How can forums and chat spaces compliment one another?

Inspired from another recent forum discussion: (thanks @andymci :heart:)

And also the wonderful visualisation of forums and chat spaces dancing magically between each other.

I personally believe that chat spaces can work well for communities in addition to forums. It doesn’t have to be a choice between them. There are pros and cons to both.

The way I look at it is that the more conversations you have with people, the more you learn, the more you can research and ultimately the better you can serve your people.

People will show up differently in different spaces. Some people won’t touch forums. Some will only lurk. Others will only show up in chat spaces and will quite happily be that person who has asks a question that has been asked a million times OR ask a brand new thing.

None of these are wrong.

We can learn new things from repeat questions. Or we can point people to forum posts with the answer (and then perhaps ask ourselves, or DM the person to understand why they weren’t aware of the forum answer).

In chat spaces we often let our guard down. We can open up easier. Or in places like Slack we can have lots of DM conversations. This is where community becomes powerful—it has the willingness for people to really spend time going deep in helping people, in conversations, in relationship building.

The main reason I support using both is mostly down to the fact that helps build a better picture of our community. The key is to then decide what to do with all the information.

Some quick tips:

  • always be taking notes of what you could be doing next (community ideas, content, conversations)
  • use tools like Common Room and Savannah to pull data in from all the community spaces you use.
  • cross post similar content to see how responses differ
  • work towards a forum being the one source of truth

These ideas equally apply to social groups too, like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter Communities.

What else would you add to this?

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Forums also work great as a “preservation” platform for context/conversations that could be lost over chat very, very easily.

More important than that, it gives people the choice to engage where they prefer—rather than forcing a particular platform on them.

I know there are tools that allow tracking activity across, but how are you effectively managing/cross-communicating between the two, without being repetitive for people active on both channels?

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I agree broadly with your points and approach. I would add a couple things from a more technical/implementation side that I think can heavily impact on the connection between community spaces, and hopefully reduce the manual effort involved to maintain it.

1: Use bridges and other automated interconnection tools where available. For example Discourse can connect to Discord and Slack quite easily to e.g. post all topics to a Discord/Slack channel, to keel Discord users aware of what’s going on in the forum.

2: If you use Discourse as a forum, consider using and experimenting with the new (and now in open beta) Chat Plugin. Notably, it includes functionality for copying messages from Chat into Topics, which is a direct and easy method of interconnection that no other major platform I’m aware of can do yet (Discord’s forum function may allow this too when it is made broadly available, not sure yet). This is potentially a very valuable capability, along with “oneboxing” of any links to Forum Topics in Chat, sharing the same user profiles, and more. I think this kind of integrated Forum + Chat system potentially changes the dynamic of how forum and chat can complement each other and should be heavily considered for anyone interested in the potential and strategy here.

This is limited to Discourse for now, of course. However keep in mind that Discord will also have “forum-like” formats of interaction soon too. And if they’re smart they’ll follow Discourse’s example and include some good tools for interacting between the chat and forum spaces. So the Discourse-specific knowledge will likely be somewhat transferrable, and this integrated approach may ultimately become the standard for other tools sooner or later. I certainly hope so!

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