Should you add a forum to your blog?

by Martin Reed on 5 November 2007 in Articles

Adding a forum to a blog

I have been seeing many blog owners of late publicly debating whether to add additional community features such as forums to boost their site’s popularity and value proposition. In this article I will write about the potential pitfalls of adding a forum to a blog and tell you why you should only take the plunge after much thought and consideration.

Why do you want a forum?

This is the fundamental question everyone needs to ask themselves before they install any kind of community software. Choose your answer from below:

  1. Everyone else is doing it so I need to do it, too
  2. I don’t have to do as much work on the site as users generate the content
  3. I want to make my site more popular in order to make more money
  4. I have a passion for the subject and want to share this passion with others
  5. I want to share my thoughts and opinions on my community’s subject with others
  6. I love to talk about the subject of my community, and can talk about it endlessly

If your answer was 1, 2, or 3 then do not set up a community – it will almost definitely fail. If you answered 4, 5 or 6 then your community may succeed, but only if you put in the huge amount of work required.

Are you prepared for the long slog ahead?

Building a community is hard work. I have said it before, and you know what? I’ll say it again – building a community is hard work. Are you ready for this? You may immediately say ‘yes’, but this is probably because you have no previous experience in building a successful online community.

It took over a year for Just Chat to reach critical mass – I had to put in hundreds of days worth of work before I could take a back seat and allow visitors and members to produce the majority of the content. It took around three years for me to earn any real money from the site. Are you ready to spend months, even years, developing your online community into a success?

Building a successful online community is often a lonely process – in the early days you will often be speaking to yourself, and this can be demotivating. Only a passion for the subject will get you through these periods.

Success with a blog does not mean success with a forum

A successful blog does not guarantee a successful forum – just look at John Cow dot com. This blog has been fantastically successful in a short amount of time, and on 28 September they announced the launch of MooForum.com. Unfortunately the forum was pretty much dead on arrival.

The John Cow blog has around 700 RSS readers, and claims a monthly average of around 50,000 unique visitors, yet their forum has only 114 registered members and a paltry 225 posts with many of these being pornographic spam posts.

The blog has no content, has too many categories, uses the default phpBB theme, has no personality (which is surprising because the blog itself oozes this quality) and seems to have been abandoned. Why should Moo Forum expect members to post when the owners can’t be bothered to do so themselves?

A poor community can damage your brand

John Cow has built up a fantastic brand name, but risks this with a forum that has failed. Not only that, but the forum is full of pornographic spam which negatively affects the credibility of the blog itself.

If you want to add additional community elements to your site, make sure you have the time and dedication needed to make them a success – otherwise you risk damaging your brand and reputation.

You can build a community without adding a forum

A community doesn’t need to be a forum. In my ‘About‘ page, I wrote:

Community Spark is a community building blog. I aim to keep this blog updated with advice on how to build successful online communities whether they are forums, blogs, chat sites or social networks.

I consider a blog to be an online community. Sure, the basis of the content comes from the author but encouraging comments and interaction can develop the blog into a community that can be just as valuable as any forum.

Michael from Freshome.com recently contacted me for advice on how to build a community around his blog. Michael is at a huge advantage for establishing a community as he already has a membership base of approximately 800 RSS readers and (I would assume), strong traffic figures.

Looking at the blog though, it is apparent that there are hardly any comments on any of the articles posted. Michael needs to address this issue – he will be unable to create a community around his blog if he is unable to get his readers to contribute.

In the past five articles, Freshome.com has seen two comments, both of which were pingbacks. In the past five articles, CommunitySpark.com has seen around 40 comments yet my RSS readership is less than half and I am sure my traffic is significantly less, too.

Community needs interaction

Without interaction, you have no community. Instead of adding a forum to a blog, you should focus on encouraging interaction through the commenting system. Actively encourage users to leave comments – ask questions in posts, make it obvious that feedback and opinions are always welcome, provide rewards for those that comment (for example, remove the ‘nofollow’ tag from links contributors include, add a ‘Top Contributors’ list, etc) and tell people you want to hear their thoughts!

Community begins at home!

Avoid branching out your community until both you and your community are ready. A great community at a blog (for example, John Cow) will not transfer to a forum unless you are ready to put the additional work in. A blog without comments is not a community – if you want to build a community around your blog, you need to encourage comments and contributions from your readers.

A forum can add real depth and value to your site, but only if you and your members are ready for that extra (huge) step.

Share this community building advice

41 comments

Similar Posts

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 38 comments }

Michael @ Freshome November 5, 2007 at 6:31 pm

First I would like to thank Martin for this post.

Now let me tell you something about my blog ..

I have gathered 800+ subscribers to my blog and many people from this domain that are not to techy, and come to my blog by typing my adress in the browser, or from a bookmark. All these people are very targeted, I mean they really like this domain, and most of the work in these domains ( interior design, architecture ). I’ve found that most of them come back to my blog for inspiration, and that’s why they don’t comment. Maybe I should ask more questions in my blog posts to get them in the discussion.

Thanks again.

John Cow November 5, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Yes, unfortunately the forum is not going the right direction. We’ve asked a couple of people to help out converting phpbb to vbulletin but we’ve had a couple of setbacks.
Hope to get these solved this month.

Sean November 5, 2007 at 9:45 pm

I would like a forum on my site, it bring visitors, adds content and can attract links, but I just don’t think it work. Especially when a great blogger like John Cow cant make it work.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 5, 2007 at 10:16 pm

Michael – I really think your priority should be to get people involved in your blog through using the commenting system. Keeping the quality of your posts up and including questions and prompts for interaction should definitely help. Good luck!

John – Thanks for taking the time to respond to the article. Simply changing the forum software from phpBB to vBulletin won’t make any difference to your community. After all, the software is only the infrastructure of a community – it doesn’t make one.

Sean – Forums can work as long as you have the motivation and dedication to make them succeed. They require a huge amount of hard work, and shouldn’t be added just for the sake of having a forum.

John Cow November 5, 2007 at 10:29 pm

It wont make a direct impact on the community, but it will impact the effort we will be putting into it after the whole technical stuff is done. We can then start focusing on actually building it.

Michael @ Freshome November 5, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Martin – I think that a community more like http://www.thisnext.com/ would be better for Freshome, not a forum. On http://www.thisnext.com/ if you look people share interesting stuff they find on the internet. Now the problem is how I make a platform like this ? I’m sure the costs are huge, …or maybe is someone here who knows something similar that can be modified ?

Thanks

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 5, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Mr Cow – It’s a relief to hear that you will be strongly focussing on building the community; after all the choice of software really makes little contribution to the overall success of a forum.

Good luck, and who knows – maybe you will find some tips and advice here at Community Spark!

Michael – I haven’t heard of ThisNext before, I will take a look. On first impressions they seem to be more of a social bookmarking site? I am not sure how you plan on integrating this into your site, and what benefits you hope to achieve as a consequence?

The link you provided for forum solutions didn’t format correctly – feel free to repost.

Online furniture store November 6, 2007 at 4:35 am

Martin, that was a clear and succinct list of questions you set out for adding a forum or not to your blog.

The first three reasons are in fact why some people would think of adding a forum to their blog but like you said, the first is everyone joining the bandwagon, the second is just laziness and the third is greed. Did i paraphrase correctly?

Mike November 6, 2007 at 10:24 am

How about a blog on a forum?

Amish Handcrafted Furniture November 6, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Does it not all boil down to what you want your blog to do? A small community serves the purpose of my idea of a blog.

Sean November 6, 2007 at 6:48 pm

When i wrote my comment I thought the John Cow who commented was in fact the famous John Chow, easy mistake to make considering both run blogs which focus on “make money online”.

Online furniture store November 7, 2007 at 4:49 am

:) Sean i almost made the same mistake myself!

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 7, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Reena – Your comment made perfect sense so don’t worry! More people need to stop and think about why they want to develop an online community rather than rush ahead and do it for the wrong reasons.

Mike – Good question! Blogs can add depth to a forum, but why not spend the time posting quality forum articles instead? You could even include a section on your forum where you publish the equivalent of ‘blog’ articles.

Ramana – It certainly does boil down to what you want your blog to do. Most people should be able to develop their blogs to the point where they have the community feel they are after without having to install a forum. It’s all about thinking before acting!

Sean, Reena – An easy mistake to make; originally the Cow started the blog as a parody of John Chow’s site.

Sutocu November 7, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Oh, how very true. I hate to see “communities” created for just the sake of creating, and then seeing them die of too little nurture. I hope John Cow will get the problems sorted out and make the Moo Forum a real community.

Making Sales Making Money November 8, 2007 at 6:35 pm

You have to think about how much work is involved. I work hours and hours on my blog Im not sure how I could support a forum too and then try to figure in how much you get on that investment. As many are finding out these things are not plug and play

Freeware Downloads November 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm

I’ve done this with one of my dance sites…. It turned out to be a flop…. Great tips in this post thought… Think I might take another shot when my unique hits go over 500…

Brown Baron November 8, 2007 at 7:34 pm

I was actually thinking of when the right time would be to create a forum for my blog. I think I’ll wait a little more. Great article Martin.

Wtricks November 10, 2007 at 1:05 pm

As a forum owner myself (14 to be more exact) I know how much work they require and the fact they fail from various reasons. I never new John Chow was preparing a forum, but in this stage it does need work. The good think is that he has the financial resources, an established brand and a serious blog traffic to help the new community more.

dogs classifieds November 11, 2007 at 4:06 pm

I think it is good to put a forum if in your blog if you have the resources and also the people to help you about this stuff. Anyway I would like to asked if it is possible to put a blog and a site at the same time and does it cost that much to do that?.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 12, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Sutocu – I agree with you; the vast majority of online communities seem to be created just for the sake of creating them. Success will not follow creation without a hell of a lot of hard work, though!

Making Sales Making Money – Agreed. Just maintaining a blog is hard work enough; let alone then having to find time to support and develop a forum. I would argue without hesitation that establishing and developing a forum requires even more effort and dedication than creating a successful blog.

Freeware Downloads – Traffic to your blog makes no difference. 500 uniques or 50,000 uniques – your forum will not be a success unless you put in the hard work needed to make the forum work.

Brown Baron – Thanks for your kind comment. You have a great blog – I would hate to see its reputation negatively affected by a failed forum!

Wtricks – In the article I mentioned John Cow, not John Chow (although I have heard that he is considering launching a forum). Having a good amount of traffic certainly helps, but as you will know – if you don’t have the dedication and motivation then your forum will not succeed.

Dogs – If you use WordPress, you can blog for free. Similarly, forum software such as phpBB is free. Such community features are easy to install – they are hard to make successful, though!

Inchirieri Masini December 22, 2007 at 5:09 pm

I am planning to add some forum into my blog if I have enough time considering that adding forum would mean you will have to put a lot of content and just like blog you must need some staff in order to keep things going and also it is hard to maintain a forum as it would need more hosting space at the same time you will need a lot of interesting topics and discussions as to make it become famous.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 2, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Inchirieri Masini – You make some valid points. Adding a forum to your blog immediately increases your workload by a massive amount and should only be done if you truly have the time and dedication needed to make it succeed.

Motivator February 6, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I think that it would be ok to add up blogs with forum or vice versa but it would add to your task or work load. In order to come up with forums you must have the total dedication with it as well. So I just prefer not adding forum into my blog maybe in the future I will if I could find someone to help me out.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 7, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Motivator – You’re spot when you say adding a blog to a forum adds to your work load. Many blog authors make the mistake of assuming that a forum tacked onto a successful blog will be an immediate success. Unfortunately this isn’t the case – they will still need to put work into the forum for it to be a success.

jcorn March 17, 2008 at 11:11 pm

The article and comments were fascinating to read. I’m so busy writing that I don’t see how I’d have time for a forum but if anyone wants to add something about how to keep working and build a forum that would be much appreciated. In the meantime, I’ll keep learning from this site and others.Much appreciated!

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 19, 2008 at 7:39 pm

jcorn – Thanks for your comment. You provide a good example of why you should always think twice before adding a forum to a blog. Blogging is already hard work, and most people fail to realise that adding a blog multiplies this workload significantly.

km May 27, 2008 at 3:54 am

Let say my blog have more than 10k visitor per day… It’s the right time to develop the forum or waiting first until it reach other mark of traffic.

andy June 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Good points. This had made me think. We have been thinking of adding a forum to our site to keep up with out clients. My wife really likes using facebook type chatting to communicate with out brides and I thought this might be the next step. After reading this I think we will hold off on the forum

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

KM – You certainly have enough traffic to make a success of your forum. More important is perhaps whether you have the time, dedication and commitment to make the forum succeed. Just because you have the traffic, it doesn’t mean your forum will be a success without your attention and nurturing.

Andy – Forums can be fantastic tools, but developing them into successful communities can be challenging. If you have the time and commitment, then go for it. Otherwise, hold off and rely on a blog until you have the time needed to get a forum off the ground.

Jack Smith August 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm

As far as i suggest Your Web site acts a great role in providing information to targated visitors. I recognize or rated it as excellent.

lance September 4, 2008 at 2:35 pm

make forums is very hard just to give some people a idear of how hard it can be i have been working on my site for about 4 months now and I still only have about 5 good members

splitcane September 16, 2008 at 8:14 pm

What do you think about using a forum as a logistics tool, say to organize carpooling to go to a conservation event? People who can carpool post their info, people who need a ride can see if anyone going is able to carpool.

Thanks!

Anon September 25, 2008 at 5:50 am

I have founded nearly impossible to get anyone to interact with my blog I have one comment which isn’t to bad since I launched this new blog of mine a week ago I upload videos & I am member of a social video site with a huge following which has really helped my traffic but my main issues is getting people interactive I even asked readers to vote for the next video for me to up load I have only two votes for videos I have an aim widget but I can not get away to really contact me on it I am going to add a chat but I really don’t know if they are even going to use it or just pass it up. Any suggestion to get readers interactive Nearly all my post ask questions I average about 90 page views daily with around 70 of them unique so traffic is def coming I need some activity.
provide rewards for those that comment (for example, remove the ‘nofollow’ tag from links contributors include, add a ‘Top Contributors’ list, etc) and tell people you want to hear their thoughts!

Anon September 25, 2008 at 6:08 am

One of other instead of creating a forum what about using a community such as myspace that has clubs that includes a forum for that club what if you create a club on myspace or any of the other networking sites & link from you blog to the myspace group and vice versa it would promote you blog to myspace user’s but I guess problem for those without myspace accounts but I think it might good a promo tool…

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Jack – Thanks for your kind words, I am glad you enjoy the blog.

Lance – Something must be wrong if you have been working hard for 4 months yet only have 5 active members. Are you creating engaging, quality content? Are you offering something unique?

splitcane – I think it can work, but you need to ensure people submit their ‘ads’ in a consistent way. Some slight modifications to a standard forum install could help.

Anon – Well, are you giving people a reason to interact? Are your posts on subjects that tend to encourage debate? What is your writing style? If it is too authoritarian, people may not be willing to discuss the subject further. Are you attracting targeted traffic and readers?

If you are struggling to engage your readers, then adding a forum won’t help – it will just make your site look even emptier. Concentrate on building a community around your blog.

Edward August 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

I just don’t see this working with most topics. Maybe my idea of a blog is that it’s usually personal; not necessarily “Joe’s Blog” but certainly lacking a common thread that would bring a community together. A larger, topic-based blog – for example, The Consumerist – starts to transcend the blog idea entirely and become something else. That might just be my perception. ?

Stuart Noton August 28, 2009 at 6:28 am

Typing as someone who’s built a community forum for a global corporate business, I can confirm that it takes A LOT of effort to get it to the point where it’s reasonably self sustaining. There are no short-cuts – people will not engage unless it’s seen as adding value, genuine, authentic and not just done “because” or to harvest contacts. Well worth it though – used data obtained from forum to help in defining new s/w releases, customer segmentation purposes and much more.

James Spinosa January 18, 2010 at 12:10 am

Heh guess you bring up a good point, originally my intent was to spend a bit of time on Google looking at posts stating why I should have a forum but in reality I put in too much time on my blog as it is, forums are notoriously difficult to deal with.

{ 3 trackbacks }