Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are the first thing that most people think of when someone mentions “social media” in today’s world. And while those platforms are incredibly popular and generate an amazing amount of traffic, publicity, and buzz, they’re not necessarily what I would consider pioneers of social interaction on the Internet. Dating back well before social media grandaddys like MySpace and Friendster, the concept of interactive (“social”) online communities have been around since as early as the mid-80’s. At that time, people would use services like newsgroups, dial-up BBS (Bulletin Board System) services, and email listservs. However, these services hadn’t made it to the mainstream as they were primarily only used by computer hobbyists as well as the science and education communities.
Following the wider availability of broadband home Internet service in the late 90s and early 2000s, and the proliferation of the World Wide Web, discussion forum sites began to pop up all over. Sites dedicated to nearly any topic one could think of appeared and quickly gained a loyal following of users. These sites became incredibly popular as they provided an easy (and addicting) way for users with similar interests to share information and form friendships.
Even though social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest have stolen some of the “glory” from these discussion forum sites in the last 5-10 years, you can still find thousands of niche community discussion forum sites throughout the Internet that are just as bustling as ever with posts.
The important takeaway from this brief history lesson in social communities is that nearly any business can benefit from a website that allows social interaction to take place. Whether your site has a blog that encourages visitors to leave comments on your entries, a full-blown discussion forum with thousands of visitors per day, or even a sales/support chat widget that appears on every page, the key is that you’re allowing your website visitors to engage with another human. This is a very powerful thing. In the case of a discussion forum or blog commenting system, it can make your website visitors want to return to your website very frequently to see what’s new. In the case of a sales/support chat feature, it can increase the trust and loyalty that your customer (or potential customer) has with your brand.
However, as with many things, with great power comes great responsibility. It is crucial that if you have a website that allows this kind of social interactivity, you must monitor it, moderate it, and nurture it. Without these three things, a community will be rudderless and may end up causing your brand more harm than good.
Here at Torx, we have significant experience creating and managing engaging online communities and socially-interactive websites that draw your visitors back to your site time and time again. If you’re interested in finding out how this kind of feature can benefit your website, contact us below.
About the author:
Partner, Director of Technology
Jeff is one of Torx's founding partners and serves as the agency's Director of Technology. He built his first website back in 1996 and has never looked back. Jeff wears many hats at Torx: front-end designer and developer, server administrator, and resident Apple enthusiast.