Community forum and message boards have been and in many cases are still the backbone of social media. In fact, when the Conversation Research Institute (my research company) dove into understanding online conversations about the senior living and senior care space in February, we discovered that 83 percent of those conversations took place on traditional community forum sites and message boards.
Twitter is great for light conversations or questions and answers. Facebook is good for more medium-level conversations and discussions. But when people want to dig in and really talk about something, they find a forum or message board that serves that need.
An executive with one such community forum reached out to me on LinkedIn this week to ask an important question. The site boasts 200,000 members and over 700,000 monthly users. It uses a traditional community forum and message board tool for its user discussions.
Do you think we should switch to a Social Stream/Activity style social media or remain on the traditional bulletin board forum type format?
It’s a great question and one a community forum manager shouldn’t take lightly. There are some very distinct user experience differences in the two. The critical one being the organization and structure (in a community forum or message board) and the lack thereof (in the social stream approach).
Mind you, there are tools out there that offer the social stream approach in hard-line, reverse chronology, which helps with the structure and organization. But the advantage to having a true social stream is the most popular conversations are elevated to the top of the list, driving more exposure and engagement.
Here was my response (edited for wider consumption):
I think it depends on how your users would respond. Maybe you could do a poll and ask them if they prefer something new and more “hip” or whatever you want to call the activity feed style. You may not get a lot of clarity, but if it’s a resounding “yes” or “no” then you’ve got your answer.
I can see benefits to both. But I think a Facebook Group provides all the benefits of a traditional forum, other than an intuitive, simple way to organize conversations and help people find them. But it also bumps active ones to the top, so that might encourage more engagement on those posts.
You could also look at a forum platform that has kind of met the user experience advancement halfway. I used Hoop.la at company I worked for a few years ago. It’s got a nice combination of a forum, a community blog/news feed and user features that are more in line with what people would see on a social network rather than just a forum.
My guess is that the more conservative or traditional an industry, the more the users are going to resist change and insist on keeping the old school platform. But I also don’t know Australian culture enough to be able to project that on his community. It will be interesting to see the results of his survey, which he assured me he had planned anyway.
So what do you think? Do you overhaul the user experience on a community site and bring the social stream to the table? Or do you follow the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. It will be interesting to see what people say.