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The definitive guide to online forum platforms

online forum platform.

Forums have been a mainstay of the internet since the early days. In many ways, they are the precursor to modern social media giants like Facebook and Reddit. This is not to say they have been replaced – dedicated online forum platforms are still wildly popular.

Discovering a community forum platform filled with like-minded people similar to you, who share your interest is a joy. Perhaps you’ve found a new passion for health and fitness, with so many areas to explore and things to learn, a forum can help to point you in the right direction and get much appreciated advice. 

Pretty much any hobby or passion can benefit from a forum. In other words, a place to bounce ideas off a knowledgeable audience or a hub for producing social interactions and finding collaboration partners. Other forum members also act in the same way classmates would when you’re learning something new. They help to support you, give you guidance, provide friendship, and cement your learning.

People-focused forum platforms

As well as independent enthusiast created forums, some companies operate consumer-centred forum platforms. The idea is that increasing consumer engagement with your brand leads to increased revenue.

Research has shown the cost of creating and operating a community forum platform is quickly outweighed by the additional revenue that members bring. That’s why more and more businesses are looking to build online forum platforms. They realise that forums are a great way to grow communities around their products and services. 

How does the increased revenue and growth come about? The following reasons:

  • Greater engagement – although they may provide a smaller audience compared to social media, each post is seen by an active and interested audience. This leads to greater engagement through comments and sharing.
  • Raising awarenessonline forum platforms enable companies to reach new customers. It feels good when someone sits up and takes notice of you, right? That’s why businesses that take the time to listen and respond to their customers get more success these days. You can build loyalty and increase word-of-mouth marketing by engaging directly with your customers.
  • Improved customer service – communication on online forum platforms offers another method of providing customer support directly.  Answer questions and solve problems right on the forum. Members can even provide solutions to other forum users before you or your team see it. Also, it is easier for consumers to find an answer to their question on a forum than to go and search through twitter replies or Facebook comments.
  • Customer feedback – use your community forum platform to learn what customers/buyers are saying about your brand. Ask them questions, turn your forum into an online focus group. Utilise analytics on your forum users to find information about your loyal customers and what they find most engaging.

Building an online forum platform

So, you’ve decided to build an online forum platform. We’re here to help you learn how to do that and decide on a strategy to make it a success.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of building a forum, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of 3 things:

  • The subject of your forum platform
  • The goals of your platform
  • The target audience of your forum platform

The internet is already full of forum platforms in many different types and forms. You need to know your forum is offering something new or offers an improvement on what is already available. One way to achieve this is to get more specific, or to find a sub-niche. 

For example, say you’re a yoga teacher who wants to build a forum that helps people to relax and overcome stress in today’s busy world. Rather than just making your forum a generic yoga one, why not focus in on a specific concept or practice, such as “yoga nidra”, or yogic sleep, which uses guided meditations to achieve restful and deep sleep. 

Also setting clear forum platform goals will inform every decision you make after. For instance, a weight-loss specialist fitness trainer could set a goal of using the forum to help at least 20 people lose 8 pounds over the next month. That way everything you do with the forum will be focused on how to help those 20 people. 

Once you’ve got that sorted here are steps for actually getting your online forum platform built:

1. Decide the features you require

This will be specific to your topic, goals, and audience. But this is 2020, forum platforms can offer more than just a text editor for posts and comments. So, think about the features that will be useful to your audience. Do you want your members to be able to access:

  • Video or live streaming
  • Calendars for scheduling events
  • Private messaging
  • Profile customisation
  • Comment functionality

You will also want to consider what tools are available for managing your forum. You’ll almost certainly want to take advantage of data analytic tools to gain insights on how members use the forum. You’ll also need to use moderation tools to ensure that the conversations remain friendly, and there is no trolling or spamming going on.

2. Choose a forum maker

Choose a forum maker that allows you to integrate all the features you want. Thankfully, there are now plenty of services available that build online forum platforms without you having to see a single line of code.

This is one of the features that most people love. Nobody likes to waste time figuring out all the technicalities. That’s why we offer a simple, yet powerful, forum platform here at Disciple. 

You will likely want to spend time researching forum makers. At Disciple, we believe we can provide everything you need to build an online forum platform. We have dedicated forum software that gives you the control to build a platform tailored to your audience.

3. Design your forum

You’ll want to find a combination of attractive visuals while maintaining the usability of the forum platform. You’ll also want to make sure that your brand is consistent across platforms. 

Traditional forum makers won’t allow you to customise the look and feel of your platform to suit your brand. At Disciple, we want to empower you to customise the platform to your exact needs, so you can create a consistent brand experience.

4. Preview your forum

The final step before going live is to preview your finished forum platform before submitting it for creation. This involves making sure you’re happy with the final product. You may spot a last-minute tweak to improve the layout, or add a new feature that complements the rest of the forum.

Previewing your forum can be difficult to do yourself, that’s why Disciple handle that side of things for you. We can cast an unbiased eye over your forum, pick out any parts that can be optimised or that are unnecessary, and adapt the forum to suit. We’ll also handle submitting it for creation. In other words, all the time-consuming technical bits are done for you.

Tips for managing a successful online forum platform

A successful forum depends on successful management.

Your ultimate goal over the long-term should be to create a forum that becomes self-sufficient. In other words, senior forum members will step up to be moderators and there will be enough active members for everyone to participate and gain from using the forum.

This isn’t an easy task. But, don’t worry, we’ve put together some priceless tips to help you manage a successful online forum platform:

Raise awareness

You need to find a way to get users on your forum and get them active. Nobody is going to join your online forum platform if they don’t know it exists. You’re going to need a strategy to raise awareness. This could be through existing channels like posting on your traditional social media platforms or newsletters to your current customers. Or new approaches like targeting users that post on related forum platforms.

This is particularly important in the early days. However, to maintain an active online forum platform you will need a continual uptake of new users. These bring new ideas and fresh opinions that keep your online forum platform active. You can achieve this by promoting your forum through blogs, videos, podcasts, or guest posts on relevant sites. 

Alternatively, you may want to migrate people from an existing forum or social media group. Disciple offer support on migration as part of their online forum maker service.  

Forum rules

Set rules for your forum that match your goals. Make sure they are enforced fairly, and you lead by example. Online forum platforms should feel like a safe place for your audience to interact as well as feel comfortable asking and answering questions. By establishing rules and guidelines early on you can create the atmosphere and ethos you expect of your community so that your followers want to stay.

Grow engagement

In the early days of building a forum, when the number of active users is still growing you will have to be extremely active on your forum. Growing engagement needs a bedrock to build from and at the beginning, it will more than likely be you.

Use the early days to build a culture and purpose amongst your early members. A sense of community amongst members helps keep them active. There are many ways to do this, such as arranging events (either real-life or live-streams), encouraging interaction (maybe a competition where people “Share a funny story about yourself…”), and creating interesting discussions. 

Once you have developed a group of active users, monitor your forum to understand how they interact. Use analytics to gain insights on how your online forum platform operates and how you can maximise engagement.

For example, say you recognise that most of your followers are based overseas, you can schedule content to go out at peak periods in the relevant timezone(s).

Listen to feedback

Be a good listener. In other words, pay more attention to what your members are saying, rather than what you’re going to say.

First, you have to ask for feedback. You could ask for anecdotal feedback (ask for their stories or to share their experiences), private messages from users, or set up polls for members to vote on different topics.

You should always be reviewing and responding to your audience. This helps build the community. Customers who feel as though they are being listened to are more likely to engage and remain active and loyal to your forum.

Final words

As you can see there is a lot to get to grips with if you want to build and manage an online forum platform.

At Disciple, we can take you through each stage to help you build a community forum platform that achieves your goals. We offer all the features and tools discussed in this guide and put you in control.

Build an online forum platform that allows you to:

  • boost your revenues with our direct monetisation options,
  • grow engagement with moderation tools and advanced analytic insights,
  • gain total control of your forum platform’s content and data.

We’re waiting to hear what your unique community forum platform is. You provide that, and we’ll provide the technology to make an online forum platform that’s customised to suit your needs. 

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