We have a website, which is the entry point to install our software product. The software is targeted to wide range of individuals.
My question is - should we put a forum on our website and allow people to conduct an open, unmoderated discussion about us, our product and related issues? If so, should be allow anonymous posts to keep the trolls out?
We see the following advantages of having an open discussion on our site:
However, we also have some concerns:
What technical solutions whould you use to manage such discussion?
Yes, I absolutely think that a public forum can be a great asset for your company. And negative feedback from customers isn't just bad; it can enhance your trustworthiness in the eyes of your customers, and be a net win in the long run.
As to which platforms to use, some of the current hot names are Stack Exchange, UserVoice, Get Satisfaction, bbPress, Vanilla Forums (also available as open source on .org), and others. Have a look at these, and Google around as well.
I think the biggest danger is actually a 'dead' forum with very few posts as it sends a bad message to potential customers. If you can get enough activity, a forum is a great addition.
I agree with Jesper - interacting with your customers in a moderated way is a good idea. But I would say that a products like UserVoice and GetSatisfaction are not the same as a forum. Sure, they support communication - but they do so in a tightly controlled fashion that helps keep the exchanges on track. Forums can be runaway troll / spam magnets - these services do pretty good protecting against it.
StackExchange would also be a good solution, but it is more aligned to Q&A than a customer feedback tool. Also, they have changed their offering and I doubt you would be able to use it. Here is a good thread pointing out some of the stack exchange alternatives. OSQA is a good one.
I'll second the note from Jesper about spending time getting the tone right - we've found that the way you phrase the question at the top of our forums changes the feedback rather significantly. Don't just let it be a pit for people to dump complaints, get them focused on being constructive.
You can see some case studies at https://www.uservoice.com/blog/category/case-studies/. UserVoice isn't for everyone, but it sounds like, as jimg suggested, the structure of our forums could help keep your conversation from veering into the territory you're worried about.
Feel free to ping me if you'd like a demo or more info, and if you do sign up be sure to use the coupon code onstartups101 to get a 50% discount for the first year.
Evan Hamilton Community Manager, UserVoice evan at uservoice dot com