On two of my more heavily trafficked websites (Burbank.com and TropicalBirds.com), I added forums for people to chat and have discussions. Since the domain names were fairly targeted, I assumed that people would be happy to join and begin interacting, which would help build brand awareness and recognition. I was wrong.
On TropicalBirds.com, I added the forum and paid a company to seed the forum with posts. I also added links to the forum on the sidebar of every page, and in some of the text as well. While the comment seeding initially spurred a bit of discussion on TropicalBirds.com, that didn’t last long. There were heavy periods of quiet, with the occasional sign-up. Not a very good result.
Likewise with Burbank.com, I added links on the home page and side navigation. I also added a “discuss” icon and link on news articles, after I created a topic in the forum. Although there is more traffic to the Burbank.com forum than TropicalBirds.com, there is little discussion.
I had heard spam could be a big issue with a forum, but I don’t really have that problem. I had a bunch of spammy sign-ups with TropicalBirds.com, so I made it so that I need to approve all new members.
Forums can be successful, but those require significant moderation efforts and time to contribute. If you are thinking about adding a forum to your website in order to make it come to life, it could be a waste of time and money if you are committed to running it. Forums can be very good for a developed domain name, but they certainly aren’t a magic bullet.