Business leaders are constantly looking for new and more effective ways to engage their target audiences. But, despite the ubiquity of social media and increasing connectedness, it’s harder than ever. Mainstream social channels are awash with chatter, and it’s becoming more difficult for brands to make themselves heard among all the noise. On top of that, businesses need to contend with the fact that these third-party platforms put them entirely at the mercy of someone else’s whims. Last year, for example, a major overhaul of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm greatly decreased the visibility of content posted on business pages. So, what can brands do to drive brand growth in an age when distractions are everywhere, and third parties present an ever-increasing array of challenges and concerns? One low-tech, tried and tested method is to implement a discussion forum. Here are 10 proven benefits of having a forum community:

#1. Improve customer support

One of the key benefits of having a forum is great customer support. In the Age of the Customer, post-sales support has never been more important. Poor customer support can spell the death of even the best products and services. No one wants to wait for a reply to an email or sit in line on a call in the hope that someone will eventually pick up. One of the roles of a discussion forum is to provide peer-to-peer self-service support, where support representatives and customers alike can share and upvote resolutions to common problems. Not only does this enable better and faster support; it also eases the burden on customer service teams by deflecting tickets pertaining to known issues.

#2. Boost search rankings

Every marketer has heard the cliché that content is king time and again. Companies spend a significant portion of their marketing budgets on things like content-creation and social media to boost visibility, but it’s a constant uphill battle to get heard. User-generated content, like that published on discussion forums, can complement a brand’s content marketing efforts and increase visibility exponentially. Most discussion forums are open to the public, which means the search engines crawl and index them. The search engines also favour user-generated content for its authenticity and, the more discussion threads there are, the better. Many businesses see improved SEO as one of the key benefits of having a forum

Two women discuss benefits of having a forum

#3. Build brand trust

Thanks to consumer review websites and social media, everyone has a say to the extent that brands no longer hold all the cards. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any control over their reputations. Being transparent is no longer an option in a time when would-be customers tend to put more weight into how a brand deals with criticism than the actual criticism itself. One of the many benefits of having a forum is that it creates an interactive space where members can share constructive criticism and praise alike. When brands openly give their customers a voice and show that they’re not afraid of criticism, people will be far more likely to trust them.

#4. Increase customer success

Customer success is the new business success now that loyalty is the key to brand longevity. To boost loyalty and inspire brand advocacy, businesses need to make every effort to ensure their customers achieve desired outcomes while using their products or services. Discussion forums can become full-fledged knowledge-sharing platforms which customers can use as a go-to reference for tips, guides, suggestions, and resolutions to common problems. The most valued members are those who help other customers achieve greater success by giving them the information they need to get more out of the products and services they love.

Desk with a laptop and pens

#5. Drive product ideation

It has always taken an incredible stroke of luck and insight to invent the next great thing, but coming up with the next big product or service idea is a whole lot easier when there are more people on board to help. Discussion forums are perfect for crowdsourcing ideas and driving innovation. They can serve as go-to spaces for testing and feedback, one-stop repositories of valuable customer insights which product development teams can draw upon to constantly improve their value proposition. Members can upvote their favourite ideas for new products, features and services to help brands identify and capitalise on new opportunities.

#6. Be consistently present

With so many distractions around, it’s much harder to hold people’s attention. Regular social media posts and email newsletters can help keep customers aware, but it’s not easy to break through the short attention spans and be heard among the masses. By offering people a sense of belonging, community discussion forums can be great venues for brands to assert their presence through regular updates. For example, the front page is the ideal place for alerting members to product launches, events, and other announcements. Add push notifications into the mix, and there’s no better way to keep members informed.

A guy is giving a presentation to the team in front of a whiteboard

#7. Encourage constructive discussion

Conventional social media affords few opportunities to lead the conversation and encourage constructive participation. Brands have limited control over their profile pages and, for the most part, are subject to the rules and whims of the platform provider. A major benefit of having a forum for your brand is that it provides a safe space to lead the discussion and keep it on topic. By adding the ability to upvote, downvote, and report posts, brands can also enable peer-to-peer moderation, while moderators can focus more on encouraging constructive participation that adds business value and drives customer success.

#8. Supercharge customer engagement

Many people follow brands on social media, but while follower counts in the thousands might sound impressive, they mean nothing if customers aren’t actively engaging. Clicking the ‘like’ or ‘follow’ button doesn’t add any value to a business. Furthermore, if high follower counts are not backed up with high engagement rates, the profile in question could end up being more of a liability than a valuable asset. Branded discussion forums typically provide a much stronger sense of purpose and belonging. Driven by meaningful conversation, members are more likely to get involved and regularly check in to see if people have replied to their posts.

Group of people discussing a benefit of having a forum

#9. Gather data-driven insights

Every social platform that caters towards businesses provides a data-analytics dashboard, but many of them focus more on vanity metrics rather than true engagement metrics. Often, things like likes and follows are disguised as useful metrics, but they’re really nothing of the sort. By building a discussion forum that serves as a one-stop resource for collecting knowledge and relationship-building, businesses can tap into a wealth of useful data. Because people tend to be more engaged in smaller, more purpose-driven communities, these data-driven insights are far more valuable for helping brands identify opportunities for improvement.

#10. Identify problems faster

Another benefit of having a forum is that it allows businesses to identify problems faster. Businesses face many challenges when it comes to identifying problems with their products or services and managing their reputations. With so many platforms to monitor, it’s often hard to find, prioritise and mitigate many of these problems. By providing customers with a highly publicised, go-to resource for reporting issues, customer support and product development teams will have immediate access to the information they need to address them. That’s much more effective than trawling through countless Twitter feeds, posts on Facebook and reviews on consumer opinion websites.

Disciple helps brands enjoy all the benefits of having a forum and much more by integrating social networking features and providing full native mobile functionality. Start building your brand community by telling us about your community goals.