What Is A Community Forum And How Can It Help Your Business?
If you’ve ever found a solution online to an obscure tech problem you’ve had, then it’s very likely that you’ve interacted with an online community forum.
Community forums allow people to connect and discuss shared interests. Especially now, where many people’s days are spent online, community forums represent a space of connection for many. According to a survey by GlobalWebIndex, participation in online community forums is rising – increasing from 72% in 2017 to 76% in 2019.1
Many brands are building community forums to provide a world-class customer experience by allowing people to find the solution to their problems quickly. And that’s usually without the help of a support rep! Instead, questions are answered by other members of the community and peers.
Let’s take a step back to understand the broader term, “online community forum.”
What is a community forum?
A community forum is an online meeting space where people can discuss, share knowledge, and talk to each other about a wide variety of topics that they might be interested in. In an active community forum, customers and fans alike can gather, ask questions, receive peer-to-peer support, and debate topics surrounding a brand, as well as make social connections.
Online community forums can be part of an organization’s customer experience strategy. The community forum would be where people go to answer their questions without having to contact customer support. A community forum can also be a functionality offered by self service portals.
How do brands benefit from customer community forums?
Online communities benefit businesses because they allow users to talk with one another in a smaller, highly targeted group, rather than addressing the general public on social media, while increasing engagement and brand loyalty.
Community forums also provide a specific space for your customers to find the information they need about virtually anything relating to your brand. For example, imagine a customer has a rare problem running your software and writes a post about it on your forum to get a reply from another user. It’ll be much easier for another person running into the same problem to find that post than if it had been originally posted on social media, where things get buried much faster.
Often, by the time one of your customers performs a search about a particular issue, it has been solved by someone else. Then, they can quickly fix it following the instructions provided by another user. That’s quick and efficient customer support – without even involving a customer support agent.
There’s enormous value in creating an online community forum. Read on to find the key areas where brands can benefit from building one.
What are the benefits of building a community forum?
#1 Remove siloed visibility into customer problems
Having a dedicated customer support team isn’t always going to keep your customers happy. This is because, at times, there can be a disconnect between customer-facing teams and the rest of the organization. Community forums bridge this gap by bringing all cross-functional teams and customers together in a centralized platform for all discussions. Product teams can review common customer concerns and even jump in to clarify what users are looking for.
Another advantage of having an online community is that you can identify product opportunities by paying attention to what your customers are saying. Think of it as a dedicated, ongoing market research group!
#2 Give customers a sense of belonging with your brand
Your customers already have a bunch of platforms to talk about you and discuss any issues they might face. Think Instagram, Facebook, review sites like TrustPilot or Google…but not all platforms are created equal. Online communities fare much better in regards to your users feeling heard and appreciated.
See the chart below, for example. In addition to feeling heard, users also reported that online community forums are spaces where they can have more meaningful conversations and feel more respected than over social media. While there is a lot going on over social media feeds, people feel less visible to brands.
Ultimately, a forum should be a safe space for your audience, be that customers, employees, or fans to talk to each other and ask and answer questions. The more comfortable people feel in your forum, the more likely it is they’ll participate, and ultimately engage with your brand.
#3 Streamline customer experience and journey
An online community forum serves as the go-to channel for your customers to find support, advice, best practices, discuss, provide feedback, and much more from a single place. Since customers can find everything they need from fellow community members, their digital journey and experience remain cohesive.
This is particularly important as the customer journey has shifted to being “digital-first”. The traditional sales funnel made up of cold calls and conference booths no longer matter. Your customers are going to find you online, whether you like it or not.
“They engage with brands across a multitude of channels regardless of where they are in their journey. A customer community brings all your potential customers, current customers, previous customers, ambassadors and partners to one place,” explains Shellie Vornhagen, Astute’s Chief Experience Officer. “Basically, all your stakeholders with a common interest, so that you can get the most out of the relationship. The customer community is a powerful way to engage and keep your brand front of mind. It’s also the ideal environment for feedback and sourcing and testing new ideas.”
#4 Deflect 1-1 support interactions
Community forums also work as self-service portals with solution threads and FAQs from your company and answers from fellow members who know their way around your products. These solution threads are easily searchable and stay available even after the question is resolved.
By encouraging people to use the community forums, you can give customers support without increasing the size of your team. One-to-many support (with one answer helping many customers) is much more efficient than one-to-one support over chat or email.
At the same time, you’ll provide future customers the help they need by publicly posting those resources. You know you’re doing something right when your customers are helping one another by giving answers to each other’s questions in the community forum.
#5 Increase brand visibility and customer acquisition
Community forums become a self-sustainable ecosystem of user-generated content (UGC) if you aggregate it well from inception. As customers interact with the forum, the community gains visibility within their network of friends and family. As the visibility increases, they quickly draw the attention of potential customers as well. Customers who see themselves as valued members of your community are likely to mention your brand to their social circle.
Community forums are a great place to encourage user-generated content, such as user tutorials, product reviews, or even just stories and pictures of how customers use your product in their daily life. Creating a place where UGC is curated and shared can also improve customer acquisition. In fact, UGC is 50% more trusted by consumers than typical media.2
How to create an online community forum
Here are some crucial steps when you work on creating your brand’s online community forum.
#1 Define the community forum’s purpose
First, you need to figure out what your community forum is for. For example, are you building an informational platform for your customers to share content related to your brand? Or, are you looking to counteract negative reviews? Or identify your most passionate users? A good idea is to take cues from a thriving community forum and use it as a reference. For example, if you’re a SaaS business, you could use Freshdesk.
#2 Design the forum to accommodate your goal
Most of the time, creating a community forum from scratch can be overly complicated. Hence, brands use community software to make building a community more accessible. These tools will help you easily launch a community that meets your needs and replicates your branding. Plus, community software can integrate with your help desk so that customers who need personalized help can get in touch quickly. Don’t forget to listen to all teams and take advice from all departments to understand your specific goals when creating the community forum.
#3 Create community rules and assign a dedicated management team
If you want the forum to work, you’ll need some rules. Importantly, you need to make these public and accessible, so people know what to expect. Community forums can be easy to build but not so easy to keep alive, so make sure you allocate enough time and resources from your team to ensure your platform remains a healthy and lively community.
#4 Implement what your customers expect from a community forum
We already mentioned how helpful community forums could be to learn about product ideas directly from your customers. Likewise, when you notice similar product complaints or questions in your online community, don’t pass them over. Instead, take note of them and put them on the list of things to improve.
#5 Measure the success of your community with KPIs
KPIs are your way of knowing whether you’re on the right track or not to meeting your community forum. Test the content you’re publishing in your forum by establishing in advance which metrics you need to focus on. For example, if you just started your online community, you might want to track the sign-up rate. Once your community is more mature, you might want to track the success of particular posts, focusing more on engagement.
Three examples of successful community forums
Knowing the value that community forums bring, it’s not a surprise that plenty of companies have developed one. Read on to learn what makes each one of these a thriving community forum.
GitHub forum’s motto encapsulates perfectly what an online community forum should be about: “We’re here to help. Find solutions, share ideas, and follow discussions.”
Balancing the right amount of organizational announcements with user-generated content, GitHub represents a great example of what a helpful community forum looks like. For example, by posting the community’s Code of Conduct on their Welcome page, GitHub ensures people know what to expect and how to behave when posting on the forum, fostering a healthy environment.
GoDaddy’s community forum is integrated within their Help Center. This way, if a particular article from the help center doesn’t provide a customer the help they need, they can always see related content from the community. In the example above, the article “Create a Buyer Profile with domain registration defaults” contains posts from the same subjects written by community members instead of a support rep.
Shopify proudly claims that there are 846,303 members on their community page. Needless to say, with such a massive number of contributors, even if they just visit occasionally, the chance that you will find the solution to your problem from a post on the community forum is huge! Shopify also encourages healthy competition among members by displaying the Most Liked Authors.
Create your own community forum for better customer engagement
Convinced? Community forums can be an amazing tool to streamline your customers’ support experience, generate helpful product feedback, and make customer support more efficient. With Freshworks’ community forum software, setting up your own branded portal is easy.
Your customers are going to talk about you anyway – why not give them a welcoming place to do so?