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Managing successful online communities

Matt
 

Why I try and avoid the F word in public

I've had this similar conversation dozens of times in the recent past when someone has taken an interest in what I do.

Person: So what does Invision Community do?
Me: We develop and sell an independent community platform.
Person: Oh. Neat.

I used to say the F word. But this used to cause some confusion.

'We develop and sell a forum system'.

This used to elicit a response similar to this:

"Forums? They're still going?"

This line of thinking is quite prevalent among those who frequent Facebook, or use Facebook Groups to manage their micro communities. Even though they probably use forums regularly, or end up on forum topics when searching for things like "Why is my iPhone not charging", they don't realise this.

I recently guested on a podcast, where we spoke about "Facebook or Forums?", and I received this comment.

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It appears, then, that the word "forums" has a lot of legacy connotations attached to it. It conjures up images of the past when Netscape Navigator was the world's favourite browser, and AOL was still mailing out CDs.

That is all ancient history now, and we've moved with the times. The product we have now has roots in the product from the early 2000s but it is wildly different and much more capable.

When you explain that you can segment discussions into separate areas (aka forums), and even set up independent micro-communities (clubs), you can see lightbulbs going off.

"That's amazing! I had no idea! So you mean I don't have to have my community in a single stream struggling for attention among adverts?"

Nope, there is another way.

Why not try an independent community platform?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you avoid the F word too?

 

Edited by Matt


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Forums already existed in ancient Rome (as central places where people would get together to talk and do business). If it survived for 2000 years, it probably also can go on for a while. 😉

My choice of terms would depend on the circumstances. Community is fine too, but it also rather generic. A Facebook group can also be a community. Forums describes a specific functionality. Yes, it has certain connotations (like “old-school”), but not only bad ones. And it doesn’t have the bad connotations social media platforms currently get. 

Edited by opentype

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Better than "bulletin boards" 😂

Regardless of the name, I think discussion communities will always serve a growing importance in an increasingly digital world.  The ones who can be the best in their niche will be able to serve a digitally global audience, solopreneuers can now reach customers everywhere, and brands can scale to any size and audience group with a community. 

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I'm in just that situation now. New site about to launch and the menu is ready to go. Yes, I have Articles, Resources and even a Community item. But what to call the item under that last heading which points to the Forums app? In the absence of anything better, it's reading Forums. It's bothering me but I can't think of anything else, so it's staying, at least for now.

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My culture is academic and scholarly, so I've never had a problem with the concept of "forums"...especially since the discussions we have (when you can get academics together on a website long enough 🙄) could never be seriously carried on in Facebook groups or anything of the kind.

Likewise for teaching and tutoring academic writing, critical thinking and English - the ways in which forums allow you to excerpt ("quote") and analyse specific parts of an argument or debate win the day as far as collaboration goes.  Forums are key to creating meaningful exchanges which can be revisited and amplified by students and educators alike - especially when more recent functionality allows them to be appended to other content such as Articles.  Not one of my students or other clients has ever had a problem with "forums."

Edited by liquidfractal

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Before I read this article I had wrongly assumed the 'F Word' was going to be FaceBook :D

Regarding the naming of forums @Matt yes I know what you mean exactly, this seems sometimes more prevalent in those who perhaps started their 'online life' when other social media platform were already in existence.

A small point I do recall a time where it was more common to call 'Forums' 'Boards' instead , whereas now generally speaking 'Community' seems more appropriate and slightly more all-encompassing even if the site only contains a 'forum' , people seem to be happier to recognise it from that descriptor word, at least as I see it anyway. :)

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17 hours ago, Meddysong said:

Yes, I have Articles, Resources and even a Community item. But what to call the item under that last heading which points to the Forums app?

Helen and I recently had this discussion for her new site too. In the end we went with the old school forums. Everything else seemed wishy-washy. There is still a "community" but forums is a focussed part of that and I think it lends a seriousness to the section. Memes are fine and still posted but we don't want to lose the serious long-lasting discussion, Facebook can keep the noise. It's tempting to move with the latest fads and terminology but ultimately it's all about the content and if it is valuable to your users. The terminology is secondary.

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15 hours ago, Joel R said:

What about Discussion? 

I have gone with Discussion, and did last time i tried to launch the site. A forum would simply not work, because users think a forum is a forum, and will relate it to the simple freeware forums that you can find hosted for free.

That said, i let users create Forums in their clubs, because they seem to think it is a useful tool.

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The "ancient forums" are still used to "exchange data" between users. You need Advanced forum readers software and... a community to know where to find what you're looking for... They're still usefull, but for a restrictet "knowing howoto" set of users...

 

The fact you can easely create a group in social networks or smartphone apps is more "user friendly" and give to users without technical knowledge the possibility to create their own "communities" in an easy, fast and - relatively - effective way.

As administrator that's the power of theese tools : they're easy to set and to use (as administrator). No need for hosting, no need to pay for it, no need to know PHP and what "user rights" mean... So, for most of the people, to choose between learn howto and just make it happen, the choice is not hard to do.

 

As user, all users say it : "I use social network groups when I need a fast answer, but I use the community when I want a long-term track of my question/content/...". In other terms : social network are strong in reactivity but forums are stronger in knownledge/content.

I've seen communities closed because they had no participation at all but everything goes on social network (for some of them even in the group they've created themselves "to be in social networks"). So it depends on what is the community purpose and how it is used. When you've only people "showing theirselves", everybody will go to social networks : it is made for. If the community has some kind of knowledge/content to share, people from social networks will go gather information from it to answer in their groups and may go back to the community when "nobody says"...

 

So, from my modest single oppinion, it does not depend on the word you use to say it, but on the content the community spread. There is a balance to find between social networks and communities/forums where everyone can get what they (and we) want for the good of each.

Personnally I still use "the f word", but also community or even "website", depending on the audience...

 

Edited by Dexter_X

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14 minutes ago, SJ77 said:

One of the navigation tabs on my site says "Forums"... Should I be thinking about relabeling it? Maybe I can call it "Conversations"  (or something) @Matt

For me, conversations are between two parties/people, and might be confused to messages. Thats why i called them Discussions. But if Forum is not a problem for your community, i don't see any reason why to change it - it would be very interesting to see if activity in the forum increased after renaming them!

Also, a tip - renaming the lable was one small part of this. I went through the language file, and replaced all Forum with Discussion, forums with discussions, forum to discussion etc. Took a little time, but was worth it. Only place that users see the word forum now is in the URL and i don't think they notice

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You had me at 'Message Board'. 😍 I never liked Bulletin Board. 😝

I use Discussion, Community as well as Forums.

I think Discussion is a bit formal and not very welcoming but I suppose it depends on your site.

The more trendy Community is more friendly sounding but perhaps for some invokes visions of cults, or more sensibly puts an emphasis on involvement and sharing which to some who just want to lurk could be equally off putting.

Mmmmm, nomenclature.

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23 hours ago, SJ77 said:

One of the navigation tabs on my site says "Forums"... Should I be thinking about relabeling it? Maybe I can call it "Conversations"  (or something) @Matt

It really depends on your audience. I think most understand "forums", but if your demographic is a bit younger, then perhaps "Community" is more apt.

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6 hours ago, Christforums said:

I really get the impression that Invision has turned politically correct after the last two blog articles. 

Now we wouldn't want to offend nor not appeal to panzy millennials!

Bring me some free trade avocado toast while you step into my safe space 😀

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