Web Design and Development

Blog Comments vs. Forum Posts – Which To Use?

The choice between using blog comments or forum posts to communicate with your readers can be narrowed down to a single question:

How much control do you want to have over your message?

That’s the question you need to ask when trying to decide between these similar-yet-different approaches to creating an online community.

Both styles of feedback are part of two-way communication — a system that exists not only for feedback, but as a way to receive approval and create advocacy within your community. However, if you use the wrong style for your site, it can come at the cost of cluttering the message and disrupting the proper flow of site traffic.

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When to Use Blog Comments?

Many people make the mistake of assuming that blogs are newer than forums, and therefore better. In reality, a blog is little more than an ongoing series of articles or memoirs, and there’s nothing new about that. Articles are a type of one-way communication — simple presentation of facts or opinions. For example, the guides on this site are a perfect example of facts, while the editorials and reviews are opinion.

Beyond that, modern web articles tend to be carefully crafted for the readers — a heavy dose of journalism and light dusting of marketing. At key points in the article (and especially at the end of it), the reader is presented with various calls to action: Like Us on Facebook, Follow Us on Twitter, Watch our YouTube Videos, Buy this from Amazon, Discuss this in the Forum, Read these related articles, etc.

By allowing comments on the article, you extend its content to other writers, which almost always dilutes the message, as well as creates new calls to action. And much of this may not be to your benefit. For example, the comment that suggests an alternate approach that’s dangerous or mythical — or that a reader visit another site for a “better article” on the topic. The first example could harm your reputation (i.e., reader tells others that “I received bad advice from ABC.com”), while the second simply steals your traffic.

Immature and unsavory comments can also negatively impact the professionalism of your site. Many netizens abandon their manners when sitting at a keyboard, lashing out with unacceptable vitriol and anger, even when the tone of the article was friendly and respectable.

Attention-seekers can also clutter a page, burying not only the original article, but even decent comments with their interloping “LOL” and “Me too!” comments.

Sure, you could delete the comments you don’t like, but then you risk becoming a pariah in your own community, and known as the writer/site that deletes comments.

Honestly, the only time you should use on-page blog comments is when your message is not that important. If your “article” is nothing more than your thought of the moment — example: Today I Saw a Great New TV Show — then there’s probably no harm from allowing comments.

If, however, you’re trying to present a serious piece — example: Comparison Between Sony and Vizio HDTVs, with affiliate links on where to buy them for the best prices — then it may be better to avoid comments.

When to Use Forum Posts?

The modern forum, or online bulletin board, is little more than the web version of usenet. For 30 years, various forms of usenet have succeeded in bring together people who share interests. Forums are a pure form of two-way communication — threaded conversations where the first post is replied to by others. It’s a perfect place for debates, Q&A’s and discussions.

For example, The Digital FAQ has a forum that exists to help others with their digital video, digital photography or digital publishing (web/print) projects. (See those links? Those are passive calls to action!) It’s also a place for debating methods or information found in our guides, reviews or editorials. At most, site staff may leave quick tips or use it as a storehouse for notes — bite-sized one-way communication, where there’s no harm in user commentary.

A forum was designed around the idea of community — it wasn’t an afterthought that was tacked onto a one-way communication method, as it is with blogging platforms. There’s really nothing to “control” in the forum. It simply ebbs and flows with the interest of the community and the topic at hand.

The only issue with a forum is that it comes with heavy requirements, both in time and tech. It takes many hours to setup and secure a forum properly. And even modest traffic can push you into the realm of $25/monthly (or higher) VPS hosting, because forums tend to be resource hogs with server RAM, I/O and CPU. Those $5 shared hosting plans and cPanel automatic installers won’t cut it, if you’re trying to do any serious or stable site ownership. Many of the best forums (example: vBulletin) are also commercial for-pay software, not something free. Unfortunately, for many amateur site operators, the various costs of time and funds forces their hand to use blog comments and skip the forum idea.

When to Use Both?

This generally results in creating two separate communities, which not only doubles your attentions as a site admin (as you should participate in your site’s two-way communication!), but also creates smaller communities at your site. It’s not suggested.

At best, you could carefully craft the message to encourage one specific type of response on-page, and insist all other “off-topic” discussions be held in the forum. That comes at a maintenance time cost, however, as it must be enforced to be effective.

Comments? If you’d like to comment on this article, then please do so in our forum.

^ See that? It’s an explicit call to action: “Be a member in our forum, and debate this topic.” Continue your interaction with this site in the way that has been instructed. There’s no comments to sidetrack you into doing something else. Perfect example.

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