If you have a product and you’re looking to build a community around it which format do you use?
On the one hand a blog allows you to speak directly to your audience and allows them to comment on your topics. On the other it’s only your topics they get and don’t really get much of a way to voice their own opinion with the rest of the community. People get mad on forums though. They flame, they harass, they push their viewpoint on others. But hey it’s freedom right? Or is it? Isn’t a forum supposed to be a group of conversations? Then aren’t flamers just a negative idiot that just runs up to a conversation and starts screaming and hollering all about how they hate whatever it is you’re talking about. You can have that on blogs but then the nice thing about blogs is they’re far more easy to moderate and the anonymity isn’t held onto as strongly as it is in the forum space.
Obviously I’m pro-blog. I’m also a moderator of a popular forum and I can tell you the great thing about forums is they hold people, they’re “sticky” for all you marketing types that happen to read this, and that’s all well and good if you need people to loiter. But what are you really looking to accomplish by having people hang around your website all the time? Are you pushing content? Selling ads? Forums are definitely communities but are they still good at what they’re intended for? I say not so much.
In the video game industry your forum scenario usually plays out like this. Your forum opens up as a news delivery service to your fan base that you’re trying to build up in preparation for a title launch. So you have developers throw bones, talk about how excited they are and how they wish they could show you all the cool stuff, yada, yada… Then as your fan base grows you toss in a some discussion forums to get the conversation started, an off topic forum here, a role playing forum there. Release comes, your community is intact and now they use it to commune with each other how much they hate your product or features of it. You’re company PR person takes note of this and relays it in meetings to many sighs and head bobs.
The only message given will be the one with the most vocal population, by the way this doesn’t mean it’s the biggest priority. “Why’s that? The customer is always right though?!” The fine people of Salem thought they were doing right by listening to the vocal majority too. They weren’t so right in the end though were they? My verdict for forums currently is they no longer get the job done and end with more miscommunication than good communication between a company and those it services.
Now for blogs, they’re not perfect. The vast majority of people still don’t get these things. It’s still a pain to optimize for search engine optimization for one thing and for another the fact that the phrase even exists means that non technical people will avoid them like the plague. So finding topics you’re interested in is a problem, people tagging things incorrectly for more hits doesn’t help things either. None of the above matters though if your patrons know where to find you and what you’re all about.
In the end you decide. Do you want a community alive with discussion but not exactly on any set topic or do you want focused release of information and an open dialog with your customers/fans/supporters?
In the future what will we be using? Well this is technology and the future comes quick. Let’s hope that someone finds some very constructive ways to utilize Google Wave. I’m hopeful for something that bridges the gap and gets rid of the parts that suck from both blogs and forums.
As always though your dollar and your click decide…