March is Forums Month at OurChurch.Com, and so this is the first in a series of blog articles about discussion forums or message boards. Forums provide a lot of benefits for the website that manages them. If you don’t have forums on your site yet, we’ll talk about why you might consider adding them. If you already have forums on your website, we’ll talk about how to make the most of them. Even if you don’t have forums on your site and have no desire to add them, participating in other site’s forums can be a great way to build your reputation, links to your site, and new visitors.
Today we’ll talk about 7 benefits of adding forums to your website.
First of all, a forum (also sometimes referred to as a discussion forum or message board) is a tool on the Web for holding discussions and posting user generated content. A forum is composed of a number of member-written threads (or topics). Each thread includes a series of member-written posts (or messages). These threads remain saved on the forum for future reading. So, while a chat room facilitates a live, real-time conversation, a forum allows a user to post a message and then check back hours or even days later to read other users replies and reply back. For an example, check out OurChurch.Com’s Christian Forums.
So, why add forums to your website?
Forums give you an opportunity to build relationships with your members. Forum conversations tend to be informal. They allow you to be yourself and have fun with members. For example, I posted a picture of my newborn daughter on our forums a few weeks ago, and we regularly pray for other members who post in our prayers forum. Forums give us the opportunity to do those personal things, which we wouldn’t be able to do in other settings.
Forums provide another means for visitors to contact to you. You can never have too many ways for people to contact you. Some people like to email, others like to call on the phone, some people contact us through our help desk, and for whatever reason some prefer forums.
Forums provide a way for visitors to share information with each other. Even if you are an expert in your field, you don’t know everything. A website is a platform for you to share your own thoughts and ideas, but a forum facilitates the sharing of hundreds or even thousands of people’s thoughts and ideas. The content of a good forum is so much richer than any one person or organization could provide on their own.
Forums provide a way for visitors to develop relationships with each other. Get people with a common interest together in a forum and friendships and community begins to form. Seven years ago, I started discussing football in the forums on the official site of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, I actually spend more time hanging out in the “off-topic” board talking about non-football stuff because of the friendships I’ve made. In the OCC forums, we have had people who met there for the first time end up partnering together ministries.
Forums save you time. If you operate a businesses site, support forums can save a lot of time because customers tend to ask the same questions repeatedly. With forums, customers can search and find answers to the questions other people have asked. But forums can save time even for non-business sites. Because of the communal nature of forums, I often see where a person has asked a question on our forums and another user answered the question even before our staff saw it.
Forums bring new visitors through search engines. Each forum topic can be indexed by search engines, and therefore the topics discussed on your board can help to attract people searching for information on those topics. Can you guess what search phrase has brought the most visitors to our forums this month? No, not “Christian forums”… Not “Christian web hosting forums”… “Monkeys with spears.” Whaaa??? That’s right. One of our members posted a message entitled Monkeys with spears about an MSNBC article on that subject. That forum topic ranks #6 in Google for that phrase. And so people, are searching for the phrase and clicking through to our forums.
Forums keep people coming back. For all the reasons cited above, forums help keep users coming back to a site regularly. They comeback for the wealth of information. They come back for the community. They come back to get questions answered. They come back for the opportunity to share their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. If you want to grow traffic to your website, start by giving the people who have already been there a reason to come back.
Forums can be a great addition to a website. However, forums can also be a real challenge to operate successfully. Next time we’ll take a look at what it takes to make forums successful. In the mean time, if you’re struggling with forums or if you have advice for other forum operators, we invite you to join the How to Develop Your Own Forums discussion in our forums.