It’s 2023. So why on earth are we getting excited about launching a forum?
Internet forums were something my Dad was frequenting in the late 90s. He would spend hours on the Volvo owner’s forum talking about everything to do with his beloved Volvos, and a lot of life in between.
But as social media took off in the late 2000’s, forums quickly fell out of favour. MySpace, Bebo and Facebook were where the cool kids were hanging out, creating jazzy-looking profiles and sharing day-to-day updates with friends and strangers alike.
Of course, not all forums faded. Those that had a lane and knew their audiences well have continued to thrive over the past few decades. SingletrackWorld and Pistonheads are just two of a number of well-known publisher-run communities that continue to go from strength to strength, and have even been a pivotal part in launching membership schemes.
But social media platforms, in an attempt to catch up with each other (and for their bottom line) care less about connecting you with friends, and more about serving you with the best algorithmically-curated feed.
There’s a big problem with this. Niches and algorithms aren’t friends. Despite all the early promises, platforms have become very difficult places to build sustainable communities.
A place to connect
For a long time at Media Voices we’ve been thinking of ways to connect our readers and listeners. Publishers often talk about having communities, but the reality is that unless you all have a way of talking to each other, you’re merely an audience.
Through the Publisher Podcast Awards and Summit, and more recently the Publisher Newsletter Awards, we’ve seen how valuable it is to be able to come together and share experiences, and more importantly, find solutions to common problems. If we could find a way to facilitate that more regularly than a couple of times a year, we can be of real, practical use.
The need for that has grown somewhat more urgent over the past 12 months. As heavy Twitter users, we’ve felt the haemorrhaging of fellow media professionals from the platform particularly keenly. People we’d regularly turn to as part of that community were either no longer comfortable supporting the site, or felt they were no longer welcome on it. The huge following we had built both individually and on our main @mediavoicespod profile now feels wasted: a harsh reminder of the fragility of audiences built on someone else’s platform.
LinkedIn is fine as a place to connect and to share updates, if you can stomach the self-promotional nature of it. But its community building tools have been substandard for the best part of a decade, with thousands of groups languishing or stuffed with spam.
We’ve seen some groups work really well on WhatsApp, Slack, and even Facebook. Still, the same problem remains; we didn’t want to be at the mercy of another tech billionaire.
So to find a solution, we’ve turned back the clock. The Media Voices Community is a straightforward WordPress forum plugin to our website. We were acutely aware of the problem of waiting until it was perfect to launch, which it never will be! This is our usual MVP (minimum viable product) approach – not especially sexy, and definitely not revolutionary. But it could be just what you need.
Keeping the lights on
Our biggest challenge will be keeping the forum top-of-mind for the media community. The appeal of social media was that everything came to you in one feed. That’s why publishers flocked to be there, rather than relying on you to visit them directly. Like a mid 00’s website, we’ll be relying on reminding you to come back to us regularly.
This is where our daily newsletter comes in. We often get responses from our subscribers, but these go just to the three of us, not the rest of you (something Substack has been working really hard to address). Now the community has launched, we’ll be encouraging our newsletter subscribers to get involved in discussing stories together. In time, we hope people will be comfortable enough to start their own topics, share best practice and ask advice from others.
However, we have decided to restrict the visibility of posts to registered users only. This means members will be comfortable in the knowledge that what they say is confined to the community. We have also asked members to abide by Chatham House rules – information from discussions can be used, but identities must be kept private. This will make community growth slower, but that’s a trade-off worth making for better quality discussion.
If you’re a professional working in the media industry, you’re very welcome to join in (it’s free!) It’s going to take a bit of time to get going so we will need both patience and input to turn it into a place that builds real connections.
Here’s a taster of some of the topics so far:
- Are local news giants worth saving?
- Publisher tips for GA4, or anyone with experience of Parse.ly
- What are you listening to!
Our aim is to make the Media Voices Community a place you want – and need – to visit every day.
Join us at voices.media/community
A huge thanks to Mark Alker at SingletrackWorld who has been a source of inspiration, advice and help with getting this started. He has written and spoken at length about the importance of bringing together a passionate community and really, truly engaging them.