If your blog is lucky enough to have a thriving community surrounding it, you might be considering building on that user base. Beyond running competitions, polls and a newsletter, your best option if probably a bulletin board, also known as a discussion forum.
Of course, the similarities between a forum and a blog that accepts comments are considerable, the only real difference being your contributors’ ability to start their own topics.
Many blogs have fallen by the wayside by adding a forum, watching as their commenters migrate into the forum, presenting what appears to be a dead blog where no one bothers to contribute to the discussion. Similarly, many forums have died when associated with a blog that is already popular as posters in some communities prefer to have conversations purely on the topics offered by the blog.
Luckily, there are several ways in which you should be able to find a happy medium.
Making the Decision: Forum or Not?
Before you proceed, spend time deciding whether your blog needs a forum or not. There are several ways in which you can identify this:
- Your comments system requires a login yet you have many (50+) commenters
- Comment threads regularly diverge from the matter discussed in the post
- Readers request the ability to post their own content – pictures, documents, etc.
Other considerations might direct you to consider providing a forum for your readers. You might need a “private” area for development discussions with your team. Similarly, there might be a few members requiring comparative privacy while they discuss “adult aspects” away from the usual topic of your blog.
Once you have decided to add a forum to your blog, you will need to make a decision about the software you will use.
Which Forum Software?
There are so many different forum web applications that to recommend one over the others would likely spark a debate favouring one over the other. Generally speaking, vBulletin and phpbb are probably the most widely used self-hosted forum applications, although there are many new competitors popping up regularly.
Ideally, you should be looking for forum software that will enable you to customize it, so that you might incorporate it into your blog, at least visually.
Additionally, you should choose forum software that can be easily updated, is as fully-functioning as possible and has easy access to support technicians or a comprehensive resource that you can access in the event of errors or complete failure.
Integrating Your Forum with Your Blog
A major drawback of adding a forum to your blog is the comparative lack of integration between the two applications.
Dressing up your forum template to resemble your blog (with similar header and background art) is one way of doing this; another is to display the forum in an <iframe>, although this adds the problem of a second set of scroll bars.
Various plugins exist in WordPress that purport to enable you integrate certain blog software with your blog, but generally these don’t work as advertised (if at all).
Yet integration is vital boost the profile of both aspects of your site, so what should you do?
The trick is to correctly identify a plugin that will work. Some offer highlights of popular posts in your forum, which can be displayed in your sidebar thanks to a widget. These plugins tend not to fail as they are based on your forum’s RSS feed. Similarly, an RSS feed widget can be used instead. Either solution should enable you to tweak the feed so that only the relevant content is displayed (such as thread title).
The Importance of Integration
The above suggestions would probably only really work for third party forum software that doesn’t have any other relationship with WordPress.
Fortunately, there are other forum solutions that are more closely related to your blog software. Plugins such as bbpress and Simple:Press are easily incorporated into your blog, while the popular Mingle Forum also makes integration simple.
Integration with your blog is important for various reasons. Most importantly, it should enable you to easily display current hot topics on your blog’s standard post pages, as well as provide a single sign-on across the entire web site.
In fact, making it so easy to post, why would your readers ever want to leave?
Do you run a forum on your blog? What software did you use? Is it integrated with WordPress? Let us know!