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Why Your Website Needs a Discussion Forum (And How To Create One)

ForumsA discussion forum, otherwise known as an internet forum or a message board, can be a great way to grow your business or attract readers to your blog.  Whether you're providing a product, a service, or just really great content, forums can offer a huge number of benefits, not only to you, but to your website users as well. Here's what adding a forum can add to your site, as well as a few tips on how to get started.  

Discussion Forum Benefits One of the best perks of including a discussion forum on your website is the fact that it builds a community. Not only does it build a community, it builds a community with the right type of people. Users who take the time to login and post to your forum are generally users who are really passionate about your industry. It's these types of people who are likely to share your content, like your social media statuses, recommend your site via word of mouth, and purchase your products and services. Discussion forums can also generate conversations in ways blog articles sometimes don't.

Users who feel intimidated commenting on a blog article may feel more welcome to post their thoughts and ideas to a forum. While blog posts tend not to propel discussions beyond an exchange or two, the very nature of forums are built to host long threads. As users engage with your website and create their own content, you'll benefit from better SEO. With a forum, you're able to conduct market research all the time. By observing who is posting to your forums and the topics they post about, you're able to have a better idea of who your target audience is as well as what they want. This allows you to serve them better. When you have a strong community interacting on your message board, your job as a business owner becomes easier. Instead of having to respond to every question you receive over email, you can make your forum a resource that operates as an extension to your site where you address concerns for everyone's benefit.

You'll also find that over time, users will take the initiative to search forums for their questions instead of contacting you, and users will respond to each other's concerns themselves. Lastly, depending on the type of company you own, you may be able to earn passive income by charging a membership fee that allows access to your forum.  

Types of Discussion Forums

Not all discussion forums are the same, nor do they offer the same benefits. You can implement one type of forum on your website, or depending on the nature of your site, a combination of them all. A Q&A forum allows for your users to post a question, and then for you as the website owner, an admin you assign, or other users to share their thoughts and ideas. This type of format can help customers or readers in the future who have the same question. It will also help those just searching for an answer on the internet to find your company site or blog.

Popular examples of these would be Quora or Yahoo! Answers. Problem-solving forums allow for your users to report, track, and find solutions to issues. These are more common with technology-based products and services. One benefit to problem-solving forums is that they help both the business and the user to see the scope of the problem. They can also provide updates in real time. Examples of these would be the support forums found on WordPress plugins. In addition to these two forum types, some businesses and blogs may use forums as a way to propose new ideas. Users can then provide feedback or vote on the options they like best.  

Tips for Choosing Forum Topics

Your site may only need one forum, or it may require lots of forums to suit a wide number of passions and preferences, all in demand of an even wider audience. When choosing forum topics, there are a few key points to keep in mind. First and foremost, you want to pick topics that are well connected to what your website has to offer. That is, after all, why your users are there. You also want to pick topics that will interest your users. This could actually take a bit of thought. A topic that's too broad may not build the strong, close-knit community you or your users desire. It's lack of organization may also create a less-than-positive experience for its posters.

On the other hand, a topic that's too narrow may not attract anyone at all. Therefore, you may benefit from starting with one broad topic and adding forums with more specific topics as they naturally present themselves. Lastly, when choosing a forum topic, some originality is required. People who post on forums are a loyal bunch who feel at home in their online communities, so launching a forum on a topic that's already being well served elsewhere probably won't bring you a lot of success. Aim to meet needs that aren't already being met or target an audience that isn't already being addressed.  

How To Set Up A Forum

If you're using WordPress for your blog or company website, you'll find that there are a number of plugins to create and manage forums. DW Question & Answer has been rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and has over 10,000 active installs. This plugin creates a Q&A style forum that allows users to post a question, the community to respond, and then for the original poster to vote on the best answer. Users can also receive notification emails when a response to their question has been posted. As the website owner, you'll be able to monitor questions and answers from the WordPress dashboard.

CM Answers has 4 out of 5 stars and over 2,000 active installs. Like DW Question & Answer, this highly-customizable plugin provides sites with a Q&A forum where users can post questions and the community can answer as well as vote. With CM Answers, users are able to sign into the forum using their own social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Microsoft Live. BuddyPress boasts 4.2 out of 5 stars with over 100,000 active installs. Praised for its ease of integration as well as ease of use, this WordPress plugin allows you to create a social network on your website. Users can create profiles, join groups, comment on and favorite posts, send messages, and receive notifications.  


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