When I started blogging on my own several months ago after leaving the magazine world, there were two platforms I knew I needed to get started: A blog and a forum. I learned from my previous blog for the magazine that the two platforms complement one another perfectly.
I think all bloggers should consider the benefits of having a forum linked to their blog. Here are three of the advantages I’ve found:
1. A forum is a breeding ground for ideas. To be an effective blogger, you need to know what people are chatting about to give them great content, answer their questions, and be of service. Tuning in to the chatter on a forum sparks ideas for blog posts.
For example, I knew from reading my forum threads that finding an agent was a huge concern, so I decided to start interviewing agents for my blog. The blog provides a desirable connection for my forum members, and the forum, in turn, gives the blog a built-in audience.
2. A forum fosters group dialogue. Sure, most blogs allow comments. But comments aren’t really a dialogue, they’re a response to a monologue. The blogger controls the flow of information on a blog. A forum is a far better platform for conversations and relationships to develop—and this is where community building really takes off.
3. A forum is a great place to find guest posters. This is the perfect venue to find people with compelling ideas and an engaging writing style to guest post on your blog.
I’ve had guest posts from my forum members almost since the start of my blog. One forum member posted a thread about getting duped by a shady self-publishing company. I knew that was perfect blog fodder and I asked this writer for a guest post, which he seemed happy to write for me.
Also recently, I asked several forum members to do guest posts on participating in NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an event that’s important to my community, but that I wasn’t participating in. These guest posts were especially well received and commented on. I think first-hand accounts always make for better blog posts than third-person pieces.
If you are interested in starting up your own forum, there are many platforms available including open source software like phpBB. I decided to go with VBulletin, which costs $180 to own outright, because I like the interface and it offers a subscription-based forum service that I’m going to use for classes and workshops.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that a forum is an easy thing to build and manage. In fact, if it seems like too much of a commitment, you may be better off frequenting a well-run forum that caters to your subject matter. A good forum requires almost-daily TLC.
But if you’re a blogger who wants to grow your community—once you do have your own forum, you’ll never want to be without one again.
Note from Brian: What do you think gang? Does Copyblogger need forums?