After having an interesting conversation with a friend about the differences and similarities between blogs and forums, I stumbled across Darren Stuart of Web 2.0 Show writing “Are Blogs the New Forums?”. His explanation was great:
Lets look at the function of a forum. Users post messages for discussion. Users post messages discussing other messages. These discussions are normally in categorized in to sub forums.
Now lets look at the function of a Blog. A Blogger posts something interesting. Visitors post comments on the Blogger’s post. The Blogger’s posts are normally categorized and tagged.
As you can see the core functions of both Blogs and forums are almost identical.
The biggest gap between the two is the power of the user. In Blogs the only person with the power to create a new discussion is the Blogger, where as in forums anyone can. However it is so easy for people to start Blogging today that if people want to start their own discussion they can just do it on their own Blogs.
The main point Stuart makes is the control the blogger has over their content, whereas in a forum, anything can, and might, go.
Should a Forum Have a Blog?
Should your blog have a forum? Should your forum have a blog?
Some blogs should have forums. It continues the dialog and expands upon information within the blog for questions and answers. It can even create it’s own unique discussions based upon tangents from the blog.
What types of blogs should have forums? Any blog can have a forum, but a blog which offers a service or product would be best served by a forum for customer support. For example, a blog that hosts a popular WordPress Plugin or Theme, freeware or shareware software, or even paid software, would benefit greatly from a forum.
A blog that offers industry specific expertise could expand that “expert” qualification with a forum dedicated to their industry, expanding their coverage on the subject through the participation of others, not just themselves. Any blog which requires more extended discussion and input are great candidates for forums.
Highly social blogs would also be good candidates for forums. Their blog readers return regularly for new posts and comments, so why not create a place where they can talk to each other and build a community? A forum would be excellent.
Should a Blog Have a Forum?
Should all blogs have forums? No. Some do enough just as they are, standing alone. The interaction with blog comments is often enough to create conversations on the blog.
Some forums should have a blog. A forum blog offers an opportunity for attracting new visitors and providing information about the forums’ activities inside and outside of the forum. Some forums build up an active and social community, outside events such as meetups, conferences, and even conventions, are a natural progression and a blog helps to provide information outside of the forum about that, including before, during, and after news, photographs, schedules, and other information. A blog focusing on the “forum news” separates the conversations from the more static information.
Blogs offer a way of presenting information that can encourage conversation topics within the forum. A good blog post can light a fire for forum conversations.
If your community builds enough that certain members stand out as experts, a blog offers a way to encourage them to share their expertise, knowledge, and experiences in a more permanent way, pulling their wise comments out of the chronological mix of past forum discussions. Good information in a forum is usually spread across numerous forum comments. By collecting this information together in one blog post, it is preserved for all to enjoy.
The forum members who contribute such articles get some public exposure for their expertise. It also helps build self-confidence as well as reputation.
Tight integration between a forum and a blog could easily include the most recent posts and news from each on the other, breaking down the barriers that once existed between a forum and a blog.
Spreading the Forum Love
Convinced that forums expand the blog well into Web 2.0 social networking and that forums are of fantastic benefit to bloggers, especially popular and well established blogs, including multiple blogger blogs, Darren Stuart went looking for blogs that would benefit from forums. He admitted that it some took some convincing, and some blogs gave it their due consideration. In the end, the bloggers he contacted decided against them.
Their reasons? There is a justified assumption that forums require a lot of work. In addition to monitoring comments, comment spam, and contributing content to your blog, a forum requires more monitoring and work if they get active enough. Many bloggers think this will take time away from other more productive work. Having worked with and on many forums for over a decade, I believe that assumption is correct.
Forums need strong leadership and monitoring to keep them inline with the comment policies, tracking the many different conversations. Some forums are run very strictly, with tangents not permitted, while others are all over the place as people chat and get to know each other.
If a forum does create a strong and social community, they may want to meet outside of the forum, adding more logistical work for the blogger.
Being the decision-maker and responsible for what stays or goes in a forum can be a tough job. No one really likes being the bad guy, deleting comments, censoring, and kicking people off the forum. Policies for comments and discussion have to be made and enforced. Someone has to do it. If you aren’t up to the task, then don’t start a forum.
If you don’t have the time to monitor and maintain a forum, and can barely keep up with comments on your blog, don’t start a forum. If your blog isn’t designed to encourage comments through its content, do you think a forum will help? Probably not.
Are forums bad? Absolutely not. They offer a great way for your readers to continue their conversation off the blog while still “on the blog”. They build communities, where members help each other as much as the blogger helps them. And when the blogger isn’t around the answer a question, members of the forum community often jump in, covering for the blogger. People still get the answers to their questions, working as a team. People who participate actively in forums tend to be a little more web savvy than the general Internet user.
A blog conversation is set and controlled, in many respects, by the blogger. She writes a post about a subject to kick the conversation off, and then people jump in and have their say. She can respond or not. Either way, on a blog, the commenters want to talk to the blogger, not necessarily each other. Even if they are talking to each other, they always know the blogger is watching and reading.
On a forum, questions are directed to each other, not just the blogger. People are there to ask questions and give input. They want to know more and keep asking questions, sometimes creating lengthy conversations. As a forum grows, it can easily become self-policing, but that can take years to create that kind of community and support.
For serious customer service and interaction with your readers, forums can be highly beneficial, if it meets your needs.
There is no absolute right answer for whether or not a forum should have a blog or a blog should have a forum. It is another communications tool that you have the option to use.
Do you think your blog should have a forum? Why? Do you think your forum should have a blog or not?
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress.