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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Making a Successful Club Website Forum

Jun 18

Written by:
6/18/2011 6:58 AM  RssIcon

Anel writes:

An online forum is a terrific way to rally your club members together for events and educational purposes, as well as to develop a community revolving around your passion (club) and your website.  Your club forum is a great place for members to discuss specific topics ranging from how-to questions and answers, surveys, club events and technical assistance.  One of our motorcycle clubs uses their forum to schedule member rides. The use of a club forum can technically be utilized for everything and anything under the sun.

Forums, like anything on the web have a lingo of their own.  Here are a few of the basic terms and processes for online forums.

Forum Basics

An Internet forum is a discussion area on a website. Website members can view discussions, post ideas and respond to posts by other forum members. An Internet forum can be focused on nearly any subject while a sense of a virtual community tends to develop among forum members, thus cultivating social bonds. 

An Internet forum is also called a newsgroup, message board, discussion group, bulletin board or web forum.  It differs from a blog, the name for a web log, as a blog is usually written by one user and usually only allows for comments, of readers, to the blog material. An Internet forum usually allows all members to post and start new topics, also known as threads.  A thread is a collection of posts, typically displayed from oldest to latest. A thread is defined by a title, the first post that summarizes the intended discussion. A thread can contain any number of posts, including multiple posts from the same members, even if they are one after another.

Forums differ from chat rooms and instant messaging, because forum participants do not have to be online simultaneously to receive or send messages.  Members in a chat room chat or communicate at the same time, in real time, while members in a forum post messages to be read by others whenever they happen to log into the forum. Internet forums also tend to be more topic-focused than chat rooms.

Before a prospective member joins an Internet forum and replies to others, he or she is usually required to register on the site. The prospective member must usually agree to follow certain guidelines, sometimes called netiquette, such as to respecting the opinions of other members and refraining from using profanity.

An Internet forum administrator or monitor may also participate in the forum. A forum administrator can usually modify threads, as well as move thread to a more appropriate discussion group or delete threads, if necessary.


Do’s and Don’ts

Here’s a few do’s and don’ts for making your club website forum a “smashing” success:

  • Do – Make sure that all of your club members are aware of the forum.  Send all members an email introducing them to the forum.  If many members have never participated in an online forum before, it may initially be a little intimidating.  Make sure that each initial post is recognized and welcomed online to the group.
  • Do – Have a list of rules for forum posts.  There are obviously some topics and language usage that are not appropriate for the forum environment.  It’s a good idea to post a list of guidelines at the top of the main page that is easy for all members to see.
  • Don’t -- Open the forum so that anyone who visits the site is able to post.  We generally suggest that only members have the ability to post, but that anyone who visits the site can view.  The forum can be a great tool to let potential members know who your members are and what your club is all about.
  • Do – Use correct spelling a good grammar in all posts.  It gives your forum a more professional appearance.  Also as advised by the rules of netiquette in lowercase or standard case not in all caps, all caps equates to shouting. If you type with all caps, you will annoy and possibly offend other forum members.
  • Don’t – Become obsessed with your post count.  The only way to garner praise and respect from your fellow club members is with good, thoughtful posting.  Lots of meaningless posts will get you nowhere.
  • Do – Moderate your forum.  If you have your forum divided up into different areas of discussion you might want to assign moderators for each area.  On our forum module, as with most others, you can check a box at the bottom of the forum topic, which tells the system to send you an email whenever someone posts to that particular topic.
  • Don’t – Share personal information such as your full name, phone number or address with anyone in the forum if the forum is set so that all visitors to the site can view it.
  • Do – Remember that the forum posts are etched on the website for posterity.  It’s a great reference tool to display technical, how-to, and social information. 

Forum participation is a very effective way to discuss topics, gather information, get feedback and ask questions. A really useful characteristic of a forum is, once you have written a “how-to” post you only have to share the material once.  When someone asks you “how” to do something you can always refer them to your forum posting.

An advantage of our club websites is that the forum application is built in and there is no need to link to a third party bulletin board that will have a different look and feel from the rest of your website.  We find that forums are a great addition to a clubs website, as it adds an element of warmth and interactivity among your club members.  A website forum can also be viewed as a virtual conference table where your members sit around and express ideas and points of view that will be beneficial to the entire club.

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