The Community Club

Yaro Bagriy
Yaro Bagriy

Posted on

Does anyone actually use forums?

Does anyone actually use forums? Would you build your community on a forum based platform like Circle or Discourse? I've been noticing more and more people are choosing to run their community on Discord or Slack.

I understand why people choose Discord or Slack. It's free, most of their community is already within that platform, which means higher engagement.

The reason I'm asking is I'm building Playgroup a forum based community platform. I'm have huge problems getting anyone to actually use it. Most simply don't care enough to build their community on a forum. Most would rather spin up a Discord or Slack server.

I'm curious on if and why you'd use a forum to build your community? After a full year of running Playgroup I still can't onboard a single user. I'd love any feedback!

Discussion (6)

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ildi profile image
ildi

I think this is a great question! I have also felt that Slack + Discord have been stealing the audience away from forum platforms. I suspect the main reason for this is because Slack + Discord are fairly easy to configure compared to traditional forum platforms. Also there is a lot of integrations for both Slack + Discord. Since I have been using Discord for a long time, I should mention that the main appeal early on was the voice chat which was a big thing for gamer communities.

If you want someone to build a community using your platform, the best way to showcase what the product does is to build your own community using Playgroup and show it off as an example. If your own community grows and you get an active user base, im confident that you will start to see others ask how they can also launch their own community. I see that you do have your own Playgroup communtiy but it is hidden under the menu > resources > community forum. It might be helpful to put your demo community front and center and truly ephasize it on your website. You want users to quickly discover it as a demo and navigate to it so they can get a feel of your product.

@michaeltharrington makes some really good points and the main one I also agree with is the SEO and ability for users to discover your forum content via search engines. It's also very easy for me to share posts made on forums using a url. Forums also allow you to make content public which means even nun-members can read/view the content. With Discord or Slack, you cannot see what is going on within a community unless you join. Forum platforms are also more blog friendly compared to something like Slack + Discord who are more focused on live chat. If you ever join a very large Slack or Discord community, you will find that it's hard to keep up with everything. These platforms have tried to introduce "threads" feature in order to deal with that issue but its not the best solution in my opinion.

@vytas also has makes a very important point. You need to educate potential users on what makes Playgroup unique. What are you offering that is an improvement or that others do not. If you think you've got some strong differences then you might want to create a few charts comparing your feature list vs the competition on your website. Make it easy for me to understand why I need to think about using your product vs the other popular options. Like sometimes the features are all the same as the competition but you may offer a price that no one can match. Emphasize your startegic advantages!

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Michael Tharrington

Awesome discussion topic!

First off, disclosure: I work for a company called Forem and actually the Community Club uses our platform to run this site — in other words, we're on Forem right now! 😀

I think the main difference between forum-based communities and Discord/Slack is that forums are meant to be more async-friendly, whereas Discord, Slack, and other chat-based communities are very synchronous.

One of the primary things that you don't get with chat-based communities is searchable history over search engines like Google (there is no SEO). The cool thing about the.community.club, for instance, is that folks can more easily discover this community through searches online. They wouldn't really be able to easily do that if the community solely lived on Discord or Slack.

Another thing that at least our platform, Forem, works well with is long-form content. Trying to write a long post with images and dynamic content on Slack or Discord is, in my opinion, a bit of a pain. Also, if someone was to do that, it might just disappear in the chat history. On Slack, you can pin messages to the top of a channel or use bookmarks to link to content, but it's not as easily searchable/categorized as content here on the.community.club. I've used Discord a bit, but I'm honestly not well versed in how you would highlight or save long-form content. Here, I can follow the tags (people or orgs) that I'm interested in and my feed will continuously suggest posts to me. If I like someone's posts, I can visit their profile and see everything written by them. I also have the ability to add posts to my reading list that I can read later. As a writer, I can access the editor where I have lots of options for embedding rich content (tweets, YouTube videos) and I can place images within the text. Then I can easily save a draft to work on later. I think Forems generally offer a better system for writing and consuming long form content.

These are a couple of quick ideas that came to me, but I might pop back in here later to offer more perks when they come to mind!

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Ashley Friedlein

An interesting topic indeed. We have a community platform also (see guild.co/). But a) we're designed mobile/messaging first (rather than web forum) and b) we're focused on professional communities specifically. Kind of WhatsApp meets LinkedIn.

Our belief is that LinkedIn Groups have died a death and that web-based forums are also struggling for engagement whereas messaging apps are growing even in business use e.g. WhatsApp groups (and Signal, Telegram etc.). Slack is almost like a messaging app.

Guild actuallly has threaded conversations so does borrow from what I think is good about forums, even though it is a messaging/mobile-first experience.

But web-based community platforms like Circle are doing very well. But they are much broader platforms than just 'forums' or 'community'. They pitch themselves to the 'creator' economy where you can run a whole business on the platform. Like Patreon or Substack (for newsletters).

I agree that Slack is convenient for some parts of the market (start ups, developers etc) but actually isn't very widespread for corporates running communities. And it isn't even very good for communities: guild.co/blog/slack-isnt-designed-....

Discord... I get why gamers and crypto types might like it (and that's a big market) but I'm puzzled beyond that I have to say. It's like an out of control Slack in dark mode where you have no idea who anyone is. I don't see many brands/corporates using it.

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Vytas

I think the fact that you can't onboard any users after a year is a signal that either your product isn't that much better than competition (why should I switch to your new product when I have an existing one that's "OK"?) OR other products are easier.

I think it's very hard to get your community members to install some new platform just for your community. That's why most live communities are on Discord and Slack - because everyone has Discord or Slack installed already.

And for forums - there's so many great solutions out there and the market seems overcrowded. Discourse is free - how could you compete with that?

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MrHowardCodes

As someone who ran a gaming forum for several years before it finally died, I can tell you that forums are a dying platform. There are very few niches that require a forum these days. And most "new" forums typically die unless it's an informational forum based around some sort of product.

I started to see a dramatic dip on activity on gaming forum around 2018. People simply quit logging in as much, and the only real feedback I got was that they "just didn't feel like logging in".

We live in an era of convenience. And people will sacrifice usefulness and features to have convenience. So think of it from a users' perspective. Is it easier to sign up and register a bunch of information, check my email for confirmation, and login..... Orrrrrrrr..... hit a button and join a server? The choice is obvious for most people.

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Steven

Hi Yaro, having an engaged community on a forum is not easy but is most definitely possible. To grow engagement on our private forum, I did an analysis of the discussions that were taking place in our Facebook group.

From the report, I was able to gauge that a high amount of our discussions were product-focused. With this information in mind, I created two categories in our forum. The first category was for product feedback/requests. The second was for product announcements/exclusive betas. For our current members, sharing feedback and receiving direct responses from our PMs is a highlight of this space.

These changes to our forum really helped kickstart engagement.