I was wondering if anyone has any insight into deciding what to call and brand their community that is in the form of an online forum (a Lithium one, of course!).
I inherited and currently manage a community for HP that is branded as "Support Forum", but I'm thinking of moving towards "Community", or even "Support Community". Similar to how a house is not a home, I don't feel that a forum is necessarily a community - but mine has become one. My gut is telling me that "Community" is the right way to go, but I need to present more than just a gut feeling to stakeholders to make a case.
A few things to share about my community:
Does anyone have any insight or articles/resources/research to share? Possible cons of any sort or magnitude, or things I should be cautious of?
I xposted this to CMX Hub, where there was a lot of interesting discussion, so I'm hoping to get some more thoughts from the Lithosphere as well. Thanks in advance! 🙂
Similar to how a house is not a home, I don't feel that a forum is necessarily a community...
From my perspective, the term "forum" is dated. Especially now that online communities encompass many different functions and interaction types (forums, KBs, blogs, ideation, contests), it makes sense to use a broader term to encompass them.
"Community" connotes a gathering place, a sense of sharing, and warm feelings about being part of something bigger than one's self. If the aim is to improve the imagery and level of care around your organization, going to a word with those properties is a solid move.
Lastly, I think that most people understand the word "community" and what it means in the internet age. When you see the word or a speech bubble you automatically know that's a place to go to find other people like yourself and have a conversation.
@BrianOblinger, thanks for sharing this! I feel exactly the same way and this is why I'm gravitating towards "Community". "Forum" feels old school and antiquated to me, whereas "Community" speaks more to the connections made and the feeling of belonging. Agree that many more folks these days are more apt to understand what "community" (and "community manager"!) mean.
@JasonHill, thank you for that suggestion! Another potential candidate 🙂 The dropping of the "Support" part may be the toughest part for me since my community is within my company's support organization, but I do feel like dropping it can potentially open up more doors for the community, and add value to the community and company as a whole. We'll see...
BTW, kudos to you @debbie for cultivating a support community where people genuinely want to make connections and hang out.
I previously managed a support community and we had a lot of success turning it around from a fairly negative place to an absolutely thriving and buzzing community. Our superusers were amazing and would spend hours every day helping others. But despite my best efforts, encouraging "off-topic" discussions and genuine relationships among even the most dedicated users was a nut that remained uncracked by the time I moved on.
I'm "forum" all the way, although I've discussed this frequently with people here at NOW TV, and also on occasions with our contacts at Lithium. Most of the people I've discussed it with seem to prefer "community" though. Here are my thoughts...
The two Lithium "environments" (I'll use that as a neutral term!) that I've run have both been semi-assisted. That is, beyond support from community members, there's been a customer service team on hand to answer questions that others can't.
From the small amount of research I've done, many people perceive the word "community" to refer to something that isn't officially assisted by a company, and so some are unwilling to ask for help there as they just want a straight answer from the company itself.
I think if you asked a random selection of people what "community" means in an internet world, there'd be a fair chunk of people who'd reference sites like Facebook and Twitter, and if they did mention forums, they'd be ones more geared towards conversation than help and support.
That's the main reason I prefer "forum", as it better suits the purpose of my site, which is to deflect customer service contacts and help people get answers faster.
As for what I actually have at the moment, I do use both words publicly. Our Lithium platform is used for the NOW TV Help Forum, but also a separately skinned (and almost completely independent) NOW TV Blog. The blog's purpose is completely separate from the help forum, but both run from the same community platform with shared logins for people using them. So I use "Help Forum" to refer to the help bit, "Blog" to refer to the blog, and "Community" to refer to the overarching structure and the people that use it.
Whilst that's my general opinion on this, I also sometimes think that if you've achieved the right behaviours from people using your site with the current name, then it's a moot point. Why change it if there's nothing you want to change in the behaviour? General conversation can happen on a support forum, and can be really vibrant, but maybe people just don't want to use it for that.
I introduced the name "Help Forum" to try and make it clearer to people what they could expect from the site, but if you're achieving your KPIs, don't bother.
TLDR: I just prefer the "F" word to the "C" word 🙂
Interesting conversation going on here, and a lot of great points! I would agree with @BrianOblinger--the word "forum" is pretty outdated, and "community" suggests people coming together to share ideas, get answers, find solutions to common challenges, etc.
With a previous community I managed, I made the case for community (over "forum"). It was a support based community, and the first post we made was an intro post welcoming people to the community and pointing out different parts of the community, like:
A lot of the community users weren't the most tech-savvy, so we tried to make it clear what each part of the community was--in other words, what purpose they served. We would show new members the post during their onboarding process and many commented that they liked the "feel" of a community.
Good luck, @debbie, and let us know how it goes!
@JasonHill Thank you! I can't take any credit for getting it off the ground as I only inherited the community about a year ago, but I'm also impressed by what my predecessors have built and I'm doing my best to nurture and grow it 🙂
@ThomasRushton Thanks for sharing your community's story and making a case for the "f" word! That was a really interesting read and you do make a point with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" 😛 I've been thinking of different scenarios with goals and metrics if we were to make the change.
@JennC Thanks for sharing that, and if we ever come to some "conclusion", will do! 🙂
I know a lot of people I've interacted with view "community" and "forum" as the same. I don't think these terms hold the same weight though. To me, a forum is just discussions. Whereas a community can be a combination of discussions, blogs, virtual user groups, local user groups, company news, knowledge bases, and other forms of content sharing.
In my current job, we (unfortunately) have historically had two platforms -- the "discussion forums" and the "community." The forums are just support forums, and the community is user groups and documents. As soon as I joined, I immediately started to shift the way we talked about these platforms to discussion forums and user group community -- but both combined making one Community. It gets tricky though since the forums have been around for 17 years and that's how everyone has always referred to it. Luckily, we are moving to just one platform, and everything will exist in one place. At that time, I will want to rebrand everything to just the Community. I am sure though that people will still make a distinction of "this is the forums area" and "this is the user groups area".
Also, often I will refer to the members of the forum as the "community." I suppose in the end, that's what matters the most. We have users in our support forums that have been there for a decade+ and make high quality and quantity content. They are the ones who turned the site into more than just a support forum.
@lilim, thanks so much for sharing about your community! Since you're coming from an older and established community as well, have you thought about what impact that change would have on SEO and metrics? Those are a couple other aspects that I'm trying to wrap my head around. SEO, I'm not so worried about, but the metrics and goals I feel like would change from a Support Forum to a Community.