To tell you the truth, I’m having a hard time coming up with any reasons why you shouldn’t absolutely consider having a forum at your site.
In the early Internet days folks would chat back and forth via email only.
Some sites placed comment forms in strategic places around the site to encourage visitor input, but that communication was pretty much one way.
If the site owner wanted to answer a comment, it was back to the email station to shoot off a reply.
The word “forum” is usually associated with the legal profession.
A forum in ancient Rome was the site of legal activity, usually in a public marketplace, where issues were debated and great speeches were given to persuade opinion in a certain direction.
Sometimes the public was allowed to participate and seek retribution or remedy for misdeeds done against the individual in a forum setting.
The forum at a web site isn’t quite the same thing; but, it is a public gathering place where people are encouraged to voice their own opinions and listen to the ideas of others.
The participants are given a mechanism to hold on-going conversations or ask questions and receive answers from others that have registered to be a part of the dialogue.
The typical reasons, I suppose, that one would have against opening up a forum on his web site might be cost, lack of technical expertise in setting up and managing the system, and the perception that it takes a lot of time to watch over (moderate) the public comments.
These may have all been valid concerns years ago, but today the forum software is such that most of these issues are no longer a problem.
The advantages to having a forum at your web site are many.
They help to give your site “stickiness,” or the ability to hold and keep visitors.
Forums give your site a sense of place and community.
They draw like-minded viewers together and give them a public place to express their own opinions and feelings on a variety of topics, hopefully related to the niche subject of your business.
Forums are a way to recognize your site visitors and personalize their user names.
Without a way to express themselves, customers are little more than a name that you see on your mailing list.
Everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated. Having a forum is a way to “stroke” your customers and tell them that they are an important part of your business and you value their participation at your site.
Forums can add to your search engine rankings if you provide the spiders a way to index the many posts that will accumulate over time.
I’m not a technical expert on this subject, but I would advise you to look into this aspect of the forum features before you decide on one to implement at your site.
Apparently, some forum software solutions can be spidered easily while others are almost invisible.
Maybe the biggest reason to offer your customers a forum is this: a forum allows you to leverage your own knowledge and insight. One of the forums I contribute to often is the Warrior Forum created by Allen Says. It’s a forum that is targeted to Internet marketing and making money online.
You can begin a forum thread on a particular subject and let your customers run with it and include their own knowledge and experience on the topic for all your customers to see.
Over time, there will be answers, examples, and personal knowledge shared by your forum visitors that will go beyond your own knowledge and input and make your site more valuable to any viewers coming to get information in your niche.
In future discussions we’ll look at specific forum software solutions and applications that make sense for different types of web businesses.
To your online business success,