Blogs and forums both provide a way to get feedback from your customers, and some times you may wonder which is the right fit for you. In this article I'd like to talk about a specific marketing and communications need: providing a focused, consistent message to your user base.
Blogs (or weblogs) generally consist of daily or weekly posts about a specific topic that originates with the owner of the blog, Web site, etc. These can be very on-topic or some times slightly off-topic, depending on the tone of your blog author. For instance, 99% of the time you might be responding to the daily news about your industry, but once in a while throw in something a little random that allows your blog readers to glimpse a more human side. This can be very effective if done carefully.
Forums are usually (not always) a little more free-for-all. Effective ones generally let members start their own topics and allow other users/members to comment on whatever they decide to post about. A great use for this is for a software company that allows their users to post issues they have with their products. Some times all the QA /testing in the world can't bring out some of the bugs or issues that users can find.
But what happens when you have some important topics that you WANT people to discuss? What is the best way to control the conversation, and still have allow your visitors and users to be a part of the discussion?
Blogs are really the best option here, because all the posts and thoughts originate with YOU. It doesn't mean you are trying to censor your visitors, it just means that instead of waiting for the perfect forum thread to be started, you are going to start the conversation yourself. This also sets the tone for the type of interactions that you would like to have with your user base.
The idea of using Blog posts to start conversations is also a good way to avoid the "Empty Forum." You know you've seen them. It might have even been on a Web site that you respect on a topic that you're fascinated by. Some topics on Forums might have a large amount of posts, but then there's some topics started by well-meaning members that just don't get any responses. Or, you might have started some topics on a Forum of your own and not gotten a single response.
Blogs help your site visitors join in the conversation because it provides a good starting point. Some times when a user has the option to talk about ANYTHING they want (such as on a blank forum), they actually have a tendency to say nothing. A good blog post is tied to something current, relevant and even if it doesn't get a lot of comments, it's okay. There's always tomorrow's post.
So when it comes to taking control of the conversation and providing that consisten message to your users, blogs are a much better option. Obviously, there are times when a forum is a better choice, but knowing when and where to use each one will help you strengthen your online communications strategy.
Greg Kihlstrom is Creative Director at Carousel30, a Web Design and Development firm in Washington DC.