If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that it’s more expensive to get new customers than to keep existing ones. But, how about investing in a tool that helps you do both in a cost-efficient way?
Community forums can help you do just that. In fact, a survey showed that branded community forums helped:
- 66% of respondents improve customer retention,
- 68% get new leads, and
- 55% increase sales.
So, what is a community forum, and what benefits can you expect from it?
What Is a Community Forum?
A community forum is a place for community members to ask and reply to questions. There are two versions: internal and external community forums.
Internal community forums
An internal community forum is a private space where employees can discuss company matters. For example, you can use it to:
- Share company or industry news.
- Get feedback on your latest idea from other teams in the company.
- Share lessons learned from a completed project.
- Discuss the best way to launch a new strategy.
- Test the waters and get buy-in for upcoming changes.
The internal community forum builds interaction and forms stronger bonds between employees and the different teams.
External community forums
The external community forum allows both employees and users to discuss the public side of your company. For example, you can use the forums to share information about the company, ask for feedback, and identify bugs.
Users can turn to the forum with questions such as:
- How do I solve issue ‘X’?
- What’s the best strategy for implementing this product for a remote team?
- Can you add this new feature?
- When will you release the next update?
The questions can be answered by a dedicated staff, other community members, or a combination.
To summarize, community forums have a few main functions, including support, feedback, and collaboration. These functions are similar for the two types of community forums:
Before we dive into the features and benefits of a community forum, it is worth noting the direct ROI. Higher Logic’s 2020 report shows that both internal and external community forums see measurable ROI. However, the variation in ROI is great: the average internal community saw a 1,967% ROI while the average external landed at an ROI of 6,130%.
Features to Consider for a Community Forum
So, what community forum features do you need? Some of the most critical ones include:
- Easy overview. Categories, tags and a clear content hierarchy makes it easier for users to navigate.
- Highlight information. How easy is it to shine a spotlight on important information and news?
- Customization. Is the tool flexible to adapt to your unique customization needs? Can it scale with you?
- Ease of use. Can the typical user easily register an account, navigate, and contribute to the forum without difficulties?
- Great search tool. The better the tool, the better will it match the users’ searches with the right discussions — meaning you’ll get fewer repeat questions to handle.
- Analytics. Analytics lets you see how many people access the boards, how they use it, and how useful the answers are.
- SEO. Do you want to keep the forum searchable to attract organic traffic? Then a forum tool that considers SEO is a good option.
- Integrations. Does the tool integrate well with other tools you need? Can you create a seamless experience for visitors to your website?
The Benefits of Having a Community Forum
Let’s look at some of the advantages you can expect when you successfully implement a community forum.
Improve customer service
Customers can turn to the community forum to see if their issue is already solved. If they find the right answer, they won’t have to contact your customer service. This frees up your support staff’s time for trickier cases.
If the question isn’t there, the user can start a new topic, with the answer benefiting both them and future users.
The community forum can also go beyond the often technical focus of customer support. For example, users can discuss and share strategies, tips, and tricks.
Increase customer loyalty and engagement
A report published in Internet Research showed that co-creation was an essential part of the user experience. It leads to more engaged community members, as well as increased word-of-mouth.
63% of forum members feel heard frequently or all of the time in the forums. By offering a helpful place to discuss your products or services, you increase the users’ trust and engagement. The engagement is tangible as 70% of users in an average forum contribute answers, with the average active user sharing six replies per year.
Get great ROI
According to a 2020 report by Higher Logic, the average community forum saw an ROI of 4,530%. The ROI increases with time, starting at 1,469% in the first year and rising to 5,315% after ten years. At the same time, the cost per user decreases dramatically as the forum ages.
While scalability is one reason for the lower cost, the most important one is that you build up a bank of answered questions. New users can easily access and use the information without extra work from your support staff.
Forums often feature a start page with a search function and an overview of the different forum categories. The start page is an excellent opportunity to share upcoming changes, make announcements, and highlight events.
As customers get used to going to the community forum with their issues, this is also where they’ll report bugs or share any user experience issues. Many support forums have a separate category for these kinds of reports, so they are easy to review for designers or product developers.
Some external, customer-facing community forums require users to log in for access. You can also choose to share the forum publicly and allow it to be searchable on Google. Publicly available forums increase organic traffic and guide users who’ve turned to Google to your answers.
Stay out of Facebook’s hands
Facebook groups are another popular way to create community discussions. However, a Facebook group can be difficult for both users and hosts to overview, has poor search functionality, and requires users to have a Facebook profile to participate.
With a dedicated community forum tool, you can skip the overall limited functionalities and need to follow Facebook’s rules, and instead host a community discussion on your own rules.
Get new ideas based on customer demand
90% of respondents in a survey of communities have used suggestions to improve their product or service. The forums are a perfect place to gather feature requests, get help prioritizing developments, and get feedback on ideas from a dedicated customer base.
Source customer success stories
A community forum gives you an excellent opportunity to identify satisfied customers to include in case studies and testimonials. You can either approach enthusiastic users directly or use a discussion thread to invite them to contact you.
How To Maximize the Community Forum with a Knowledge Base
As we’ve already seen, a community forum helps lower the pressure on your customer support staff. That said, the incoming questions still need to be answered. It can take a lot of time to answer repeated questions from customers who didn’t search for or found a satisfying answer.
This is where a knowledge base comes in handy. A knowledge base is a central hub where you can store, maintain, and share information. Internally, you can use it for sharing reports and collaborating on documents with colleagues. Externally, they are excellent as self-service portals for customers and often include FAQs, tutorials, and troubleshooting.
There are two main reasons why community forums pair so well with knowledge bases:
- Customers may not need to ask a question in the forum in the first place if it is answered in a knowledge base, and
- Your support team and the other community members can link to the knowledge base to answer questions.
It is a winning combination — as many as 77% of support-focused community forums also have knowledge bases.
Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Set a strategy
Without a plan, you risk building a forum that doesn’t quite help you reach your goals. That’s why it is useful to start by considering why you want a forum and how you’ll use it.
For example, what kind of categories do you need? Will you moderate the answers? Who in your company will answer the questions? What metrics will you track? By having a strategy from the start, you have a greater chance of getting the benefits you want.
2. Create a seamless experience
When a user navigates from your website to the knowledge base and then to the community forum, can you provide a seamless support portal experience? Customize both the knowledge base and the community forum, so they stay on brand.
While logos, colors, and fonts are a good start, you’ll also want to keep the tone in the answers congruent, whether you wish to come across as friendly, quirky, or knowledgeable.
3. Reply to forum questions with knowledge base articles
Do you have an article that explains the issue that a customer is facing, or at least part of it? For example, maybe you ask the customers to go through a specific tutorial and then give customized advice — such as CSS code — that fits the customer’s unique need.
4. Expand your knowledge base as needed
Do your customer service team or community forum get many questions of the same sort? Do you find yourself giving a customer a great explanation to solve a common issue? Turn it into a knowledge base article! That way, you’ll reduce the future need for customer support on that issue.
A community forum can help you increase customer engagement, lower customer service costs, and get invaluable product feedback. The forum becomes even more powerful when combined with a knowledge base.
This article listed several useful community forum features. Many of them are necessary for a knowledge base, too, such as great search tools, easy ways to create and edit answers, and advanced analytics.
Helpjuice’s knowledge base offers all of that, and much more. The customization is unrivaled — there are unlimited possibilities, and our customer service will even help you out by doing the customizations for you. Try Helpjuice out for free for 14 days now.