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Best Practices: Community Managers and Online Forums

Best Practices: Community Managers and Online Forums

An online forum can be an incredibly valuable resource for a community manager. Traditional forums, as well as sites such as Quora and Reddit, often have members who are amongst the most passionate and knowledgeable in their field of interest.  Search something online, and there is bound to be a forum devoted to it. Want to learn more about online marketing? Interested in Photoshop? Curious if there are potato chips better than Pringles?

There are forums that can help answer nearly all of your questions (although I can’t guarantee that every discussion will be as heated as the Pringles debate). As such, forum interaction should be a facet of any community manager’s online strategy. If you are new to community management, or have yet to include forums in your management activities, here are a few best practices to get you off the ground.

Have a Purpose: While this may seem obvious, it is important to answer the question, “Why am I on this forum?” It could be to build brand awareness, increase your sales pipeline, or to generate buzz around a new product.  Whatever it is, have your purpose well defined and centralize your activities around it.  Choose relevant metrics to chart your activities.

Recruit Key Influencers: Whether you are building a forum specific for your business, or participating in a third-party forum, your results will suffer unless you have enthusiastic, engaged users.  While inbound techniques will be important for building a thriving community, outreach is equally, if not more, essential.  Contact your most active Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and LinkedIn connections and invite them to join your new discussion space.  In addition to current fans, it is important to reach out to industry peers and bloggers, who will add perspective and legitimacy to your forum.

Gamify Your Content: With so many choices for where to interact online, motivating people to join a new forum may require you to provide a little incentive.  Gamifying your forum can be a great way to attract users and keep them active.  Something as simple as adding profile “badges” for levels of forum activity can have a prominent impact on how often and how long members engage on your forum.  If you are having trouble attracting the influential bloggers, evangelists, etc to join, perhaps offer them free “premium” content from your company or administrative privileges on the forum.

Integrate Social Media: If you want forum members to help communicate your business’ message to the masses, you’ll need to give them resources to do so.  “Add social bookmarks and ‘Like’ buttons, and actively submit content to sites like Digg and Reddit as well as on related forums and noticeboards.”  If the content on your forum isn’t easily sharable, your likelihood of growth will be hampered.  Again, gamification techniques can be useful in this endeavor.  Offer rewards for following your various social pages, referring new members, or what have you.

What do you think? Are forums useful enough for community managers to justify the necessary time commitment, or is this time and energy better spent elsewhere? If you currently manage or participate in forums, what are some other best practices you’ve found useful?

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