Which one do you think is best for forming an online community?
Before the social networking boom, online communities on discussion forums were the spaces that allowed people to interact, collaborate, share content, and learn from each other. In the past 10 years, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networks have grabbed some of the spotlight.
I started DVCinfo.com as an informational site with a Blog (and this is one of my blog posts). However, I wanted to build a community of DVC members. I was faced with the decision of whether to establish this community using a discussion forum or a Facebook group.
Facebook Group Pros
- It’s fast, easy and free – anyone can easily set one up
- People that already use Facebook can get notified of posts on any of their groups. There is no need to login to some other site and check for posts.
Facebook Group cons
- It’s difficult to keep track of topics
- Posts can’t easily be searched, browsed, or categorized
- Quick post turnover – content “disappears” after the user scrolls past it – it’s too easy for things to be missed
- Good discussions get lost. So much good information is essentially gone and not used or referenced again.
Discussion Forum Pros
- Better categorization of topics and posts
- It’s easier to search for information and previous discussions – including using Google
- More in-depth conversations
Discussion Forum Cons
- Special user registration is typically required
- It’s more difficult to setup and takes time to administer and manage
- It costs much more money to run (as you have to pay for web hosting, software, etc.).
As I faced this question, it was obvious that the greatest strength of Facebook Groups is their cost (it’s free!) and the ease of set up. Anyone can set one up in a matter of minutes. However, I’ve found that engagement tends to be lower, less serious, and short term on Facebook Groups compared to forum communities. Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to scroll through Facebook mindlessly or just click the “like” button rather than actively engage in a conversation.
I’ve also found Facebook Groups to have less moderation, so I’ve seen gang attacks where members of a group attack someone with a contrary opinion.
On the other hand, discussion forums allow me to look at a list of thread titles that have had new activity since my last visit and choose which ones I want to read without having to scroll through everything that has already been posted.
If I want to return to a thread that hasn’t had recent activity, I can find it either by using the forum search feature, or scrolling through the thread titles of the appropriate sub-forum.
Facebook posts require endless scrolling through at least 5 responses for each thread. Once too much time has passed, the posts are nearly impossible to access unless I want to scroll down forever.
Although there are many thoughtful comments in Facebook groups, the ease of replying and the general Facebook comment culture results in a predominance of throw-away one-liners. If I do end up commenting on a popular thread on Facebook, I get bombarded by others’ comments on the thread.
There are clearly exceptions for each medium, but in general, I find that for a quick fix of attention, Facebook Groups work well, but for a more substantive discussion with users whose experience and track records I can more easily access, I prefer discussion forums.
That’s why I setup the DVC Boards at DVCinfo.com as a discussion forum.
What are your thoughts?
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