You can use forums to benefit both you and your customers, supporters or donors.

An online forum is a space where almost anyone can join and contribute to a discussion, typically around a specific topic. There are a large number of open forums on the internet addressing almost everything from technology to motherhood.

You may include a forum as part of your own online presence or you may participate in an online forum established by someone else.

onlineforum

Figure : An example of an online forum

Getting involved with existing forums

Your organisation may wish to identify existing forums, established by other people or organisations, that are relevant to your work.

This could allow you to join a ready-made community that is already interested in the issues relevant to your organisation. You may then be able to contribute your own thoughts and see what other people are saying, for input into future business strategies.

Examples of existing Australian forums are:
external linkBuilding Discussion Forums for the building and construction industry

external linkMasterPlumbers.com for plumbers  as well as non-professionals needing plumbing advice

external linkWhirlpool which has a section dedicated to the IT industry.

Creating your own forum

As well as using existing forums, you may be able to establish your own online forum to:

 

  • Conduct ongoing question and answer sessions for customer support and queries about your activities, products and services (like a help desk)
  • Encourage user groups to form and interact independently to share their experiences with your activities, products or services (for example, online gaming communities)
  • Encourage broader community engagement and interaction on issues that go beyond the organisation’s core activities (for example, a company that sells nappies might run a forum where parents can discuss everything about raising a child).

If your organisation chooses to establish its own forum, you can integrate it into your website or use a third-party hosted solution.

If you are working with a web developer, you may want to discuss integrated forums with them.

If you choose not to integrate your forum into your website, you could investigate third-party hosted solutions like:

external linkForumotion

external linkCreate a Forum

external linkProBoards

Challenges associated with creating your own forum

Letting people know that your forum exists, and then attracting participants, is likely to be a key challenge in establishing your own forum for your organisation. You can promote it by linking to it prominently on the homepage of your website or through other marketing initiatives such as links from emails and social media sites.

Before establishing your own forum, you may also need to plan your internal resources to support it. If your forum is popular and successful, it may require dedicated internal resources to respond to queries and comments and to moderate  content posted to the forum.

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You can run a forum for your employees

Organisations may also use forums internally, for example to allow team members to collaborate on projects or share knowledge. Forums may provide faster responses than email and could allow all participants to follow entire threads of discussion.

Forums for people who run organisations

You may also be able to discuss plans with other business owners or community organisations in relevant online forums.

Examples of these forums are:

Flying Solo micro business communityFlying Solo micro business community
The V7 Network web development communityThe V7 Network web development community
Young Entrepreneur forumYoung Entrepreneur forum

Keeping it clean: a good forum is free from spam

To help maintain your forum as a pleasant space and a useful resource, you may choose to ask members to register to be able to access and participate in your forum. You may also consider using Captchalink—a function of a website that helps ensure users are people and not automated  bots. Use of registration and Captcha may help discourage people from posting comments that are  spam or black hat SEO.

For more information on dealing with feedback, positive or negative, see ‘Online feedback‘.