Blogs vs. Forums: Which is the Right Option for your Business?

Posted on May 13th 2010

Social media has evolved to a point that companies need to put some thought into selection of the right social media format rather than picking a medium just because everyone is using it. Take blogs as an example. I've touched upon this before in my blog post “To Blog or Not to Blog”, where I've discussed that blog is a means to an end but the end has to be clearly defined before picking the format. It's very easy to misuse any given medium, as we've all seen plenty of examples where blogs are (ab)used as just another means of passing on corporate spin.

Bottom line is that it's not about the medium, the key is to identify your objective/goal first and pick the format/medium last. Although, I have to admit in the social media crazy age, the objective seems to be an afterthought in many cases.

This month, I came across an old(er) format that we're all familiar with and seems to have made a resurgence lately. I am referring to good ol' fashioned forums, that had taken a backseat to their more glitzier cousins, the blogs and rarely ever featured in social media plans.

According to entrepreneurs like Vincent (Vinnie) Lauria forums are ready to rock the social media world. I rarely discuss specific products/services on my blog. When Lauria's startup Lefora.com recently announced Tal.ki , an “embeddable forum” or (forum) software as a service, which can be deployed anywhere on your site, it sure got my attention. Tal.ki is a 2nd Generation forum product, based off of Lefora.com platform which has over 100,000 forums worldwide.

Here's the thing, if social is all about community, crowd sourcing, and exchange of information, then forums are the original social media and yet, they rarely get featured in any social media planning or strategy conversations. Forums have traditionally been associated with customer support in the enterprise space or hobbyists/fans on the consumer side with text-based discussion threads. Forums have come a long way from the text-based discussions and now offer ability to embed videos, files into the conversation. However, the newer versions have much more potential and full of social features such as a Twitter, Facebook (likes), etc.

Lauria says, Tal.ki forums allow members to sign-in with their social networking profiles, such as Facebook and Twitter. So a member does not need to create a new account in order to participate, instead they use their existing social network profile.

So you're probably asking yourself at this point, does this mean I should start a blog or a forum?

The answer isn't one or the other because each format has its own purpose and benefits. Blogs are a powerful way for companies to share information and have conversations with stakeholders but they require the conversation to be driven from the company (blogger). There is an expectation that the company/blogger will respond to the user's comments.

However, forums require a more hands-off approach with minimal company “intervention”. If your objective is to foster conversations and nurture a community then forums are the best way to help get discussions rolling between customers. A forum provides a great online place where customers can help each other but there‘s a great deal of value in getting insights from the customer exchanges. You can use forums to uncover customer pain points, get product feedback, and also, channel top-of-mind issues to generate blog topics.

According to Google search, there are over 100million monthly global searches for “forum”.

 

The challenge for any company today is that social content is growing exponentially and companies are caught up in this tsunami of social data. So the question for enterprises is around data security and storage. Amazon has addressed this need by allowing that allows startups like LeFora, offering software as a service, to be hosted on Amazon EC2 platform that offers secure storage and access to data walled off within Amazon on a private firewall with a private VPN tunnel to the organization. So with SaaS offerings like Tal.ki, a company doesn't need to install new servers, new software, nor worry about maintaining the security of the system, so that also allows them to scale easily as their community grows.

I think forums should be integrated into every social media practitioner and marketer's plan. Forums are a treasure trove of invaluable insights direct from your customers. So the question that begs to be asked and answered is why do companies pay for market research when they could be mining data that's available through their own forums for free?


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MiaDand

Mia Dand

Based in San Francisco Bay Area, Mia Dand is a Digital & Social Media leader with an outstanding track record of building user-centric marketing programs at global brands like Google, HP, Symantec and eBay. Mia pioneered the first Social Media Center of Excellence at HP as well as their first Social Listening & Analytics program. She built and led the Global Social Media strategy for Symantec's Consumer Business. 

Most recently at Google, Mia drove the Community Support strategy for Google's Geo, Social and Search products including Google+, Hangouts, Maps and many others. Mia is also on Top Rank's list of "25 Women That Rocked Social Media in 2013". She is a frequent speaker at industry conferences on social media and digital marketing.

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Comments

"Bottom line is that it’s not about the medium, the key is to identify your objective/goal first and pick the format/medium last." Wow, thanks for saying this. I'm sick of very worried by those saying "We should get on Facebook... because everyone else is."

Also, I love you've brought up forums. When I talk about social media I use Usenet and BBS as examples that the idea of online social networking has been around for a while. People under 30 look at me with confused looks.

"Bottom line is that it’s not about the medium, the key is to identify your objective/goal first and pick the format/medium last." Wow, thanks for saying this. I'm sick of very worried by those saying "We should get on Facebook... because everyone else is."

Also, I love you've brought up forums. When I talk about social media I use Usenet and BBS as examples that the idea of online social networking has been around for a while. People under 30 look at me with confused looks.

Hi Matt,Thanks for the great feedback! You're not alone in struggling with the "me-too" social media crowd. You had me chuckling  when you mentioned the "confused looks". Most folks don't realize that social media wasn't invented yesterday, it has been around for a while but just in a different form. Cheers!

Mia,

I get your point; and I'd say just as Wiki products are starting to come of age (i.e. Huddle) it's good to see Forum products become less geek-friendly and more user focused.

As someone who educates executives on social media (yes, I put strategy first) my key concern with what you've outlined is the difference in management effort - and by management I mean the resources/time required to professionally manage one or the other.

I think it's important to acknowledge that a (effective) forum will require more time and effort to sustain in a professional manner. A company needs to think about moderation, content contribution etc.

If a company was developing a strategy, do you think it's reasonable to suggest they start off by creating a blog(s) and then build into a forum? I see this as an effective way of taking small, sustainable steps into the social world

Mark
Hi Phyllis, I'm from the Tal.ki team and just wanted to address your question.

Both Nabble and Tal.ki are embeddable forums that you can add to any site.   Tal.ki has a bit more modern feel to it and closely integrates with social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  You can login with your Facebook account and Tal.ki will automatically pull down your avatar and name to be displayed in the forum - no signup is required, so there is no barrier to entry for members to join.

Tal.ki also puts emphasis on Search Engine Optimization to help drive new traffic to your site from a search.

And finally, a big differentiator is our automatic CSS style detection, so that a Tal.ki forum automatically matches the color, layout, and fonts of your website - you don't need to lift a finger - it saves hours of work for some folks.

Vinnie Lauria

@Mark Many apologies for the very late response. I think the end goal should drive your decision. If the intent is to get your customers/stakeholders talking to each other and foster a community around that interaction, then forums are the way to go.

On the other hand, if you're trying to promote your messaging and drive conversations directly with the customers, then blogging is the right option. Many companies opt for blogs because it's the "easier" option. However, if you don't have  the means to consistently churn out compelling content and an engaging blogger personality to deliver that content, you'll find the blogs will be an exercise in futility. Forums on the other hand may take longer to set up but they tend to be self-sustaining in the long run. Hope this helps. Feel free to tweet me at twitter.com/miad with any follow up questions.  

@Vinnie Thanks for the clarifying the differences between the two forums, it's very helpful.