How to Create a Forum Website for Discussion & Customer Service

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Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella

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If you think about forums, you might think of the internet of old. In reality, these online spaces are a helpful way to build community. So instead of asking if forums work, savvy marketers explore how to create a forum that develops deeper customer relationships.

how to create a forum for discussion and customer service

I actually find myself on forums frequently. If I have a question, especially when it’s about something niche related to my hobbies, I often find myself on a forum looking for answers. That’s how I workshop issues with my bike, get recommendations for cycling gear, and connect with other passionate cyclists.

Despite the popularity of social media, forums still offer unique benefits in connecting with your audience. So, let’s take a look at what exactly a forum is, how you can build a forum website, and why you should focus on using it.

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Table of Contents

What is a forum?

A forum is a discussion board within a website. It’s a vibrant online community where users share their thoughts, ask questions, and help others solve common problems. Some popular examples of such collaborative forums are Reddit, Warrior Forum, Stack Overflow, Quora, and Discord.

Discussion boards such as Reddit and Quora have grown in prominence in search engine results pages (SERPs), impacting exposure for various businesses. Even Danny Sullivan, Google’s search liaison, mentioned that forums appear frequently in search results because users are looking for content there.

Components of a Forum Website

If you’re considering the process of how to make a forum, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to it since you can pick and choose what kind of forum you want. However, let’s take a look at one of my favorite forums, Quora, to see what you can include in yours.

how to make a forum website, a “space” in quora

Image Source

Search Functionality

In any forum, including Quora, it’s important to have a search button to help users find information about their specific interests or new questions. I find that it makes it easier for users to find what they’re searching for, and they won’t have to waste time scrolling through each thread.

Building Your Feed

In my experience, one of the best places to find questions regarding subjects you’re interested in is the feed. Quora allows you to build your feed by adding topics you’re interested in. When I first started using Quora, my feed only included the issues I initially chose when I signed up. From there, I could add new topics at any time.

In the Quora world, there are two things to pay close attention to: topics and users. Questions and answers tagged with a certain topic will appear in your feed if you’re following it. Likewise, questions and answers from specific users you’re following will also appear in your feed.

Dedicated Spaces

how to make a forum website, quora spaces

Image Source

The image above shows a Quora feature called “Spaces.” Spaces are essentially communities created around shared interests and tastes. I like adding specific Spaces to my feed to ensure I’m up-to-date on all activities.

Similar to Reddit’s subreddit functionality, Spaces provides a topic-specific community space. By following specific Spaces, Quora users can find fresh questions and answers related to the subject. What I really like about Quora Spaces is that you can also propose topics others haven’t considered and create your own Space that others may join.

Add Questions & Answer Them

This is what makes Quora unique: Posing questions that you have and that other users can start asking themselves.

However, answering questions is just as important, especially about a topic you’re interested in. The more questions I respond to, the more opportunity I have to establish my authority and credibility. In turn, more people can turn to me for advice through the “request” option.

Here, users can find a person who is an expert on the subject and ask them to respond to their questions. This appears in the Quora Inbox, which comes with your account.

In my opinion, Quora’s best feature is that you can share your query or response on Quora with your social media network as well. It’s simple to “ask for an answer” via email or Facebook if your network wants to answer a particular question.

Notifications

Notifications don’t need an introduction to anyone who’s scrolled through social media. Quora has the same functionality: You receive updates regarding the topics or questions you’ve been following in case there are any new answers or updates.

In any forum, notifications can help users keep track of what’s new or if there’s anything that they need to be aware of.

What I also find great about Quora is that you can express gratitude to users who offer thoughtful, well-written responses by upvoting their answers.

Now that you know everything you should be aware of about Quora, let’s see how you can implement that knowledge when developing your forum.

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    1. Pick a location to host your forum.

    Below, I’ll share the process of creating a forum website. First, I need to decide where I want to host my forum. It can be a page that’s found at the end of the URL, like www.example.com/forum. It can be a subdomain located at the beginning of the URL, like forum.example.com.

    What I suggest you keep in mind is where you choose is dependent on your current web hosting provider and how you’ve organized and built your site.

    2. Choose a content management software to create your forum website.

    Once I have a web address picked out, the next step is to choose a content management software. This software builds my forum’s pages and lets me design and categorize its content. 

    HubSpot CMS tools showing drag-and-drop page editing

    I’ve found that the right software makes all the difference, so be sure to select one that can match the theme and features of your current website. We recommend using HubSpot's Free CMS Tools.

    3. Organize your forum's structure.

    Before creating pages, I suggest considering how you’re going to organize topics. It should be easy for customers to find what they’re looking for and your forum’s navigation features should support visitors’ needs.

    I start by identifying the topics I want to create discussions for. These can focus on troubleshooting specific products and services or could be for general topics like customer ideas and workarounds. I include a search bar so visitors can bypass categories if they’re looking for a specific page. Organizing my forum this way helps users navigate my site and find information that’s relevant to their interests.

    For example, on Mumsnet, a parenting forum, the navigation at the top makes it clear what topics are covered and organizes them into sections. If you don’t have a specific topic in mind, the threads are organized by active conversations.

    how to create a forum website, mumsnet feed

    Image Source

    how to create a forum website, munsnet “trending” example

    As you can see above, on the right side of Mumsnet, there is a “Trending Now” section that has a list of topics. I find this rather helpful as a user because, besides the navigation, users can click on this button and will see a list of topics in alphabetical order.

    how to make a forum website, alphabetical list of topics from mumsnet

    Image Source

    how to organize a forum website, example of mumsnet

    Image Source

    Another way to organize your content is by popular and featured topics. This is how the Visa Developer community forum is organized, and it’s one of my favorite forum designs. In the screenshot below, you can see popular community topics and featured topics.

    Additionally, the Visa Developer forum has great navigation because it also features tutorials, blogs, and webinars. Community members can engage with the community and use educational resources in one location.

    how to create a forum website, organize your content

    Image Source

    Regardless of how you organize your content, here are some of my recommendations on what elements your forum page should have:

    • Topics.
    • Search bar.
    • Navigation menu.
    • Sign-in/Login button.
    • Popular community topics.
    • Widgets for upcoming events, latest blog posts, webinars, or tutorials if applicable.

    4. Design your forum's theme.

    Your forum’s theme should match your surrounding website. I’d suggest using the same colors, logos, and layout as your existing content so customers aren’t confused when they navigate to a new page.

    Some content management systems provide themes that match most website layouts. In the example below, users can select from a variety of options when choosing their forum’s theme.

    how to make a forum website, choosing a theme that corresponds to your website

    5. Create user rules for your forum website.

    Visitors should feel empowered to participate in your forum’s discussions. To do that, all users will need to abide by a set of rules that promote healthy, informative conversation. These rules ensure discussions stay on topic and everyone feels comfortable with contributing.

    Some example rules I recommend starting with are:

    • Be respectful, even when there’s a disagreement.
    • No foul language or discriminatory comments.
    • No spam or self-promotion.
    • No links to external websites or companies.
    • No NSFW (not safe for work) content.

    A great example of community rules comes from the Educational Theatre Association.

    As you can see in the screenshot below, the organization lists its top rules, including how to participate in constructive, productive conversations. These rules are a great place to start.

    Additionally, I find it great that the site also has a complaint and reporting process so users know what to do when they see someone breaking the rules of conduct.

    how to make a forum website, community rules from Education Theatre Association

    Image Source

    6. Start conversations with interesting discussion topics.

    Before you publish your forum, you should write some general discussion topics that encourage conversation. I find that it usually breaks the ice for new users, especially when your forum is starting out. After all, it’s much easier for users to comment on a post than it is for them to write their own.

    7. Publish the forum on your website.

    Now it’s time to publish your forum. Don’t forget: You should set your pages live and connect your forum’s homepage to your primary site. Users should be able to easily find your forum when they visit your brand’s homepage.

    8. Advertise to your audience.

    Now that we’ve covered the technical steps you’ll need to take to create a forum, the next step is to make it an active community. Like an awkward middle school dance, getting participants engaging with each other can be a lot easier said than done.

    I recommend starting with reaching out and advertising to your most loyal customers. These people are genuinely interested in your brand and will be excited to participate in your forum. If you can get them talking, other visitors will be more likely to join the conversation.

    You can advertise to them by targeting them in social media ads or reaching out via email. Additionally, you can advertise your community on search engines. I’d say you can do this best by thinking of all the ways you currently advertise your marketing campaigns and begin a campaign for your forum.

    9. Increase engagement with badges.

    Of course, engagement is something that’s hard to kickstart. You don’t want to manufacture it and have the conversations seem stilted. A great way to encourage engagement is to provide incentives.

    For example, one incentive I’d recommend using is badges. When users regularly participate in your forum, reward them with badges that other users can see. Your most active users can be your “regular contributors” and will feel a sense of belonging by participating in your community.

    how to create a forum website, example of user badges

    10. Moderate user participation and respond to customer inquiries.

    In my experience, forums are living, breathing, active communities, and once you create one, you need to participate in it if you want it to thrive. This means your business should be leading discussions and leveraging the forum as a continuous resource for customer feedback.

    I’d suggest assigning customer service reps to mediate your forum and respond to customer inquiries. They should make sure users are abiding by the forum’s rules and answering any questions that customers have about your products and services. Not only will this help keep your forum active, but it will also provide a delightful support experience.

    If you need expert advice on this, I suggest reading Hubspot’s guide to community management to gain insights on how to effectively moderate user participation.

    11. Collect user feedback.

    As your forum grows, it’s important to collect feedback from its users. Ask them how they’re enjoying the experience and where you can make improvements. I’ve found that doing so will keep users engaged and satisfied with your forum’s content and interface.

    One great way I can recommend you do this is to start a thread on your forum directly. In that thread, you can link to a survey. You could also email all your community members an NPS or customer satisfaction survey, just like you would when you’re collecting feedback on your service organization.

    Now that you have your forum set up, let’s review some of the benefits that a forum would bring.

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      All fields are required.

      You're all set!

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      Benefits of Creating a Forum Website

      An analysis of 1.4 million terms shows that 33% of searches now result in the Discussions & Forums section, with a peak of 38% in December 2023. So, it’s safe to say that now is the right time to learn how to make a forum. But apart from boosting search rankings, why should you focus on creating a forum?

      Build a sense of community.

      In my experience, forum websites offer a unique platform for building online communities around topics that resonate with your audience. Unlike a standard website, a forum encourages users to stay and engage. Here, anyone can ask questions, provide answers, and share unique perspectives on a variety of subjects.

      This promotes the exchange of knowledge and information on general issues or topics related to businesses. For example, if you have a forum for small businesses, owners can share information on almost any topic, such as hiring, onboarding, business management, and more.

      Increase customer engagement.

      Remember, having a large following doesn’t always translate to meaningful engagement. In my experience, forums often foster more authentic and organic interactions with customers. While the platform is overseen by admins or moderators, users are free to discuss topics of interest as long as they adhere to the guidelines.

      Community members are more likely to participate in discussions and share more information since they are interested in the topics discussed.

      Route customers to your primary support channels.

      Community forums are designed to foster discussion, and while these conversations often center around customer roadblocks, solving problems on your forum can sometimes be tricky.

      In some cases, it makes more sense to work with a customer through your traditional customer service channels than it does to work with them on your forum. Since anyone can comment on a public forum, it can become difficult to keep track of the ongoing thread between you and the customer. Especially if it’s a long-term case, I’d recommend transitioning the conversation to your help desk or ticketing system to help your team retain valuable information that will help them solve the problem faster.

      Demonstrate troubleshooting steps with screenshots and screen recordings.

      One benefit of using a forum I’ve seen, especially for customer support, is that it’s easy to include content that can contextualize your troubleshooting steps. For example, you can include screenshots and screen recordings that outline what a customer needs to do to solve the problem they’re experiencing. Now, when other customers have that same problem, they can refer to your images and videos instead of having to submit an additional support ticket.

      Keep track of customer ideas and workarounds.

      Forums should inspire customers to provide honest feedback for your products and services. This will lead to valuable discussions that highlight areas to improve your business.

      When mediating your forum, I’d encourage you to get your team to keep track of ideas and workarounds proposed by your customers. You can even assign a specific segment of the forum to these posts, like in the example below.

      how to create a forum website, example from HubSpot

      Community forums are a great way to get feedback from and engage with your customers. When customers are actively engaged in your community, they’ll be more loyal and give your company fresh ideas.

      Bottom Line

      So, whether you’re a small business or a larger enterprise, forums are an excellent way to draw in new visitors and interact with current ones. They enable businesses to increase consumer engagement and provide better customer care. Moreover, you can also create a devoted online community by creating a stand-alone forum website.

      However, when learning how to make a forum, choose a well-known platform that offers dependable customer support and superior service. Why not explore HubSpot’s products to find the right fit for your forum from start to finish?

      Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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