We get a lot of coverage of ‘the next big thing’ in the media, creating a hype cycle which all too often leads to the trough of disillusionment as consumers find services that don’t fulfill consumers’ expectations or they simply move on to the next service to to be championed.
Predating what we now generally know as social media where bulletin boards which evolved into what we now know as internet forums. These typically provided an open environment based around particular interests with conversational threads which discussions can coalesce around.
The growth of social media has taken much of the media’s attention away from internet forums with the possible exception of Reddit which is something of a special case. But forums continue to play an important role in crowdsourcing expertise, particular in more specialised areas where knowledge is evolving and/or far from formalised.
The typically open and searchable nature of the content makes it easy for the novice user to see if content is available and post a query should the answer not be available (albeit at the risk of being flamed). Wikipedia plays a similar role in capturing and ultimately formalising information and Quora (and arguably Twitter) offers a Q&A platform. What these mediums arguably don’t have is a passionate community of interest that can be readily reached by the uninitiated.
Online forums have also provided an important bridge between the virtual and physical, as online communities move into real world spaces. I can remember clearly the trepidation of going to my first LFGSS forum gathering with the inevitable ‘what’s your forum name?’ heard many times.
But forums also have considerable utility for organisations as well as communities of interest. Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University published in the Journal of Marketing Research pointed to the value of online forums including those run by the brands themselves as Pratik Dholakiya comments:
In other words, it would be extremely foolish to assume that the traditional media coverage was more important than the community activity. In reality, sales were being primarily driven by community activity, reflecting what we learned in the first study above. Just as importantly, blog and traditional media coverage were being driven, in part, by community activity.
This study also brings with it an important insight: these discussions were taking place on forums, and most of the discussion was taking place on Kiva’s own forum.
Research from one forum does not make for a sound statistical forum and Kiva’s audience will have some different characteristics to the typical Western organisation. But unlike Facebook and Twitter, communities and brands have the opportunity to own their own channel for a relatively nominal sum, avoiding the social media toll collectors.
A New Forum
Given the opportunity that online forums provide, it has been exciting to see the launch of Microco.sm. The London-based startup aims to bring the forum forward into a more contemporary social media age with a cleaner interface , adaptive web design, built in events functionality and exportable data.
Microco.sm is not simply resting on its laurels, with a pricing strategy that sees it undercutting the market incumbents whilst offering an enviable feature set.
You can get a feel for the platform on the Islington Cycle Club’s forum which was the first client to launch and if you want a more hands on experience, Microco.sm are enabling consumers and organisations to launch their own forum for a month for free. For those of you still hungry for more information about Microco.sm, I’d recommend checking out the ShedCast interview with founder David Kitchen.
The featured image is Fish by Evgeniy Dikson