Comparing communities and forums is like comparing apples and oranges. They have some aspects in common, but they’re two separate systems that achieve different goals.
Online forums are discussion boards that carry conversations on various topics. Users can create new topics and reply to others through threaded comments. Forums allow users to post anonymously and user responses may provide answers, but are frequently casual discussions and opinion-based.
Question and answer (Q&A) communities provide a place for users to ask specific questions and receive direct answers. They’re typically more organized than forums and contain answers based on experience and knowledge. Some enterprise Q&A community software can actually identify and leverage experts within your community by routing questions directly to those who would know the answer.
Overall, Q&A communities are easier to navigate and find content. For instance, AnswerHub organizes content into various Spaces, tags questions with topics, and allows users to search for questions and answers. Forums are often unorganized and users often become frustrated when looking for an answer through hundreds of threads and in different discussions.
When evaluating different community types, it’s most important to understand the purpose of your community. Q&A communities let users capture and share knowledge easily, while forums capture conversations. Unity3D, an AnswerHub customer, actually uses both a Q&A community and a forum. Their AnswerHub community site supplies concrete questions and answers to support their game engine users, while their forum allows users to voice their opinion and see what other game developers are building.
So when considering forums and Q&A communities, ask yourselves the following questions:
- What goals do I want to achieve through this site?
- What would my users be visiting the community for? Can they find it easily?
- How do I want users to interact with the community?
Want to learn more about Q&A communities? Check out our blog post, “5 Types of Users in Q&A Communities.”