Forums have become a common feature in many websites. With good free scripts available, and paid scripts being relatively cheap, it seems that every new website has its own forum(s). But is it wise to add forums to your website?
In this article I'd like to take a look at pros and cons of adding forums to your website. The largest of my websites, www.TheCatSite.com boasts one of largest online forums on pet related subjects. In fact I have yet to see a larger forum dealing with pets. As of writing of this article (Summer 2004), we have over 7,000 members and nearly half a million posts. In past four years I have struggled with hardships of community management and learned what works and what doesn't. Let me share a few insights that may help you decide if you want to take forums path yourself.
The Pro Side of Equation…
Forums Generate Content
Large, active forums generate content for your website. Google now has literally tens of thousands of pages indexed for TheCatSite.com's forums, and people looking for some of more esoteric subjects related to cat health and cat behavior are very likely to meet one of our forum pages in their search results.
Forums Make People Return to Your Website
Forums are truly a "sticky" element. Most people come back, at least to check on developments on their threads. With a good community, you get some real addicts who have to get their daily fix. TheCatSite.com's forums run on Vbulletin Forums , which means members can opt to receive an email whenever someone replies to their thread. Most people use it and that little email sends them right back to forums…
Forums Create a Sense of Community
Reaching from behind their computer screens, people from all over world join together, get to know each other and create a community. This is actually happening! Members connect with each other, offering support in time of needs and some of them even meeting each other in real life. For you as webmaster, this means loyal visitors that keep coming back to a place they consider to be home.
And Now To The Cons
Forums Can Take a Lot of Time to Take Off Ground
I remember how I could feel my posts echoing in empty board four years ago… It can take a long time before your forums pick up. An empty forum can actually drive new visitors away. It's a vicious circle – when they see that no one else is posting, they don't post themselves, and move on to next website. It can take weeks and even months of hard work to get your forums off ground.
Forums Need A Lot Of Ongoing Management
You need to constantly monitor your forums to make sure that they are clean of spam, troll posts, and just keep everything where it belongs. Once your forums are large enough, you have to have a team of quality moderators to help you run place - task being too time-consuming for one person. This is place in this article to say "hi!" to any TCS team members reading this – thank you guys – you're ones that make it all happen!