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So You're Ready to Try a Discussion Forum?

Written by Alida

Published July 30, 2021

This post covers the logistics of getting a discussion forum set up for your community. For more information about what to do once you're up and running, check out our Best Practices for Moderating Discussions post.

Qualitative forums act as great ways to both accomplish research objectives and add value to the experience for community members.

  1. You and your organization can either begin exploring a topic to later refine into a quantitative survey or dig deeper into potentially curious findings from another activity.
  2. Members get the chance to engage directly with you and other members to strengthen the sense the community and perceived value from their participation.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Getting Started with Forums

You’ll find that designing and executing a forum in Sparq 3 can be easy and intuitive. It can be helpful to browse the information from the Sparq 3 WebHelp about Forums to get a general idea of the capabilities within the tool and how you might be leverage for your purposes. The information within WebHelp will contain the most up-to-date instructions with regards to the features and functionalities of the software.

How to Set Up a Forum

There’s a couple of ways that you can think about incorporating forums into your research calendar.

  1. You may have a set guide with precise objectives and predetermined questions, post at a regular cadence over the course of a few days, and take a hands-on approach with the discussion.
  2. You may also just go with the flow, post a few starter posts as food for thought for members, and let them take it from there.

Or you could do a little bit of both - forums are flexible and customizable!

How many to include:

  • We recommend 30-50 participants. The number of voices provides diversity of opinions and experiences, but it also keeps the discussion manageable.
  • More participants also works. Do plan for more moderation time as larger groups will be more time consuming.

How to Invite Them (Spoiler alert: set up a screener activity)

A screener is like an RSVP to the party that you’re hosting. It lets you:

  • get buy-in from members about their participation
  • gauge participation before you start
  • ensure that you’re involving the right people in the discussion or to understand their perspectives in the analysis phase

Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Create a short screening activity [ideally 5-6 questions or less] that includes any information that you’d like to know about members that you don’t already know. For example, you may want members to have shopped for a specific product recently.
  2. Include a question that asks if members would like to participate in a discussion forum during the dates and time that you have selected.
  3. Set up and schedule the screener invitation. Feel free to invite all of the members that you’d like to potentially participate in the forum. While we suggest 30-50 participants, we also recognize that not everyone that opts into the discussion will follow through. Therefore, you can over-recruit to get an engaged group of members to participate.
  4. Create your forum activity.
  5. Set up and schedule the forum invitation. For the forum sample, create a member group that is based on those who said “yes” to participating in the forum in Step 2.
  6. OPTIONAL: To capitalize on members' interest immediately, direct them straight to the forum from the survey! Select the Automatically send to new eligible members option in the forum invitation. Then schedule the forum invite before the screener invite. [Don’t worry -- the invite won’t send to anyone until you deploy the screener because there won’t be any “eligible” members at that time.] Interested members will be automatically directed to the forum until the screener activity is closed.

Things to Consider during Set-up Process

A few items of note when considering the configuration of forums:

Set everything up in advance

→ If you have a discussion guide with prompts for each day, you can go ahead and get those posts added to the forum before you launch. Once you have all of your posts filled out and organized how you’d like them, click “Remove” in the upper-right corner of the post. Don’t worry – this actually just hides the post. When you’re ready for members to respond to the question, click on the “Restore post” option, and the post will be visible for members to answer.

Aim for three to five questions a day

→ It’s tempting to try to jam a ton of questions into a discussion. We recommend that you choose three to five questions for members to respond to for a day. That’s not to say that you can’t have more that you’ll pose throughout the day. Have your main questions and a list of probes that you can throw out to the group based on how the discussion goes throughout the day.


→ It’s an additional way in which members can engage with you and each other. Depending on the topic of the discussion, you may consider having this feature active.

Allow members to create new posts

→ This option will give members a little more of a say in dictating the discussion with the ability to start their own threads. This is useful for an idea generation discussion, but it can get distracting and slightly unorganized.

Default notifications

→ Every notification that members receive can be viewed as both an opportunity to join the discussion and an opportunity to unsubscribe from the community. Proceed with caution when setting the members’ default option to New forum posts.

→ Instead, prepare e-mail reminders to go out the morning of each day of the forum [or days that you plan to post new content] and send to the forum participants. This will ensure that participants aren’t inundated with e-mails.

Content to Include for All Forums

We have some recommendations for standard items to include in every forum that you do:

Opening introduction that contains the “rules” of the forum

→ A good practice to ensure that everyone is on the same page is to provide explanations about how the forum will ideally run, how to post, and what is expected from member participation and from you as the moderator.


Over the next few days, you can log in and participate whenever you want. We will post questions on new topics each morning and follow-up questions later in the afternoon, so we encourage you to check in a couple of times a day and to look back and comment on each other’s input when you can!

We hope that you enjoy interacting with each other. Please be respectful in your comments, as we want to ensure that everyone is comfortable to share their thoughts. There are no wrong answers, and don’t worry about tpyos – we can all probably figure out what you’re trying to say. Most of all, have fun!

Include YOURSELF in the discussion

→ This is an opportunity to humanize the people behind the curtain, if you will. Upload a photo of yourself to use as an avatar. It will also encourage others to be willing to do the same. Even better, give members an opportunity to talk about themselves with icebreaker questions, and don’t forget to answer them for yourself.


Troubleshooting thread

→ Post a thread that is dedicated to troubleshooting issues or other questions or comments that may not be related to the discussion forum and keep the post pinned either at the top or bottom of the page. This will allow members to not disrupt the main discussion in the event that they experience technical difficulties or go on tangents.

EXAMPLE POST: Troubleshooting and General Comments

Please feel free to use this post to let us know if you’re having difficulty using the forum or to add any additional comments that you have that may not be directly on topic.

Go beyond text responses

→ You can easily upload photos and videos into forums, and so can members! Make it visual and more engaging by prompting members to share and discuss images that they may have to contribute to the discussion. For example, if you are talking about how members use their products in their homes, ask them to share a photo of the its placement to get additional context to their responses.

A Few Final Forum Considerations

Involve others in the moderation

→ Moderating a forum doesn’t have to fall on one person! It’s a great way to involve others from your organization in the community and for them to share their knowledge and expertise with community members. For example, if you have an idea generation forum, ask one of the product managers to lead the discussion and give their take on various ideas.

Close the feedback loop

→ Make sure that you share back! Your members have taken the time to engage with you, so it’s definitely key to close the feedback loop and give them some insight into how their comments will be used by your organization. It doesn’t necessarily have to be right away, but write yourself a note to follow up after the discussion.

To offer incentives or not?

→ Because a discussion is generally something more involved than a typical activity, it’s common to consider an extra incentive for members that participate. However, if you choose a topic that members want to talk about, you don’t necessarily need to offer one. Or if it’s a discussion with a guest moderator, that is also another intrinsic motivator for members. All that said, if u want to offer something, go for something on-brand like discount codes or access to an exclusive event.