Building a Community Forum

Jon Allen January 17, 2021

Online Communities offer many benefits to customers and businesses. The types and purposes can vary from customer support, digital marketing, and customer engagement to partner enablement and member networking. Successful online communities are built with keen selection and placement of social applications that encourage engagement and accelerate the creation and sharing of user-generated content.

One of the most important types of social applications in a community is the Forum. Community Forums alone do NOT make a community but Community Forums used as an integral part of a collection of other social applications make for a better community.

In this article, we’ll cover how to build a Community Forum, tailor it to the purpose and audience types, and ensure coverage for responsiveness and trust.

How to build a community forum with a purpose

Will the Community Forum be used for customer support or problem-solving? Is the purpose for sharing stories or generating online discussions? With a purpose, a community forum can then start to attract the right sort of people it needs and guide them to initiate or participate time and again.  There are two distinct types of Community Forums; Q&A Forums and Discussion Forums.

For customer support or problem-solving, Question and Answer Forums are best.

  • Q&A Forums allow your customers to resolve problems and issues by asking questions of experts and peers. Customers can distinguish between suggested answers and Verified Answers.

For sharing stories or general online discussions, Discussion Forums are the way to go.

  • Discussion Forums enable you to create an engaging dialogue with and between customers. Unlike Q&A Forums, Discussion Forums are intentionally designed to be open-ended and encourage follow on engagement.

With Verint Community, a Community Forum application can be configured for Question and Answer, Discussion, or both. In our experience, the best practice is to keep the two types separated.  Separating the two types of Forums creates a visual cue for users to know where to ask questions and expect answers, compared to where discussions are initiated that do not necessarily require a response with a suggested or Verified answer.

Create the forum with an audience in mind

Community Forums can be created and separated with certain audiences in mind.  Technically, a single Community Forum can be created that serves the needs of all audience types. However, the challenge with that approach is that it is just not sustainable.  Combining the questions and discussions of various skills or interest levels in the same forum makes it harder to promote repeat engagement and deeper engagement. For example, when end-user engagement is in stark contrast to technical, developer-level engagement, each audience type may find the online experience less relevant and less fulfilling. The end result may be that they stop contributing or worse, they stop visiting the community altogether.

The best practice is to start out with audience separation or have a plan to create audience separation later on once patterns of engagement emerge. Here is an example of audience-based Community Forum separation.

  • End-Users: Set up a forum for general questions to be asked and answered.
  • Technical Users: Set up an Ask The Experts forum to promote more advanced discussions or engagement.
  • Channel Partners: Configure a separate, Partners-only group with Forums related to marketing, selling, implementing, and maintaining the products.

Have experts at your disposal

All good Community Forums have moderators, specialists, and experts.  Starting out, your organization may designate certain employees to moderate the community, and actively participate as specialists or subject matter experts.  Over time, as the community matures and more non-employee community members become actively engaged, the amount of staff-level involvement begins to dissipate.  Even though customers are self-serving and supporting one another, it is good practice to maintain a dedicated community manager and/or community moderator that can step in and provide direct assistance or introduce other specialists or subject matter experts as needed. Verint Community makes this easier with automation in areas like moderation queues, action notifications, and routing based on keywords or conditions.

In addition to having an initial set of designated employees, some of the most successful online communities are fortified by the contributions of undesignated staff, regardless of their role or department, or title.  When you have a company culture of service, more people tend to keep an eye on the community and step in to answer questions or join the discussions. This also helps to build trust between the company and your audience.

Get in touch with Verint today to try out the different types of Community Forums

If you’ve been thinking about building an online community with forums or want to update the one you have to be more modern and engaging, you can request a custom demonstration here.