6 Reasons to Consider a Discussion Forum for Your Website
Looking to make a stronger connection with your audience? Find out why discussion forums are making their way into the world of eCommerce.
Engaging with customers online is a must for your eCommerce business. Thanks to social media, no matter how big a brand is, companies can interact and speak with their customers. However, I feel social media platforms can also be busy, distracting places, which may have you competing for your customers’ attention.
Customer engagement is just as important as customer service. It forms trust & long-term relationships.Click to Tweet
Don't get me wrong. Social media is a great channel to interact with your customers and something you need to be doing as well. But in this article, I want to talk about discussion forums (also known as boards), which gives you the same opportunity to connect with your users, while operating in a semi-exclusive environment. And while users may tweet, poke, or tag brands to their heart’s content, interacting with your customers via a forum allows for a deeper, more interactive conversation – one that can be leveraged to build relationships and gain further insights into the consumer mindset. And that’s just the beginning.
What Is a Discussion Forum?
A discussion forum is essentially a form of online chat where people – in this case, your customers – can communicate with each other. They differ from chat rooms in that all participants can see the whole conversation, rather than it being a private conversation between two people. This allows people to dip in and out, to pose questions to the community at large, and to seek advice from other customers about products.
A discussion forum can look something like this:
Why Add a Discussion Forum?
In this 6-point article, I'll discuss the many benefits of online discussion forums and the reasons why you should consider installing one on your website.
Forums offer real advice & recommendations from real people who care enough about your business.Click to Tweet
1. Let Your Audience Be Your Research Team
You may not have the budget or the resources to employ a research team to analyze your target audience. However, learning about and understanding who your audience is and what they’re looking for in a brand is becoming more and more important in digital marketing.
I understand that you may not have the time to individually speak with each of your users, but by adding a forum to your website, your users will do this work for you.
By setting up an interactive forum, you are encouraging your users to speak to one another in a natural, honest way. This leaves you able to read, review, and respond to what you audience honestly thinks, without having to ask.
Look out for:
- The age, gender, and culture of your average user
- What gets the most responses
- What times your users are active
- What pop culture references come up in conversation
- The type of language used.
A forum will provide you with valuable insights and marketing data about your customers.
FUN FACT: By adding a discussion forum, you WILL increase user engagement and grow your online community. Listening to and interacting with this community will not only help give you unique insights about your target audience, but also help to generate more traffic and new users.
2. Fostering Relationships
While reviews are a must for those selling products and services, the average review does not reveal all that much about who your audience actually is. In the same way that a speech may be informative, yet lack the intimacy of an exchange, humans really connect when the conversation goes both ways.
Forums offer an interactive platform in which content can be spontaneous and often, more honest. Just take a look at the average string of YouTube comments to see the soap opera of emotions pouring out as users interact. While reviews may be valuable, conversations are revealing.
Forums are a great place for customers to come together and start to build a sense of community. As the overseer of the community, you will be able to foster relationships, as well as mine conversations for customer insights and data.
Here’s a great example of an exchange on one of Etsy’s forums, discussing the idea of luxury:
3. Have a Chat
A blog is a powerful content marketing tool and learning how to start a blog and write for the medium effectively should be high on any online business owner’s agenda. However, much like product reviews, blogs can be a little one-sided.
When you introduce a forum to your audience, not only can you sit back and watch your users interact with each other, but you can also get involved in the conversation. This allows you to keep an eye on your business from the inside-out and make sure your users are happy with your service.
Users will be able to ask you questions and even make suggestions, while you can steer conversations, gain insight, and learn how to sell to your customers better.
You may also be surprised to find what issues and challenges your users are bringing to the foreground — had you anticipated all their questions? Does someone in the product community have a better answer or “hack” than you or your sales team can provide?
4. Ensure Better Quality
As diligent as you are, sometimes things simply fall through the cracks. You may be missing problems with delivery, customer service, or quality control. While people may not write about these problems in their reviews, they may be more likely to share with their peers via a forum.
Encourage a friendly, open, and above all honest environment within your forum, and watch out for any complaints. Your forum gives you an excellent platform to apologize, interact, and rectify any issues.
QUICK TIP: You will need to set down community ground rules for your forum and ensure that it is a safe place for people to talk. Watch out for spammers, trolls, and uninspiring content.
5. User-Generated Content
While forums are an incredible resource for communicating with your audience and streamlining your customer service processes, forums are also an opportunity for your users to get creative.
Given the chance, your audience could actually help shape your content, your social media strategy, or your actual products — simply by being encouraged to express themselves in your forum. To help this along, you’ll need to create an online community around your brand: one that your users will enjoy engaging with.
Think of Reddit.
Essentially, Reddit is one huge forum spanning many different threads and conversations. All of the content is user-generated, creative, and usually very funny.
Get your users talking, give them a good starting off point, then harness the insight of the crowd. You will quickly see how things escalate and take off with momentum.
Here's an example from AskReddit:
6. Transcend the Trader-Customer Relationship
So far, we’ve spoken solely about what your forum users can do for you, but really we should be thinking about what you can do for them.
Not only does forum content let you into the world of your customers, help you fix problems from the inside-out, and help lead your marketing strategy, but your forum could be the ideal place to let your customers see the human side of your brand.
QUICK TIP: Authenticity is one of the top qualities that attract customers to a brand. When customers share their experiences with you, they’re teaching you how to make your products, services, and business better.
Build a genuine relationship with your customers by letting them know who you are, and what you care about. In a business environment where there are thousands of brands vying for our attention, there is priceless value in speaking to your users firsthand and building relationships.
Consider starting a regular “question and answer” thread, allowing your users to find out more about the brand and the people behind it, or share a more personal blog post and invite your users to discuss the content via the forum.
How to Add a Forum to Your Website
Now that you know why a forum is such a powerful asset for your business, you may want to get started on the task of adding one to your website. HostGator provides a great video tutorial on how to do this using phpBB, a free and open source forum software. I would recommend installing your new forum to a subdomain of your website and calling it something like “forum.mywebsite.com”. Using any auto-installer your web host provides should make installing your forum on your website fast and easy.
As I’ve discussed, forums allow us the rare opportunity to have a two-sided interaction with our customers. Make the most of this and allow your users to get to know you. After all, it’s much easier to have a sense of loyalty to a person than a faceless company.
When it comes to successful digital marketing, gaining insight about your audience is always a good idea. Adding a discussion forum to your website is the perfect way to get to know your customers, speak to them first-hand, and ensure your customer service is up to standard.
But remember, unlike reviews, forums work both ways, so be willing to share, discuss, and connect with your users on a personable level. Create an honest environment in your forums that your customers can connect with, and your user-trader relationships will grow.