully customize your forums to suit your needs.

    UserPlane (Boards is the actual product name) is my favorite because it's clean, it's got some great features like real time updates so you can see people typing in their messages and watch the conversation evolve right in front of you and it helps keep from having 33 of the same post show up, you can include videos and images in your posts, has some really awesome IM features, fully customizable CSS so you can get it to match your site, and if you already have a vBulletin board or similar forum then you can just transfer all your user data and conversations over.

    I'm sure there are more out there and that they have great features but for a very professional look and feel I would nominate UserPlane as the winner, if you are doing like a gaming or entertainment forum (where the forum is the focus or a very large part of the site) I would say Lefora so you could add all of the crazy widgets and just make the whole page an experience.

  • Pingback: Old School Social Media Part II: Podcasts | Social Media Explorer

  • http://www.bananaws.com/ carlosa

    I have a popular satire newspaper site Banana News(www.bananaws.com). It works for entertaining
    readers but I cannot get commentary rolling because people either just praise the site(which would be boring for readers) or make really poor off beat comments
    in trying to be clever.

    I guess I learned you must be serious to get funny comments but if you start out with humor yourself -you can overwhelm readers too much for them to comment in a way that would entertain other readers.

    I am also finding some humor becomes a very private matter with some readers
    where they only want you to see your comment.

    Dont ask me why but very interesting
    .

  • http://www.bananaws.com/ carlosa

    I have a popular satire newspaper site Banana News(www.bananaws.com). It works for entertaining
    readers but I cannot get commentary rolling because people either just praise the site(which would be boring for readers) or make really poor off beat comments
    in trying to be clever.

    I guess I learned you must be serious to get funny comments but if you start out with humor yourself -you can overwhelm readers too much for them to comment in a way that would entertain other readers.

    I am also finding some humor becomes a very private matter with some readers
    where they only want you to see your comment.

    Dont ask me why but very interesting
    .

  • http://www.bananaws.com/ carlosa

    I have a popular satire newspaper site Banana News(www.bananaws.com). It works for entertaining
    readers but I cannot get commentary rolling because people either just praise the site(which would be boring for readers) or make really poor off beat comments
    in trying to be clever.

    I guess I learned you must be serious to get funny comments but if you start out with humor yourself -you can overwhelm readers too much for them to comment in a way that would entertain other readers.

    I am also finding some humor becomes a very private matter with some readers
    where they only want you to see your comment.

    Dont ask me why but very interesting
    .