Sunday, December 2, 2007

I: Research Online - What Insights Can Forums Provide?

I really enjoy forums (in particular) as a research tool because the data - the themes, ideas, insights - is rich. I'll provide some illustrations in this blog.

What insights or themes does one draw from forum discussions and posts?

1. Members sometimes identify facets of a service or product they believe is invaluable but the business has never promoted or thought of promoting.
2. Despite the best trials of a service, once members use a system they locate its best and weak points. They will tell you what they like and they will tell you what they don't. In another blog I'll discuss the management of these types of forum discussions but suffice to say these insights are very useful.
3. Members' discussions lead you to sometimes identify other markets for your service or product. This said, what you have may need to be amended somewhat for this other demographic. Nonetheless, you are given pointers.
4. Members tell you how they'd like you to engage with them. If they have cause to celebrate e.g. a golf club forum where members have just won a major championship, they will generally tell the owners of the forum, in this case the club, what they would like to see 'happen' e.g. an announcement on the main page of the website or similar.
5. Members enjoy a sense of community; a likemindedness in the face of age and gender difference and so on. They like being provided with a safe haven to discuss and a place that is secure and safe. They like to believe that the business is listening. This is also a management issue to be discussed in the future.

This list in not exhaustive, but representative, however I believe it illustrates some of the useful data that can be drawn from forums.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Business Decision: To Blog Or Not To Blog

It's good to start with some foundation points, so let me commence by giving you permission not to have a blog or forum :)

Truly. It may be fashionable to have a business blog but as a variation on the well utilised cliche, a bad blog is worse than no blog at all.

It is important that you have a clear idea of why you want a forum because this will shape your approach to it and your communication style as well as staffing.

The three principal rationales for having a blog or forum are:

communication and learning, networking, and research.

A blog differs from a forum in that it offers a lead article or commentary that readers or your peers or your clients can respond to. Clients can be both researched and led into new product awareness by engaging with your business blog and its lead articles.

As a CEO or senior manager you may want to retain a connection and a canvassing of your staff even when you are overseas. A blog can be an ideal medium.

A forum by comparison is usually one site divided into a number of pre-selected topics that visitors (or staff if it is member only) can respond to fairly openly. The topic may be a two word phrase e.g. "Exercise questions". The business considers how much intervention they want to have on that forum against the purpose they have clearly articulated for the forums existence.

I often think blends of blogs and forums can be useful however blogs by far offer the most assertive medium of the two in terms of selling product or directing thoughts and discussion. On the other hand forums that allow natural issues and dialogue to transpire between members often lead to extremely useful insights.

Forums and blogs require staffing and there are a number of key considerations that need to be addressed in this domain. If you simply want a medium for a small group of managers to communicate then self moderation is more than appropriate with a tech staffer to occasionally call upon if necessary. If you want a dynamic environment for research and sales purposes you need staff with research analysis skills.

In topics to come I'll offer some examples of the great insights blogs and forums offer.

Feel free to ask questions or to comment. Obviously those of you with rich blog experience would have knowledge of these matters already however many people are very, very new to the blog world.