Should You Offer a Member's Forum?

Lori Halley 15 June 2011 0 comments

In our efforts to offer blog readers tips for member communication and engagement, we've talked about refreshing your e-newsletter and whether you should have a blog . But have you considered creating a member's forum?

Every communications channel or tool serves a unique purpose. For example, e-newsletters offer updates on activities and issues and a blog provides information and encourages discussion through comments. But a forum can bring the conversation down to a personal level. 

What is a forum?

A forum is an online discussion site where you and your members can post messages, start conversations, offer and receive information and advice. It can help build your online community by providing a place for your members to virtually congregate, collaborate, discuss and share ideas. Along with membership benefits, forums can help your organization by:

  • attracting members or supporters to your website
  • offering an additional means of interacting with members/supporters – e.g., asking their opinion or highlighting new resources
  • enabling insightful feedback and information that you can use in your planning or decision-making
  • increasing member satisfaction and retention

Is a Forum Right for You?

First you need to figure out if a forum can help with your engagement or communications goals. If, for example, you’ve realized that many of your members or supporters are having lively discussions through LinkedIn groups, Facebook or Twitter, a forum might allow you to move the conversations over to your own website. The ability to actively participate in a lively forum might be seen as a valuable member service. Like any communications channel, be sure to establish clear and measurable objectives before you get started.

Do you have the resources?

Another key consideration is whether you have the resources available to create and maintain a forum. There are moderated forums where posts are submitted through and approved by a moderator (or administrator) and non-moderated forums, where visitors post messages directly. Obviously one requires much less admin time than the other.

However, since this forum will reside on your website, you’ll want to have someone monitoring the forum regularly to remove inappropriate messages and ensure all is running smoothly. There are administrative options you could consider, such as having one volunteer act as administrator and/or having a group of volunteers act as “community moderators” starting online dialogue and monitoring discussions.

What’s Involved With Creating a Forum?


Technology:


If you are a Wild Apricot client, you can easily create or add as many forums as you need, as part of your Membership Management Software. For organizations who are not using Wild Apricot, check to see if there is a compatible software add-on. You can check out options through a software review website such as this Forum Comparator.


Establishing Forum Policies:


As with all social media, you need to establish clear policies for all visitors/users of the forum. Most forums have a “terms of use” or “forum rules” document that new visitors are asked to review. In addition, your forum administrator will need to have clear direction on process to follow regarding problem postings.


Ongoing Forum Management:


As noted above, you’ll need to identify a forum moderator or administrator who will be responsible for regular forum monitoring and maintenance. And since your members or supporters may be a little shy or reluctant to participate at first, you may need to initiate conversations and encourage participation to build a robust online community through your forum. Your moderator and/or forum team can identify topics to engage members and get the forum started or you can consider asking your Board members to get involved.

Forum Promotion:

Don't assume your members will stumble upon your forum – it needs to be promoted:
  • On your website - clearly label the Forum on your Home Page and/or in your navigation menu
  • In your e-newsletter – promote the forum and remind members to ask questions or comment on an article through the forum and offer dirct link so they can find it quickly.
  • On your blog – write a blog post based on a forum conversation or conversely, start a forum based on a blog post and/or its comments
  • In targeted emails – promote your forum in your email footer or signature Once your forum reaches a critical mass of participants, you can step back and simply keep an eye on discussions.

Once your forum reaches a critical mass of participants, you can step back and simply keep an eye on discussions.  

So - do you think a forum is right for your organization? 

If you've recently created a member's forum,  drop me a note in the comments below about your success or your challenges.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 15 June 2011 at 9:00 AM

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