Discussion Forums – An Oft-Overlooked Element of Social Media

by Kat French |

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.


About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.