Having a forum is a great boon to a website when used correctly. In fact if you have a forum on your website this can enable you to generate completely free content which will mean that you are able to increase your ranking in Google without doing any work yourself. At the same time it also gives you a kind of ’emotional hook’ for your website that will ensure that people want to come back to your site to talk to their new friends or engage in that argument, and it will allow you to get feedback on your site and what you need to change and what is working well.
However that said a forum can also have drawbacks, and it might not be right for everyone. In fact I’ve seen several rather big websites opt to take down highly successful forums simply because they started to become more hassle than they were worth. Here are some ways that a forum might not necessarily be entirely a good thing.
One way in which a forum can be bad news is simply the fact that it opens your site up to public criticism. If someone doesn’t like an article you’ve written for instance, or they believe something you’ve said to be factually inaccurate, then they might well head onto your forum and then just outright state that they think what you’re writing about is wrong and that they don’t like it.
This then of course can damage your reputation and it puts you in a difficult situation. Of course you have the option of simply removing the comment, but if you do that some people will have already seen what was written and you will then get accused of ‘censoring’ your forum to ensure only positive things are written there (which is what you will be doing to be fair). You can answer the criticism and put forward your side of the argument, but people are most likely to remember the initial criticism. For a big business trying to sell a product in particular, this may simply not b worth it.
At the same time, while an argument can be a good way to generate some debate and get people coming back to your site, it can also get out of hand and once people start using offensive language or swearing off ever visiting your site again things can get pretty nasty. Again you have the option of moderating or removing users, but when you do that you will be again opening up a can of worms as people wonder if you’re censoring for the right reason or believe you to be taking sides.
People are also going to use your site for self-promotion and that’s something you will constantly be combating. People will post links to their site, and you will get numerous spam bots posting on there too. This will lose you link juice and damage your reputation and it’s something that can become a 24 hour job.
A forum enables people to edit pages on your server, and by nature this basically gives hackers a ‘way in’ if they know what they’re doing. For this reason a forum might not be ideal for a company that deals with very sensitive information.
Moderating all this can eat up a huge amount of time, and when you’ve got countless other things to do, settling disputes, deleting spam and responding to criticisms publically can simply become too much. I’m not saying a forum isn’t a highly useful tool, I’m just saying it has a particular place and isn’t always the Godsend you expect. Think long and hard about whether you need it.