To a certain extent, the social media crowd is guilty of being addicted to the next new, shiny toy.Â If you’re so inclined, simply keeping up with the latest web 2.0 toyÂ tool of the monthÂ can be a huge investment of time and attention.Â
However,Â in this particular post, I’d like to take a quick look at a tried, true, established type of social mediaÂ site thatÂ is often overlooked when companiesÂ and organizations are considering getting involved, or expanding their involvement, inÂ the social media space.Â They’re not sexy.Â They’re not “hot”–but depending on your needs,Â they may justÂ be the best choice with the most potential value forÂ time spent.Â
Discussion boards, also known as forums or message boards,Â wereÂ doing community on the web beforeÂ “community” was the latest buzzword.Â
What’s theÂ appeal?Â Â Â Discussion forums have been around for a long time.Â Â 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.Â With good moderation and leadership in place, the communityÂ can grow rapidly.Â Â After the initial launch phase, the users often provide most of the content.Â
What’s the problem?Â Â Because they’ve been around a long time, they lack theÂ “sexyness factor” that newer social mediaÂ site formats have.Â But probably more than that, forums are scary for corporate use,Â for two big reasons.Â Â
The first reason is that as opposed to a corporate blog, the default setting is forÂ moderation to take place after a comment or post goes live, rather thanÂ going through anÂ approval queue beforehand.Â Â This lack of “gatekeeping” can make corporate marketing folks extremely nervous.Â
The secondÂ fear factorÂ centersÂ aroundÂ volume.Â Â Reviewing and moderating the volume of content that a really active forum community is capable of producing can be aÂ daunting task.Â Of course, the alternative is a community where there is little activity–which is not exactly a winning situation, either.Â Â Â
Essentially,Â to be done well, a discussion forumÂ requires a higher level of effort than a corporateÂ blog–and many companies balk at the level of effort required to keep a blog updatedÂ regularly.Â So historically, companies have tended to shy away fromÂ discussion boards, with the notable exception of using them for tech support.Â Â
Tech support is one area where discussion boards have really excelled in delivering high value for a low cost.Â Â Typically, there isÂ a relatively low cost for development and setup of the site itself.Â Â 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.Â
As more companies move into the social media sphere, discussion boards relevant to their vertical are worth taking a look at.Â If not developing their own, then possibly sponsoring an existing, thriving message board community.
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