Online forums are one of the earliest means of group communication on the internet. Since the dial-up bulletin board systems of the 80’s, this type of social software has exploded in popularity. Even today as more and more systems for communication spring up, forums remain one of the most prevalent. But when businesses look at implementing forums some concerns may hinder the process.
Two of the most prevalent are the questions of who will moderate the forum and how. The fear of a few disconcerted individuals damaging the company by publicly posting unfavorable comments can give rise to these concerns. And consequently, some may determine, the protection against this sort of attack is to require that all postings be reviewed before going public or shortly thereafter, promptly removing all unsavory comments. After all, we control the forum, right?
Wrong. This argument, however well-intentioned, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what a forum is and how it can benefit businesses. The first and most important principle that we must all understand and accept before proceeding with such an initiative is this: the web is not ours, the people on the web are not ours, the conversations happening on the web are not ours, and therefore, our forum is not ours.
A forum cannot exist without the users who contribute to it. And we will not have users if we put ourselves between them and their conversations. While we will have moderators, their roles will focus on maintaining the integrity of the forums not selectively censoring the opinions that cast a harsh light on our company. And since moderators generally focus on how users communicate and not what they say, moderators can come from any department or level of expertise. For a concise overview of the responsibilities of forum moderators read the wiki on forum moderators.
That being said, it is important that our experts actively participate in the forum so that our knowledge and efforts are represented accurately and frequently. And certainly, what is true for external users is true for internal users- we must not try and restrict or require approval for postings from our employees. Any attempt at a broad approval system for messages that reach the public through our forum is not only a tremendous waste of resources but a mistake that would damage our response time, credibility, and influence on the forum and off. Those of us who will participate in the forum will do so at their own discretion. And we should encourage them to be as open and as honest as possible. Besides, if we do not trust our people to faithfully represent us then maybe they shouldn’t be our people.
This could mean that as the forum grows the demand on our staff to respond to the contributions of others will surpass our willingness or capability to do so. At which point the threat of an opponent coming in and showering an unchecked hail of criticisms may seem very real. How appalling would it be if our own forum overwhelmingly decried our faults and persuaded the world we are little more than pseudo-scientific miracle workers? Perhaps this is the most acute reservation that some of us hold against public exposure- our potential inability to represent ourselves well enough under the scrutiny of the public eye. Indeed, I’m rather curious myself about how well some of us will embrace the responsibilities of this form of communication.
But that is a challenge, not a limitation. No business is perfect, we will make mistakes and we will be exposed of them. And we will be accused of mistakes we never made. But no matter how great the opposition, our voices will be heard. We’ve never let fear of failure deter us from what we knew to be right before. Why start now?