Connect with your Customers through Forums
There are so many great ways to use your website to better service your customers. We’ve talked about Web 2.0 and Blogs so far, but now I’d like to talk about forums.
What is a Forum?
Many of you probably use forums everyday; but for those that are unfamiliar, a forum is a place to have online discussions between many people. Forums are sometimes called Bulletin Boards, and have a very specific setup. Usually you have a few different forums for different categories of topics. Within each forum you have a series of Threads or Topics. These Topics contain many Posts or Replies to the original Topic. The content is arranged by date, so you always see what’s new first. And that’s about it.
How can I use a Forum?
Normally when you think of a forum you might think of a large online community centered on a certain topic. Maybe it’s to talk about games, car stereos, or maybe just a place to talk to friends. However just like with Blogs, Forums can be an extremely useful tool for your business.
The most common way to use a forum for your website is for Customer Support. With a support forum, your customers, or potential customers can register on your website and ask you a question. You then answer their question in the forum for everyone to see. Now you have an avenue to keep an open line of communication with your customer.
Think about this; forums not only give your customers a way to ask questions online, they also provide a record of those questions. That record will always be on your website, so the next person with that question will already have the answer. Not only that, but search engines will pick up that content, which will draw more people to your website.
If you’re a small business owner, it’s likely that you are a master of your trade. A forum is a great place to share your knowledge not only with your customers, but also with the rest of the world. Beyond a Customer Support Forum, you can setup a General Questions Forum. This will give your website even more content that is great for search engine ratings.
Setting up a Forum
There are many great forum software packages out there, however they all require you to install software on a server and configure everything yourself. These packages are great for large community sites, however there is an easier way for a small business support forum. Our website builder comes with forum software baked right in. All you have to do is give it a name, and you’re ready to go.
You can setup multiple forums, each with their own subject. One common mistake is to setup too many different forums. This will confuse the users, and they won’t know where to start. Its best to start out with the minimal number of forums, and create more as needed. For example you could have a “Customer Support Forum”, an “Ask the Pro Forum”, and a “Just for Fun Forum”. It’s common to have a Just for Fun, or Off Topic Forum to promote a friendly and constant dialog.
When you setup a forum, it can be easy to just forget it's there. You never know when your customers are going to log in and ask a question, and you certainly don’t want to leave them waiting. Fortunately most forum software comes with an RSS Feed, which is basically a list of the latest posts in a format that can be read by many applications. By setting up this feed in the reader of your choice you can know right away when someone has posted a message on your forum.
Getting your customers to use your support forum can be extremely valuable to your business. When questions are asked, anyone from your staff can answer them at anytime from anywhere. You get content and search engine ratings for free, and you establish a good relationship with your customer. Considering how easy Doodlekit makes it to setup a forum in minutes, there’s really no reason not to.