A frequent concern that is brought when discussing corporate blogging as a business strategy is the fear of customers airing their complaints. When this question was posed in a class I did last week, I really missed a key point that I usually discuss. At the core of this is the difference between a forum and a blog.
What distinguishes a Blog from a Forum?
- People visit business blogs to build knowledge of a company, product, or service while building a relationship with the blogger.
- People visit business forums to seek assistance or provide assistance.
- On a blog, the blogger opens, leads and drives the conversation. On a forum, anyone can.
- On a forum, it's common for visitors to help one another. On a blog, that's less common. Again, the blogger drives the conversation.
- A forum may be a totally open to participation. A blog may have more control on comment moderation and even the ability to comment at all.
- Readers of blogs often have built a relationship with the blogger and are more apt to agree and defend their decisions. Forums are a little more of a free-for-all where visitors may lead more than the company itself.
This is a Forum
When is the last time that you logged onto a site and found a ‘Customer Service Forum' where you can air out your frustration at a company? Not too many out there? Nope… you'll be hard-pressed to find one.
Most forums for business are utilized to reduce support costs by allowing users to help other users. Programming forums are fantastic for this, and I highly recommend people utilizing this as a strategy to reduce support costs. If your company has an API, you'll find a world of associates ready to help you in their forum!
Forums can also be used, especially with ranking, to solicit feedback on the best/worst a company has to offer without releasing all constraints and allowing people to scream and yell. Forums can be a survey with feedback… more valuable than a survey alone.
You won't find them being utilized for customer service, though. Frankly, it would be a little embarrassing, wouldn't it? Can you imagine a forum where you could just post how a company blew it for you over and over again? All companies falter or fail at one time or another…. putting it all in a central repository for the world to see may not be the best strategy!
For customer service complaints, a nice contact form works best. When customers are upset with us, they appreciate venting and, at times, they may tend to exaggerate the incompetence and the impact on their business. Putting up a forum is not a good idea… but allowing a simple path for your support technicians to personally respond to an angry customer is priceless.
This is a Blog
The biggest behavioral difference between a forum and a blog is that a forum conversation (also known as a ‘thread') is started by the visitor. Forums often have informal leaders – these are actually folks who command a lot of attention or direct the conversation of a forum, but they may not even be a formal representative of the company. A blog has a formal leader, the author of the post.
A forum's conversation starts with a thread that anyone can begin, such as a call for help or a complaint. This means that the company running the forum has to be reactive to the conversation and doesn't have the opportunity to lead the conversation. They are automatically on the defense, regardless of the topic. Rarely have I seen a threaded commentary turn into a complaint forum for a blog unless the blogger solicited the complaints. More often, I've seen flaming commentary quickly ‘put out' by the other readers of the blog – since they tend to be great supporters of the business.
A blog post is created by the post's author. For a company blog, this is key. You may definitely be opening yourself up for criticism given the post's topic, but the advantage is that you get to pro-actively lead the conversation. People who comment are subscribers who have come to your blog to seek knowledge or a relationship with you.
It's important that the two be distinguished for the behavior and goals of their visitors, as well as the purpose for their use! People don't visit your blog to complain, they visit to learn. And blogs provide a safe means for you to build a relationship with your readers – with the advantage of you driving the conversation.