Coming from a certain era, Internet forums, message boards, discussion networks, etc, they were cutting edge. Back then they were our social media. Probably even bigger than e-mail. Nowadays with your Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Google+ etc they are often sneered at and even forgotten or never contemplated by some. Yet they still have great worth.
Those who use them still are the top in their fields, the people in the know and the oracle to almost anything on topic. Personally I am a big lover of modern social media but I also still have a soft-spot for a forum or two. Here’s 5 reasons I think forums still have a place in our modern world:
1. Search engines love them
Possibly because of the constantly updated content from a variety of authors, forums still regularly appear high up in the search charts, which suggests those in the know about traffic etc also believe forums still have a big role to play. Controversially, may I also suggest it is heavily down to the fact that nobody is posting SEO optimised content. They are just posting naturally and what they are writing is being indexed with high rankings organically. Perhaps proof that too much thinking about keywords and SEO can be dangerous and the fact that content really is king.
2. They are there to help
And so are the people that frequent them. They are the experts and the people often with the most knowledge in the field, so if you need to ask a question where better place to ask? Obviously, there is a risk that if you don’t study the forum first, or perhaps read the FAQs or thread headings properly, that you could be shot down by a few, but that’s general courtesy that if you come to a party you at least know what the party is about and who is there. This same reason also applies if you have a new project in the offing. Don’t just turn up on a forum and start touting your wares, but if you are already an active member of a community you will find many will be keen to help road-test any beta-versions of your project, offer feedback and possibly advice and suggestions too.
3. They understand trends before they start
Again if you are planning a new launch, check out relevant forums first. If these are populated by thought leaders, what they are talking about could be very relevant to how you skew your product or even just your launch. While all social media offers this sort of opportunity, high volume posters on forums tend to be the right audience for you to aim at. They are often more respected that those highly followed on Twitter or Facebook, as other social media tends to also attract followers from rivals and those with conflicting ideas. Forums on the other hand tend to be dominated by those almost elevated to ‘king’ by those who read their posts.
4. They teach engagement
Many of us strong on social media nowadays learnt our ‘trade’ in the internet forums. How to deal with trolls, how to respond to different cries for help and how to offer negative but polite criticism are skills that are well learnt in the forum and messageboard domain that transfer to the Twitters and Facebooks of this world very well. There is often a true sense of engagement with every post. Proper forums rarely have a strand with just a single post, even if they are off-topic. Forum postings also have longer life, so remember that if you are looking to post. Twitter posts can often be missed on busy timelines but a forum post may often stay alive on a thread for months and even be re-invigorated years later if people find the thread via search engines, etc.
5. They are a great way to network
Don’t imagine forums as standalones. They are all part of the social media sphere and should be used as a way of reaching out into new communities but also bringing existing communities together. Some that post on forums will be die-hard against Twitter and Facebook, etc, but others will include all their contact details/credentials in their posting footer encouraging you to link across networks. Embrace both types of posters, they are all experts and all worthy people likely to be great contacts in the modern world build around networking.
So in summary, forums are the same but different from the bigger social networks. Consider them as bespoke and more targeted resources. Don’t just use them as a spare tyre however. You will get a better response and you will get much more out of them if you play an active part in Web forums and hopefully you will also play a part in keeping these valuable resources going.