Long predating social networks, forums have been around since the early days of the internet. They form the basis of many online communities where members come together to collaborate and share ideas and feedback. Forum software for business typically serves to enable peer-to-peer support or product ideation among fans of a brand. Other forums might be internal, providing a space for employees in enterprises to work more efficiently together over large geographical distances. Almost any organisation can benefit from having a forum of its own, but it’s important to choose the right solution to realise your vision.
Here’s a quick, 10-minute guide to help you:
#1. Choose its purpose
Any successful forum community is driven by a shared sense of purpose. Establishing your goals is the crucial first step. Some forums serve specific niches or industries, bringing people together to share their passions and ideas. Others serve more specific business needs, such as improving customer success through things like user guides and peer-to-peer support. A service-orientated business might want to take things a step further by offering online courses and seminars through its community platform. Others sell their products directly through their community app by integrating online payments and shopping carts.
#2. Decide if you want to build or buy
The next choice is to build your own or buy an off-the-shelf solution. Large enterprises often build forum software for their business from scratch, but that’s an expensive option for smaller organisations. Fortunately, the rapid rise of social media has also led to the development of many highly customisable ready-made solutions which can be tailored to a variety of needs. Unless your requirements are highly specialised, it’s better to find the middle ground in the form of a canvas to build your own forum. Open-source forum software is one such option.
What is Open Source Forum Software?
Open source forum software is one way of building a forum or a social media platform that allows for real-time discussion and customer support. User interface and user experience are essential for a successful online community, and open source forum software can offer all the features you’d need to deliver a strong customer experience.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that open source forum software can be quite complicated. If you’re not comfortable with code or don’t have someone on your team who is, it might be better to go with a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) option. Software-as-a-Service solutions usually offer better support and require no expertise on your part. They are typically much easier to set up and use, and you won’t need to worry about maintaining the software or hosting it yourself.
#3. Shortlist the features
Every function and feature your forum has should align with its purpose. In other words, they need to assist users on their journeys to take the desired actions, whether that’s to buy online, sign up for online courses, or seek peer-to-peer customer support. If a feature or function isn’t immediately relevant or useful to your members and the actions you desire from them, then it shouldn’t be included. The best way to determine your feature requirements is to map out the journey you have planned for your members. For example, to enable peer-to-peer support, you’ll need a way for users to upvote the most useful solutions to give them extra visibility.
#4. Establish your brand needs
When choosing forum software for business use, you’ll need a way to preserve your branding so that your company stays at the forefront of attention. While public forums and mainstream social networks only provide limited options, most forum software provides extensive options for customising the look and feel. Open-source forum software provides practically unlimited possibilities. But, it may also require specialised development skills. The happy middle ground for most brands is a ready-made framework that allows for extensive customisation, such as the ability to add your own brand colours, typefaces, icons, and menu structures.
#5. Know your success metrics
A successful online community has the potential to become one of your most valuable brand assets. Forum software for business typically allows you to track key success metrics, such as monthly active user and new subscriber counts. Your success metrics must align with the purpose of your forum. Chances are this will go beyond user counts alone to include engagement metrics like the number of daily posts to the ranking of members based on their interaction with your forums. Most businesses will need a platform that allows them to easily manage and track their members.
#6. Select your integrations
With so many choices available, companies often end up with a fragmented IT infrastructure that prevents them from making the most productive use out of the data available to them. As branded community forums often play a central role in customer relationship management, it’s a good idea to choose something that can feed information into your CMS software and other solutions you depend on. By integrating your community with the rest of your software, you can boost efficiency and improve collaboration. If you want to enable cross-functionality with your wider software environment, it’s best to choose forum software that offers an open API.
Disciple social spaces help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control.