Discussion forums or “chat rooms” are online websites where people engage in conversations around particular topics in the form of a question and answer style thread. A chat room is similar, except the conversation happens in real time. The principles are broadly the same for both forums and chatrooms so this article should give you a general overview for both. For the sake of economy we will refer to them as forums here.
Many people associate online forums with advice as the most common type are those that allow people to seek help relating to a particular issue. For example, health forums are very popular (and a little scary!) for advice about symptoms and health worries, techie forums are invaluable for answering questions about web development or any kind of technical need, and of course websites like Mumsnet offer forums for parents to discuss the highs and lows of family life. The personal nature of forums is very appealing to people and if you can find the right one it can be a great opportunity for you to connect with your readers, or other like-minded writers, and maybe even make some new friends.
Top tips for using online forums:
- Follow the rules. Forums generally have ‘rules’ that set the tone for how people engage with each other. When you first visit the forum be sure to look for the topic called ‘Forum rules’ (or something similar) to get a sense of what you can and can’t post.
- Use forums to ask for information and advice from others but also offer your expertise in return, and answer requests for information. The more you give, the more you get back.
- Proactively engage with discussions and build relationships with members.
- If you can, add photos and information to your personal profile, including links to your website, twitter profile or any other work online. However, some forums don’t allow members to link to other websites, so make sure you are aware of the rules and respect them.
- Some forums arrange real-life meet-ups. Don’t be afraid to leave the safety of your computer to attend but remember to stay safe and make sure you attend group meetings in public places only. Trust your instincts.
- Don’t engage in online arguments or slanging matches (the online term for such escalations is “flame wars”)! It’s good to take part in discussions and present your views, but remember this is about building a positive reputation. A good rule of thumb is to not type something you wouldn’t say outright in a personal conversation.
- It is OK to occasionally mention your work as long as the way you do it is sensitive and respectful to the community. People don’t like to be sold to so sometimes just being seen as a thoughtful, positive and friendly person is enough to sell a few copies of your book.
- View online spaces just like real life settings – because they are.
- Have fun!
Hosting a forum
If you are hosting a discussion forum, be aware that you have a responsibility to monitor the discussion and to take action should there be problems. You could, for example, be held responsible for defamatory remarks made against someone if you don’t remove them promptly.
These days it is easiest not to host a public discussion forum: social networks cover this ground really well. However, you may want to create a members’ password-protected discussion area where supporters can exchange ideas, or as a one-off event. You will still need to monitor this but the responsibility may be easier.
Many web content management systems (such as WordPress) come with a password-protected discussion forum option, so it is easy to set one up from a website created in this way.
Get started by visiting some of these popular forums for writers:
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