Online forums build supportive communities around your business. They attract new customers, retain them, and give users a chance to connect with one another about your brand. Ultimately, investing in an online forum drives revenue for your business.
But building and managing a successful online community isn't easy. And one of the most important factors in determining the success of an online community lies in the platform used to create it.
But how do you choose the right one?
In this guide, we'll explore the benefits of creating an online community forum for your customer success, product, and marketing teams. Plus, we'll take a look at the different types of platforms you can use to create the forum — along with the most important features to evaluate.
Let’s get started.
What is an online community forum?
An Online community forum or message board provide a place for your customers to engage with people worldwide about your product. They ask questions, share their opinions, solve problems, provide feedback, and more. For example, some users might use your online community forum to discuss common interests in your industry, while others seek advice or support about your product.
Online community forums can range from simple discussion boards to more complex websites that include user profiles, private messaging, a knowledge base, multimedia-sharing options, gamification, and more.
These features can offer your business many benefits. Let’s look at them in more detail.
How can an online community forum benefit your business?
Customer success and support teams
Online community forums are a game-changer for customer success and support teams by delivering the following:
Self-service customer support
Since forums can save all the content that community members post, they create a user-generated knowledge base that customers use to find solutions to common issues. This means they won’t need to contact your support team — reducing the number of tickets that customer service agents receive — freeing up valuable resources so they can focus on more complex issues.
Self-service customer onboarding
A report shows that over 90% of customers feel that the companies they buy from “could do better’ when it comes to onboarding new users/customers. The good news? Online community forums help solve this problem by helping to get new customers up and running.
They provide 24/7 access to a library of information like Q&A sessions, video tutorials, or other forms of user-generated content that helps educates customers throughout the onboarding process. This means customers won’t rely on email support or lengthy calls and can complete onboarding tasks at their own pace.
Product education materials
Online community forums enable success and support teams to gather valuable customer insights by reading through the discussions people post. This helps them understand the issues customers face, identify trends, pain points, and areas of improvement. Armed with this information, they can take a proactive approach to customer success by addressing these concerns in educational materials and constantly updating them.
As product teams strive to create products that customers love, they know listening to feedback is key. Here’s how community forums give your customers a way to voice their opinions:
Collect product feedback and feature requests
Online community forums allow customers to share their product experiences. They do this by getting involved in Q&As, upvoting and downvoting ideas, and more. This provides product teams with invaluable feedback and feature requests — allowing them to make critical decisions on how to better prioritize their projects. This means only spending time and resources on building features that customers need and use — along with deciding on what features to say “no” to.
Perform and discuss beta testing with super users
Product teams can create exclusive spaces in their forum to allow a select group of users to discuss beta features. This irons out any kinks by finding bugs or missing pieces before launching the product publicly.
Online community forums also provide the opportunity to identify these super users by analyzing forum members activities. This helps the product team to provide beta access to a more diverse set of users - ensuring you receives authentic feedback since the beta testers represent your actual target audience.
Improve product adoption with forum insights
Product teams can dig deep into your forums analytics to understand the user experience and discover exactly what they need to improve your brand’s product education materials. This way, customers can better understand the product, its features, and how to use it effectively to solve their problems.
Marketing teams can significantly boost their brand's presence and connect with audiences through online community forums. Here’s how:
Establish your company as an industry thought leader
Since users seek advice and support while using your forum, if you bring more valuable insights to your customers than competitors, it can become the go-to trusted source for information and expertise. This will cement your reputation and solidify your brand’s position as a leader in its industry — keeping you at the top of your customers’ minds.
Improve organic traffic
Since online forums create a hub of user-generated content — they can have a big impact on your website's search engine optimization (SEO). It works like this: when members participate in forums, they generate pages, posts, comments, and more — all of which contain keywords and content that help your site rank higher in the SERPs. In addition, customer community forums increase the amount of time users spend on your site, improving its bounce rate — further boosting Google search rankings.
Collect feedback and source customer success stories
Reading through online community forums allows marketing teams to identify customers who are happy with your product. Then they can ask them to share their experience in a case study, testimonial, or thought leadership piece. This type of content provides valuable social proof for potential customers who are still in the decision-making process.
How to create an online community forum
There are several types of online platforms you can use to launch your community. Let’s take a look at three:
Social media platform
If you're looking to start small and want to keep your costs down, building an online community forum on a social media platform may be the right fit. Sophisticated enough to cover the basics, you’ll reach a wider audience beyond just your traditional customer base, boost brand awareness, and connect with your current customers.
At the same time, you can promote your products and services, share company news, and offer customer support. This is done with features that let you publish frequent updates, respond to comments, appoint admin and moderators, and more. You can also have limited control over the content your members consume by approving, denying, and removing posts or comments that don't adhere to your community’s guidelines.
Choosing the best social media platform for your forum will depend on your target audience and the type of content they consume and create. There are various options available, like an open-to-all public forum like Twitter or Reddit, or a private community like Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
However, it's worth noting the downsides that come with creating online communities on social media platforms. You’ll have zero control over the platform’s algorithms and the content that shows up in your audiences’ feeds. This means you’ll compete with distracting content, making it harder to capture their attention.
Understanding these limitations will ultimately help you decide what platform is best for your online community.
Comes with a built-in audience
Easy for people to join
Easy to get up and running
Appoint admins and moderators
No real control or ownership
Competing communities on the same platform
Minimal analytics and reporting
Limited privacy options
Building an online community forum with a messaging app like Discord, Telegram or Slack means you have access to a variety of useful tools, such as creating separate channels or sub-forums for specific discussions, sending out community-wide announcements, and allowing voice and video calls. Having all of these core features available means you’ll get your online community forum up and running in no time.
It is worth noting that Discord comes with features that better serve gaming communities. While Slack’s features align with working professionals that collaborate regularly. Telegram is known for its high level of security. Its secret chats come with a self-destruct timer that causes messages to disappear after they’ve been opened for a certain amount of time.
Though powerful, creating an online community with a messaging app comes with limited customization options and integration capabilities.
All-in-one customizable community platform that serves over 2,000 companies. Great for companies operating in SaaS, consumer services, consumer products, and online courses spaces. Customers include Samsung, IBM, Linktree, ConvertKit, and more.
inSided by Gainsight is a customer success community platform built for B2B SaaS business. Primary focus is on customer success and customer support.
Discourse comes with both open-source and hosted version. It is suitable for all type of forums and industries.
Higher Logic Vanilla is a community platform for brands, forum owners, and developers. It also has an open-source version.
Starts from $599/month
Contact vendor for pricing
Starts from $50/momth
Starts from $900/month
Beautifully designed, pre-made templates
Powerful customization using Design Studio
Powerful embedding tools
Advanced analytics and moderation
Signle sign-on (OAuth, JWT, Okta, and more)
Widgets for customization
Topics and categories
Built-in spam blocker
Reporting and analytics
Pros & cons
✅ Easy to use and setup
✅ Highly customizable
✅ Premade templates
✅ App Store for integrations
❌ No mobile app
✅ Create custom Q&A
✅ Reliable platform
✅ Primarily aligned with customer sucess use case
❌ Hard to customize without engineering resources
✅ Afforable pricing
✅ Simple to use
❌ Customization requires engineeing resources
❌ Limited out-of-the-box plugins
✅ Quick to set up
✅ Realiable platform
❌ Integrations and customization require engineering resources
Forum software allows brands to build, manage, and scale their online communities. They often come with an intuitive interface that allows you to customize your forum, access detailed analytics, and manage your members effectively to ensure your forum runs and scales smoothly.
Along with that, forum software has features that enable following, upvoting, downvoting, and sharing posts. It also includes advanced search capabilities, similar post suggestions, pre-built templates, polls, spam management, and built-in SEO tools. Forum software typically comes with gamification features like badges, leaderboards, and more to amp up customer engagement.
And since some forum platforms support different languages, your users can read and post content in their preferred language — leading to more meaningful and clear interactions between members.
Some forum software will also allow you to embed the forum into your product or website so you can meet your users where they are.
The main differentiator from social media platforms and messaging apps is that forum software comes with almost every tool you need to create a successful online community.
What to consider when picking a forum software for your business
Purpose and goal: First, analyze your business's goals and purpose so you can choose the best forum software that aligns with your vision. Are you looking to gather product feedback, provide a platform for customer support, or both? If your goal is to enhance customer service, for example, you need a forum platform that allows you to manage user-generated content and provide self-service capabilities.
Customization and branding: One of the most crucial elements of online community software is customization. You want to build a branded community that’s tailored to your company, including the ability to add your own logo, font, navigation, community name, colors, and more.
Budget: Depending on the size of your business and the level of functionality you're looking for, the cost of forum software can vary. Do your research and compare your options to find the best fit for your budget.
Ease of use: Look for software that offers intuitive navigation with a clear and straightforward design to ensure it’s easy to use.
Features and functionality: It's important to consider forum features and functionalities that align with your community’s needs. For example, you may need software that provides advanced community management capabilities, powerful spam filters, or interactive gamification tools that help you better serve your members.
Scalability: You want software that’s flexible enough to adapt to your business as it grows and expands — without any hiccups or roadblocks along the way. Look for software that can handle a large amount of traffic and number of users without slowing down or crashing.
Integrations: You want a platform that seamlessly integrates with third-party tools, like your CRM, ESP, and analytics platforms.
Mobile compatibility: It's essential that your forum software is mobile-friendly — offering a responsive design that adjusts to different screen sizes. Additionally, consider features like push notifications that allow users to receive alerts on their device when someone responds to their post.
Security and privacy: The last thing you want is for your customer's data to be compromised due to weak security measures. Look for software with robust security protocols in place, such as strong password requirements and encryption of sensitive information.
SEO and discoverability: Features that enable you to optimize your forum for SEO, such as customizable meta tags, schema markups, SEO-friendly URLs, and more.
Analytics and reporting: Gather data on user behavior, like what topics are popular and which threads have the most engagement. The platform should provide easy-to-read reports and customizable analytics dashboards so you can tailor your insights to your specific needs.
💡Use our popular tool CommunityScout to get a free personalized recommendation of the best community platform for your business
From small startups to large enterprises, online community forums provide an easy way for users to share ideas and ask questions with each other about your product and brand. They allow companies to boost engagement and better serve customers — keeping them informed about new products, services, developments, and providing self-service support — all in one place.
When choosing the right forum software for your business, it’s important to take into account its features like search capabilities, scalability, user management, security options, and more.
Whether you choose a social media platform, messaging app, or an online community software platform — make sure it meets all of your organization's needs so it can offer a stellar customer experience.
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