Choosing a forum

With all the talk about cutting edge social media tools people sometimes overlook forums as a part of a social media campaign. That’s a shame because forums can be a big part of your strategy, especially if you need to offer your users support of some kind.

Adobe is an excellent example of this. Apple is another. Not all solutions are this big though. Look at the number of forums WordPress has, and OS Commerce is running a pretty basic version of I.P. Board. Each of these are really great communities of people who care deeply about the software they’ve invested in, and they happily give back by posting not just questions, but answers too. If you look closely you’ll see that there are several users who are not employed by the company and yet freely give their time to help others.

Several companies have done this so well they’ve been able to significantly reduce their technical support time spent on everyday issues. Instead, a user can search the archived forum and find the answers.As new issues come up in support, they can be added, with the answers to the forums, making it an easy way to give the consumer the power to find out what they want to fast without tying up the phone and wasting a lot of time.

I could go on for a really long time talking about options and features, but there are some really good resources already out there, so I’m not re-inventing the wheel. Basically, know what platform you want to work on, what programming language you or your coder prefers, have a list of features and optional features and then go test-drive as many forums as you can until you find what you want. You can also get them custom, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
Here’s a good place to start looking at open source or  inexpensive forum solutions, and here’s Wikipedia’s guide to choosing good forum software.

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  • Janet, this is really is an overlooked gem. I’m looking for a forum that can be a members-only environment for customers who purchase a particular product. The idea is that only buyers of the product get in. Any thoughts?

    PS – It would be great if you added a subscribe to comments plugin here! 🙂

  • I use all open source for my website. I have a forum, well I have started entering into yet, but it is there. A free open source run on PHP and MySQL.

    Also, signing up and posting on forums is a good (not great – but does help) back link strategy. If you are truly helping people and post properly, you can get a signature put into your posts. But getting them from big forums helps.

    ~ Jim

  • Janet

    Right as always Michael. I’m still tweaking this new blog and adding the important features like comment subscriptions was on my list.

    At least now adding comment subscription is done!
    (: Please do, and thanks for the poke.

    As for your forum question, it does depend on your platform, but if PHP is an option, I like Yabb http://www.yabbforum.com/ and phpbb http://www.phpbb.com/. You can set up different forums for different products and allow several levels of access. Both are very easy to install and configure, just make sure you keep on top of the security updates.

    Another important benefit is the ability for the admin to move discussions around on the board, so you can re-point people to the appropriate place for discussion.

    This is essential when you have a lot of threads and people stray off-topic. Shoot me an email if you want to talk about set-up. With your skill-set this will be a walk in the park.

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