Boxing Against A Tidal Wave
You can’t knock out a tidal wave. You might land with a few good jabs, but the tide of water will eventually crush you (and you will look silly).
A common question in our community is can forums survive?
A better question might be should forums survive?
When social media platforms make it easier and more fun to have a discussion, what is the point of forum-based communities? Many forums (and similar types of communities) are up against tidal waves from both sides.
From one side discussions around shared passions which might have taken place in a forum now take place on Facebook (or Reddit or other large platforms). These keep us in-flow with our existing habits. We don’t have to remember to go elsewhere each day. The platforms are often better too.
From the other side, it’s simply easier to Google an answer to a question rather than ask other people. If you need facts, Google is your answer. Worse yet, perhaps, Google is only going to get better.
You could try to build higher walls around your community and make it better, but you’re in the same boat as the independent video store when Blockbuster came to town (and blockbuster when Netflix appeared).
Don’t fight against the tidal wave, figure out how to swim with it. That means two relatively clear options:
1) Move to popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc..). Many online comment sections have already done this. You can keep most of your members but lose a lot of control (and existing content/advertising revenue).
2) Play to a forum’s strengths. Focus on deeper discussions around answers you can’t find on Google. You will have far fewer people (more lurkers) but far better quality discussions. You get to focus on creating an asset. A lot of customer service channels fall into this bucket.
3) Get exclusive. Focus on an exclusive feeling of being a part of something different and less mainstream. Hide your content from search and tell those who don’t meet your criteria to go to social media to chat. You will have fewer people, but a strong sense of community and a decent level of discussions.
This isn’t a new dilemma. Independent book stores, groceries, record labels, and many, many, more faced this same dilemma. The biggest mistake is to fight against a tidal wave. Make a decisive decision and push it all the way.