For membership-based groups that have members across the world, don’t have regular meetings, or just want to keep up a sense of community, discussion boards can be a great way to encourage conversation and collaboration. But how do you make sure you’re fostering an environment of growth for these discussion boards and avoiding the fate of many an organization with stale, outdated discussions? Here are some tips to breathe some life into your forums.
Using discussion boards isn’t always intuitive, and it can be helpful to include detailed instructions on how to post, reply, add comments, or include pictures for your newer members. Not only will this help your new members when you first start the board, but you can ensure that the instructional post is included in new welcoming members who join when the forum is already bustling.
Make Introductions Easy
Have an introductions board for everyone to post when they first join. New members can introduce themselves to the larger group in a low-stakes way and can include whatever sort of information they feel comfortable sharing. You should never let an introduction go unacknowledged! Encourage your board or discussion leaders to always reply to these posts.
Enlist Your Board
You can’t do everything alone, so gather a few people who commit to spending time on each discussion board commenting, asking questions, or posting new topics each week. If you don’t have a board, put out a call for volunteers for discussion leaders! Make sure there’s always some new activity each day.
Respond to Everything
Especially at the inception of your group or when you’ve first started using forum posts, this will be essential. Respond to every post, every comment where it makes sense. As a member, there’s nothing worse than trying to engage with a new organization and having your comments just drift into the ether! Make sure your members feel heard.
Make your posts or comments more engaging with an image or two, if it makes sense in context! This can help your visual members feel more included and boost comprehension if any of your members don’t communicate in their primary language on your forums.
Remember Web Etiquette
When it comes to communicating online, it would be wise to avoid typing in all caps, keep your formatting simple, and limit sarcasm and jokes. While your humor might come off without a hitch in person, communication is different online and there’s more opportunity for misunderstandings, crossed wires, and hurt feelings.
When it comes to different post styles, whether it’s a question prompt, photo ideas, or essay style, feel free to experiment. You may find that one style works better for your organization, or that you can engage different users depending on the type of post and make sure everyone has something to engage with!
Use Individual Discussion Threads
When you’re in a room of 200 people, you don’t try and make conversation with the whole room at once. People will naturally split off into different, smaller groups, and have their individual discussions on topics that they choose and prefer. To make your discussion board feel more like an intimate dinner party and less like a lecture hall, use individual discussion threads to your advantage. Don’t feel as if every thread needs to be applicable to every member, and encourage members to create their own threads of conversation.
Use your newsletters, website, and meetings to remind your members that the forum exists! It’s easy to forget all the things your organization provides and a little reminding can go a long way. This is also helpful when it comes time for renewals!
If something isn’t working, change it! Nothing you do is set in stone. If you find that your organization just doesn’t make use of the forums, don’t feel that you need to force it. Some groups of people are just chattier than others, and that’s okay!
Discussion boards and forums can be incredibly diverse in how they operate and what users even talk about! Creating an environment where you can make the most of these discussion boards is all about experimentation, listening to your members, and ensuring that there’s always a place for someone to engage.
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