“People don’t use forums any more,” said one of the other NWAGiveCamp volunteers, when the owners of the Northwest Arkansas Autism Support Group asked for a forum at their website.
This isn’t literally true, since millions of people use forums every day. It might be one of those, “Oh, nobody does that any more” announcements that we make when our own circle considers something old-fashioned, or it might reflect the fact that it’s hard to get a forum going from scratch.
This population, however, is perfect for a forum. Parents of kids with Autistic Spectrum Disorder often feel isolated and really want to talk to others who share their experiences. This group has about 30 members who meet just once a month, and some of the members are out in rural areas where that monthly meeting may be their only point of contact. It’s a characteristic of children with ASD that they may be difficult to take to places where families often go — and parents of young children know that any child can be difficult in public places. These moms can sometimes just feel lonely. An online forum can be a wonderful resource for this group.
So I installed Talki, a nice forum plugin with social sign-in. This is a WordPress site, so I used the plugin, but there is embeddable code at the home site for other types of websites.
At right you can see how it looks just out of the box. I asked Sean Borsodi at GiveCamp to have a look and see whether it could be styled to match the website, and he felt that it wasn’t very customizable. However, it looks pretty good just as it comes.
It functions well. As soon as you install the program, it creates a page for your forum.
So you have a forum. How do you get it going? Nobody wants to be the first to talk in a forum. As with any social media initiative, you need good content to get people to join in. Research has shown that it takes three active people to get a forum going. It’s worth picking out a few people to serve as starters. A nonprofit should be able to find volunteers for this position. A business can pay them.
Thoughtful answers to questions a few times a day and the occasional post of useful information will make it clear that there’s action at the forum and draw new users in. Being friendly, welcoming, and genuine is all it takes.
Once your forum gets some momentum, it’ll keep going on its own, but it makes sense to have some people who will look in from time to time and make sure things are perking.