13.2 Ways Forums Can Make Your Life Better

Is a forum a good or bad place to hang out? A post at Freelance Writing Gigs asked the question on whether a community could be a bad thing..

James and I have plenty of forum experience. We’ve been contributors, we’ve helped maintain a few forums, we’ve been admins and moderators and we’ve created our own forum as well. We still actively use forums, and some are thriving with success.

In fact, if it wasn’t for forums, James and I would never have met.

But it’s true. Forum communities do sometimes go sour. Some become nasty. Some people take advantage of what they find there, soaking up the info without giving any of their own knowledge or experience back.

Plus, it takes a good deal of work on the part of the administrators to create a successful forum that thrives. A forum truly is a labor of love, because the return on investment for administrators and moderators is often next to nothing.

But there are positives to forums. What got to me about the post on Freelance Writing Gigs was that someone could only see the negatives in using a forum or group environment to get ahead in business.

So we’d like to list a few pluses for the people considering creating a forum or joining in one:

Support

Writers and artists can be a rather self-conscious and insecure lot. Mind you, not everyone is like that, but we’ve seen many creative types that hide their work in the closet. These people write but are too afraid to let their words see the light of day for fear of rejection.

A forum provides a safe haven of support, full of good people who want to encourage your success and your efforts, as well as help you understand what they perceive from your work. A good group tells you when you’re off track or how to better your technique.

They also often know where you’re coming from and can help share experiences that make your life easier.

Motivation

A good forum has its share of cheerleaders willing to spur others on. By the same token, forums have their share of ass-kickers too. You know the ones; they tell it like it is and get your butt in gear (*glances at James*).

Both cheerleaders and ass-kickers help you find motivation and reach for more. Passion breeds passion; it’s contagious. All it takes is for one person to get excited and before you know it, the whole crowd is fired up, spurring you on.

Knowledge

I liked working in an office because of the constant flow of discussion between peers. The people in the departments I worked had a wide range of skill levels. I learned a great deal about graphics, animation and design from my co-workers. I like to think they learned a few things from me, too.

Forums are the virtual equivalent of offices, and they’re full of knowledge you can tap into and learn from. All you have to do is start a topic, ask a question or put up a comment, and I can guarantee that you you’ll get answers from people who love to share what they know.

Ideas

Forums are great places to harvest ideas. Keep in mind that getting ideas from forum discussions is not the same as stealing ideas from others. Forums are thinktanks and giant brainstorming session.

You get ideas from other businesses, articles, magazines and more. Why not let yourself be inspired by topics and discussion from forum members? Forums take interaction to a new level when you start a conversation and explore it for all it’s worth with a group.

Networking

As I mentioned above, James and I met via a forum. Forums allow you to get to know people and become friends or partners. You can have all sorts of relationships with others, and you can improve your business, make your life richer, extend your peer group, benefit from the skills of others… anything at all.

Blogs are the places where you might discover a kindred spirit. Forums are the places where you can sit down together with a cup of coffee and have an intimate, continued conversation with each other.

A forum is what you make of it. It’s yet another resource that can lead you down some rather remarkable paths if you take the time to use it to its fullest. Community is never a bad thing; isolation definitely can be.

Our Escaping Reality is proof of how a forum can become a fantastic community resource. Ask any of the members there what the forum has done for them – you might be surprised at the answers you receive.

We hope to do the same with our forum right here.

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  1. I second what Harry has to say about how beneficial forums can be – I’m one of the members of Escaping Reality, and the community has done all sorts of amazing things for my writing. If you compare my posts on the forum or even my blog posts from six months ago to now, well, even I have a hard time believing how much improvement there has been. And not just for me – every single person who is a part of Escaping Reality has improved quite a bit.

    And it’s not just the quality of writing that has improved – I’m more confident as a writer, I now want and even need to write (as opposed to how I used to hate writing), I’ve learned an incredible amount from all the other writers there, and it’s a great community of people who care about helping each other improve. Really, all the points Harry made in this post apply to how the Escaping Reality forums have helped me, and quite a few others.

    Not to mention I’m very happy to consider all my fellow Escaping Reality players friends. :)

    I could go on… but my comment’s already pretty long as it is. ;)

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  2. Dave Fowler says:

    Harry,
    Getting people talking to each other on a blog can be hard work and sometimes ends up looking like a free-for-all mess, but forums seem to offer a real chance of community. It occurred to me recently that my ‘partners’ and I might want to set up a forum for our site, but we’re new and readership is yet to increase to a point where a forum could be sustained (I think). In fact I worry that it might even detract from the blog while we’re trying to grow it. More thought is required but this article is good place to start.
    Thanks
    Dave.

    Dave Fowler´s last blog post…I turned to the dark side

  3. Forums got me where I am today. No one would know about FWJ if I didn’t have a presence at many work at home mom and freelance writing forums. I believe in the support, encouragement and community fostered by forums and will probably put one up at FWJ.

    Deb Ng´s last blog post…Are We Losing Our Individuality?

  4. @ Allison – Heh, I was thinking of you while reading this myself. Of everyone there, I have to say that you were the one that benefited the most – and I think that’s because you took the forum for exactly what it could give you. You didn’t hesitate one bit. And look at you go!

    @ Dave – I think what I find the toughest is starting conversations. I mean, I can start a conversation on anything, anywhere, but when it comes to our own forum here at MwP, it’s tough to know what questions people might have. We take many things for granted because we’ve been around so long and we need people to ask so that we can say, “Oh yeah!!”

    Then watch out! I’m all over it!

    @ Deb – Heheh, just don’t make a forum like that nasty one where they burn people alive at the stake. There’s this one guy, James C? Man, did they ever do a number on him. Poor guy still has nightmares of screaming and pitchforks, I hear…

    ;)

  5. Many people underestimate the power of forums, but those who participate know just how much they can add to the pursuit of your life’s passions.

    Of course, they can also take over your soul and gobble you up. That’s where good moderation comes in. 100% of forum failures are caused by poor or lax moderation. Good thing there’s nothing to worry about here at MwP!

    Great post, Harry!

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write´s last blog post…A Writer’s Love

  6. Yes to forums! Our own forum in the http://www.thebusinessoasis.com has been very successful- but it has been a labor of love. And while we definitely have revenue from it, it’s the indirect contributions to our business that have been so valuable to us- including spending a lot of intimate time elbow-to-elbow with our best, most ideal clients. Which of course gives us a lot of guidance about how to continue developing our business.

    I think for some forums a major component is having a semi-permeable membrane- meaning that it’s not so easy to join. And, having it behind a password, so that member’s answers aren’t google-able if you are having any conversations that invite a deeper vulnerability.

    I also have to say that the old-school yahoo-list that Robert Middleton ran for many years was a huge boost for my business in the beginning- as well as the aspects you list above- great networking, great friends, and I received quite a bit of help myself.

  7. Harry,

    Ooh, a 13.2! I love 13.2s!

    Yes. The forums I’m really active in give all of the above benefits to me. Like you said, it can be a big brainstorming session. Sometimes it’s not so much that I grab an idea from someone else as that an idea *no one had* emerges from a crackling discussion. I LOVE that.

    Chicken or the egg? Support I may receive is great, but I see being able to help out as a benefit to me, also. I gain so much (joy and honing my “voice,” so to speak) from sharing what I know (or think, he he) with others and hearing how my expertise helped them out.

    And forums that are really relevant to my interests “make me want to be a better (wo)man,” to quote Jack Nicholson. Getting involved has a way of making me work harder and better.

    I’ve done many a happy dance since I discovered my first forums back in the antique 90s. Nice post.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Unlined Envelopes Save Customers!

  8. I have several forums that I participate in and a forum that I moderate for the non-profit I’m involved in. They’ve all been a great source of conversation, referrals and feedback. My only regret? Not enough time in the day to utilize them all.

    BTW, I’m having a terrible time reading this post– it’s showing up white font against a gray background and I can’t read the blue print. Is it me?

    Karen Putz / DeafMom´s last blog post…Come and Join Us for Mom’s Night Inn

  9. @Karen: Let me guess, you’re using IE7? I just viewed it on there and that’s the problem. We’ll fix it. Thanks for letting us know.

    @everyone: I’ll have responses for all of you soon. Need to wake up more ;)

  10. I need to take advantage of forums. It’s challenging to find someone to discuss ideas and solutions. People have busy lives or in a different field. I have a dilemma. Is it a good idea to engage in different forms of writing to create a substantial income or focus only on one area?

    Thanks

  11. I’ve already made my opinion of the Escaping Reality forums crystal clear, but for the record, they’ve only gotten better since I waxed so poetically! Everything Allison said is true. It’s fascinating to go back and reread old posts to see everyone’s improvement over the past six months. (Has it REALLY only been six?!)

    Not only is the place another great MwP community, but it’s hands down the best way (for me) to practice writing WHILE enjoying it. And you’re right Allison, it’s also made me love to write that much more.

    Yes, I’m going on and on like a love-struck teen, but that’s what ER does to me. ;)

    Nicole Brunet´s last blog post…A Place in My Mind

  12. @Allison: You’re one of our success stories and you’re getting better everyday!

    @Dave: Sometimes it’s hard getting a good conversation going on a forum too. With Escaping Reality it’s easy, the hook is the story and everyone wants to know what’s going to happen next. On a purely technical forum it’s a little tougher to get people involved. I think it all depends on your audience too. If your readership is used to using them to begin with you’ll have an easier time of getting your forum off the ground. Other communities where the audience has never used a forum before will require a little more hand holding and teaching them how to use the forum to get the most out of it.

    @Deb Ng: You’re a brave soul to have survived the WAHM forums. I heard what happened to that James C guy. He barely made it through alive. ;)

    @Jamie G: Forums do have a way of eating time if they’re interesting enough. I’d have to disagree on your failure stats though. It’s been my experience that many forums fall apart because of in-fighting and trouble makers. There’s also the new toy syndrome where the forum starts off with a spectacular blast and as soon as the novelty wears off, participation goes down. We’ve also noticed in the writing community that many people sign up and don’t ever participate.

    @Mark: Our Escaping Reality isn’t easy to join. Before a member can participate they have to submit a character concept for approval. We have a lot of people who sign up but never get in touch with us or go the extra step to participate. Yahoo Groups were great in the beginning, that’s where I started too. Now I can’t stand them, they seem so archaic now.

    @Kelly: I agree, the sharing part is the best. I’ve learned a lot on forums, everything from writing to motorcycle maintenance, and I’ve given my share of advice too. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you’ve helped someone find the answers to a tough question.

    @Karen: Yes! There’s never enough time. But somehow we find it, don’t we?

    @Omar: Focus on as much as you can. The more you know, the more you grow. You might have one or two areas you consider specialties, but it’s good to keep an eye on everything else too, even if it’s just to dip your toe in the water.

    @Nicole: :)

  13. I just want to make a clarification.

    We *do* make it easy to join our creative writing forum. All we ask is that someone get in touch, say hi and submit a character concept. That’s it.

    The MwP forum is even easier. Show up and don’t post spam or porn.

    @ Omar – I’d suggest finding one area that you’re particularly good at or skilled with and specializing. We tend to encourage people to not become generalists, so once you’ve discovered the niche you enjoy, focus on that.

  14. @James: Ugh, good catch on that. I didn’t mean for it to sound difficult and it is as easy as getting in touch to get started, but there’s a little more prep work involved on the part of the member before they can jump in and start playing. Does that help or is Harry just getting himself in deeper?

  15. Another great post! Couldn’t agree more. Forums are a great place to network, gather and share information, and make friends. I belong to two Virtual Assistant forums and my only regret is that I don’t have as much time to spend there anymore. I think becoming involved with forums is a positive must when working from a home office.

  16. I remember when that’s all I did online – hang out in forums. Plenty of them got nasty at times, especially when they attracted flamers (i.e. controversial topics), but in most cases, the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks. For me, the biggest problem with forums are that they are time consumers. There are just too many online activities these days, but I’ve been planning to get back into forums in the near future, and I’m looking forward to doing that. MwP will my first stop of course ;)

    Melissa Donovan, Copywriter´s last blog post…Doing Business Online with Multiple Income Streams

  17. @ Deb – Ah, that’s the catch, eh? Forums take some of those minutes we feel we don’t have to spare. I like to think, though, that investing our time in forums (the right ones) does offer good returns. You can learn a lot, network and get support. Invaluable!

    @ Melissa – Ha, see what I just wrote to Deb! And I wonder why, honestly, forums are prone to flamers. We moderate ours and it’s pretty easy to keep control, the same way people would on blogs. Then again, some forums are lax on moderation. No fun, that!

  18. Thanks for the advice James.

  19. Harry, Thank you also. I appreciate your feedback as well

  20. @Omar: You’re welcome ;)

  21. @James – And to think I was so hesitant and shy about joining and posting at the beginning! I can’t tell you how much it is thanks to you two that I’ve gotten over most of my shyness about writing. :)

    @Nicole – You’re right, we do sound like a couple of love-struck teenage girls when it comes to ER, but it really can’t be helped. ;)

    @Harry – Thank you!

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  22. @Allison: We just do it for the cookies ;) You’ve fed us so now you’ll never get rid of us.

  23. @Harry – I don’t mind. :D It’s a good thing I like to bake!

    *wondering how much sushi and/or cookies it would take to bribe Harry to come to Southern California and visit…* ;)

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  24. @Allison: Hmmm….I’d have to think about that one…

  25. Better you than me, bro. No amount of cookies would get me on a plane.

  26. @James – I’m still trying to figure out a bribe sufficient to get you to come out here and visit, since obviously sushi isn’t quite enough of a bribe to get you on a plane. ;)

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  27. I’d actually have to think on that myself. It’d have to be a pretty nice bribe… and even then!

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog post…13.2 Ways Forums Can Make Your Life Better

  28. Hey Harry, you still got that tranquilizer? I need you to get James onto a plane… ;)

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  29. I had this idea, but I don’t know that I could afford the amount of Shiraz it would take to pull it off. Now if we all pool our cash…. hmmm…

    Nicole Brunet´s last blog post…A Place in My Mind

  30. *looks at his fist* Yeah, got it right here…

    Oh Jameeee…c’mere, I wanna talk to you….

  31. @Nicole – Shiraz! Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? :D

    @Harry – Much appreciated. Extra sushi and cookies for you. ;)

    Allison Day´s last blog post…A Hug Rolled up with Salmon and Seaweed

  32. InDUStrial quantities of Shiraz. Who’d drive me to the airport?

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog post…13.2 Ways Forums Can Make Your Life Better

  33. Like we’re sharing The Plan with you… ;)

    Nicole Brunet´s last blog post…A Place in My Mind

  34. @Harry I agree with your points about in-fighting and trolls, however, a good moderation strategy would curb that. Moderation comes in to flavors: good cop, bad cop. You have to have both in order to make it work. The good cop moderator encourages discussion and keeps people coming back (much as a good blogger will), the bad cop deals with the troublemakers…

    Good thread here by the way. It would make an excellent forum topic. :) Maybe it would be nice to have a WP plugin that would tie all comments into a true forum post.

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write´s last blog post…Best Little Christmas Story

  35. @ Santa Clau – Uh, King of Misfi – Uh, Jamie – Were you proposing building a plugin? We’d be up for that :)

  36. @James LOL Actually, after posting the comment, I went out to see if there were any forum-WP integration plugins. There is a special distribution of WP and phpBB, but seemed like a bit of a kludge. I did check out a new forum software called Vanilla. They have a fair amount of documentation tied to their integration with WP (and their forums actually look half-way decent).

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write´s last blog post…Best Little Christmas Story

  37. Oh, my, I haven’t done a “13.2” post in quite a while. Thanks for reminding me!

    Tony Lawrence´s last blog post…Getting to know you by Anthony Lawrence

  38. Forums can be an important tool in branding yourself online. It could play an important role since you can offer advice and solutions to very specific problems.
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Holiday Shakeology Recipe =-.

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