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Is my message forum hurting or helping the ecommerce business?

10:09 am on Sep 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

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We have been struggling to maintain a healthy forum for years now. The idea to have a forum came about because it seemed "everyone else did it" - in hindsight, we are a more upscale storefront than a lot of the peers.

The buyers in our circles generally don't spend a lot of time in the forums, it's the sellers/suppliers who are the chatty one's, and it's often negative "why don't you have x feature like the other companies", or general questions that should ideally be resolved by the "Help" pages.

We tried briefly making the suppliers area private, but since it's the most active section it looked really elitist to the general visitor to see this walled-off section with today's date, and everything else kind of stagnant.

Has anyone here had similar questions run through their heads:
- "why I am spending time babysitting people and their personalities, when this is a business and our idea is to sell things"
- "why should potential buyers see low post counts/old post dates/silly forum threads and be turned off"

I guess it would be a big crime these days to be a socially open website, and then close down major sections of the forum. However, one of our similar sites has absolutely no problems turning sales, and does not have a forum.

There would be some SEO benefit to maintaining the forums even as archives.. but not huge.

Decisions decisions. :)

5:39 am on Sept 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Ya, it is a balance on both accounts. I have seen sites wrestle with the same decision.

I would not hesitate to make the suppliers forums private - login only and wall them off entirely. Don't let the general public see them at all.

Second, go out and begin seeding quality posts in your forum. Even if you have to hire someone to manage it.

6:30 pm on Sept 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Thanks, I just discovered the option to set the private sections completely invisible to the people who don't belong to it.

Kind of contrary to our peers method of keeping everything "open", but then locking down threads that get mildly unrewarding to the business.. but I don't think a retail storefront with a bunch of it's suppliers loitering in the lobby blabbing about anything they feel is conducive to a good customer experience.

Hiding the supplier forums also makes it easier to bring down the hammer of the business - a shiny front-end for the customers and casual visitors, and a gritty private area where raw truths can be discussed.

Looking at the viewcounts I think you're correct with proposing more seeding. Especially tutorial-type posts have viewcounts through the roof.. too bad it seems non of the forum posting/management services last more than 6 months. We have a lot of candidates to do seeder/mod jobs but it's just a pain in the butt to structure compensation to individuals.