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This is part two of our Blog Series, For the Love of Engagement: 4 Ways to Romance Your Respondents, where we share best practices for participant engagement. This post will focus on Discussion Forums. Read part one on User Interface Design, part three on Respondent Fatigue and part four on Mobile Research.

Also, watch for our on-demand webinar on participant engagement featuring Forrester Research, Inc.

What makes for a great discussion forum is a lot like what makes a great wedding. It's not just about the love - it's about throwing a great party that leaves people feeling more connected and engaged.

And like any great party, a successful forum conversation depends on smart planning. Here are the key elements in planning a great and productive forum - or, for that matter, a great wedding:

1. Make people feel welcome. As members join your forum, if they do not feel engaged right at the start, they may get distracted and may leave quickly. Write a short introduction - between 100-200 words is ideal - that helps participants get oriented without overwhelming them with text. The moderator can thank the first few posters for jumping into the discussion and help the conversation grow and flow.

2. Make introductions. An effective moderator needs to welcome participants and initiate introductions. Especially in a first forum, it is important for members to introduce themselves to others. It's just as important for the moderator to introduce him or herself with an authentic post that sounds like it comes from an actual human being and not a corporate message box. The quicker members get to know each other and the moderator, the faster they will start contributing their thoughts and ideas.

3. Plan great entertainment. Members should arrive in a forum to find conversation starters focused on an interesting topic. Make sure your questions are open ended and encourage long answers rather than the kind of questions you'd put in a survey. Consider seeding your discussion with some thought-provoking comments that model the kind of answer you'd like to see - and if others jump in with posts that are too long, too short or off-topic, don't be shy about gently nudging them towards the kind of answer you want (and others) will want to see.

4. Invite the right people. Thinking about the mix of people around the table is really important to the evening going well. You want guests who will have something to say to one another, but with enough variety to keep the conversation lively. If you want people to accept the invitations you send, be sure to provide them with clear guidelines about what that will involve: how much time the forum will take, how long it will run and whether you'll be compensating them for their time.

5. Thank people for coming. At the end of the forum, the moderator should wrap up the conversation and thank people for coming. Recognize your top contributors with a special thank you and consider offering a small financial reward to your top posters or to everyone who contributed.

The more thought you put into planning your forum, the more successful it will be - and the more engagement and insight it will generate. For even more tips on how to plan a great forum, watch The Art and the Science of Moderating Online Discussions.

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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