The Ins and Outs of Online Forums
Remember: What are online forums?
Online forums are internet discussion websites where individuals can hold conversations in the form of messages around a variety of topics.
There’s a lot of debate of whether online forums are still relevant today or dying out due to the changes in internet user’s behavior and the time we have ‘available’ for this type of interaction. I reveal some of the positive and negative sides of online forums.
1. Forums are the original social network
There’s no copycat around here.
People born post-2004 were born into the world of Facebook but way back before that was created, forums were the popular social network. Websites created to bring people together from all over the world as a way of engaging with those with similar interests, knowledge and experiences. It allowed businesses or even individuals to interact with other likeminded people and promote their brand through a popular and open platform. So often these days we’re judged for what we put on online but forums were and still are a place that don’t judge. They’re a space for ideas, awareness and engagement.
- Forums were created to connect people from all around the world
- They promote interaction, brand awareness and engagement
2. They exist to help
There’s no such thing as ‘can’t’.
Forums may seem like the ‘old-fashioned’ way to look for help but actually can turn out to be the best help you’ll find. They’re a lot more than celebrity gossip and cute cat videos (although I am that person who will still watch them ), forums act as a haven where you can ask for help and advice without being judged on the number of followers you have or your latest profile picture.
Unlike the social media networks that exist today which don’t 100% guarantee a reliable response, forums let you connect and interact with experts in your industry. Experts which have experience in your domain, have real-life examples to advise you and the basic desire to want to help others. As the idea behind forums is to provide help for others, any question you ask will be visible to others 100% of the time compared to social media. The thing with social media is that unless the right person who could help you out is online at the same time, the likelihood of them seeing your post is low. Any questions asked in forums stay in a list so users can see what members are asking.
My final point here is that often when we ask Google a question, we often fall onto a forum in the SERPs that answers our question. For example if I’m looking for the English equivalent of a French expression I’ll ask Google and nine times out of ten, forum answers will appear in the search results. Forums can therefore still be just as relevant today to answer your questions.
- Forums allow you to seek help and advice on specific topics within your activity
- Let you connect easily with expert professionals
- Forum answers often appear in the SERP for your search query
3. Allows for in-depth communication
We all need a DMC at some point.
No matter how niche your activity is, they’ll be a forum for you. Take the example of Reddit, it has thousands of ‘sub-reddits’ which are lots of little forums that make up the forum as a whole. From SEO to dog pictures, Reddit covers a vast amount of activities and being the 10th most visited website in the world, if you ask a question then I can 99% guarantee you’ll get a response.
One of the other great things I like about online forums is the fact you all have something in common. Whoever posts a question, people with different experiences and opinions chip into the conversation so that there are different views on the topic. People aren’t afraid to provide a detailed response either as it’s something they’re interested in, they want to take the time to provide a valuable response. Forums aren’t a place for one word answers, I just think ‘what’s the point?!’ Forums are for conversations that provide value to you or others, a way of digging deeper into a topic to get the most helpful answer.
- There are forums that exist for specific niche activities
- Forum members put time into providing detailed responses
However, there are some worries that online forums aren’t all that they crack up to be:
4. The rise of social media
How many likes and comments can I get today?
Ask yourselves these questions for a moment:
How many social media accounts do I have?
How often do I check these accounts?
Do I actively participate in forums?
Do I use forums to find out information?
The likelihood is that you use social media such as Twitter and Facebook every single day and forums either not at all or rarely. Twitter and Facebook have grown in popularity to communicate with others that forums are getting left behind. For example Facebook has an average of 2.23 billion monthly active users in comparison to Reddit which has 1.69 billion… ok that’s still a lot for a forum but social media is still leading the way.
The fact that people want to communicate and interact with others immediately means these newer social media networks are being chosen over forums. What’s more is that mobile searches are increasing and being constantly logged into apps on our phones allows for instant engagement and interaction with others. It’s also a lot easier to post on Twitter or Facebook especially because you can create groups on Facebook where people can post ideas and advice (e.g. cooking groups or dog groups). Everything is in one, accessible place. Forums have so many categories and sub-categories that it can take you a whole morning just to find the right place to post your question. Then there’s all the rules and regulations for each forum but we’ll go into that a bit later on .
- Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have grown in popularity for communicating with others
- It’s easier to post on social networks as forums require time to find the correct place for the conversation
5. Individual’s attitude in forums
Who got out of the wrong side of bed this morning?
Now this is something that you don’t see in all forums but it happens. Some members can just be outright rude. I can understand people get annoyed when others just post a link of their site to get a backlink or a one-word answer, but when it’s a genuine question that’s being asked and a member pipes up with a sarcastic, rude response, there’s no need for it. For example I check Reddit nearly everyday to see what’s going on in terms of SEO, social media and blogging, and I’ll see at least two or three harsh comments everyday. The worst is that from my experience it’s more often the more experienced members that forget that there are newbies who are new in an specific industry so are merely just asking for help from professionals.
Of course on Twitter or Facebook you can also get backlash from posts but as forums were created to bring people together to share valuable (emphasis on the word v-a-l-u-a-b-l-e) advice and engage with others, some forget that they aren’t just for the elite but all levels of experience.
- Some forum members don’t have a good attitude and criticize others easily
- More experienced members sometimes forget that they’re less experienced members in forums
6. Creating new profiles for every forum
Today I’m going to be Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog.
Let’s all admit that having to sign-up and create a new profile for every new forum you want to subscribe to is a bit of a hassle. That means another new username and password to remember 🙃.
Then once you’ve signed-up, it’s straight to the forum rules. All forums will vary for these. For example:
- seoforums.uk wants you to post at least 20 times before giving you the right to include a link in your replies.
- scripts-seo.com requires you to introduce yourself in the new members section.
- growthhacking.fr moderates your first reply/post to make sure you’re not spamming the forum.
- reddit.com has separate rules for each of their sub-reddits, mainly including no spam posts.
All these rules can take time to really get the most out of a forum and as people have taken on this ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle, marketers or individuals might not have the time to spend on building up their forum profile. Other ways of communicating and getting advice e.g. from social media is the easier option because apart from rules against explicit content, it’s fairly free in what you post and it’s more likely that you have an account already to post content on.
- Every new forum requires a new profile, username and password
- Each forums has different rules to adhere to
If you have some time to spare each week, it’ll be worthwhile to look at forums as these websites can be a way to engage and promote your brand. Remember though that there are strict rules to follow and it’ll take time to develop your forum profile. I can’t guarantee whether they’ll work for you or not but my advice is to test a couple out and see how you get along!