Product management · Community

What's the difference between a group and a forum?

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

January 13th, 2016

For anyone who has been in an online group (fb, linkedin, google) and/or used a forum (subreddit, stackoverflow, etc). What's the difference for you? Both from a product point of view and how you feel about them. Do they serve different needs at their core?
You have an idea. Now it’s time to turn it into a brilliant and beautiful product. In this course, you’ll learn specialized tactics to study your user, create testable wireframes, and transform them into fully functioning features and products.

Josh Elman Partner at Greylock, longtime product manager

January 23rd, 2016

I go to a "group" because I generally know the context why everyone else is there. It's usually some shared trait - we are all alumni of the same school, have similar jobs, are parents of similar aged kids, etc. We aren't there because we necessarily share interests (though we might), but because we are all similar enough that questions I'd ask the group would be relevant to most and I'd be likely to get a good answer. Nextdoor is a good example of groups - we all live near each other so it's a good place to post questions to people with similar homes or similar local concerns. FounderDating is the same way - we are all here because we are founders or part of the startup ecosystem. 

Forums feel to me to be much more about shared interests. I go to a Seattle Seahawks forum because i like the seahawks. I expect us to talk about that interest in the forum. I don't know if I have anything else in common with the other members, but we at least all share this interest. Same is true for most other forums I'd join. It's about the content there much more than shared attributes of the members. 

Matthew Mellor CEO of Strenuus

January 13th, 2016

I think the difference is the expectation for participation. A group is more intimate, so to speak, and there's an expectation that if you are part of the group, you and an active part of the group.

A forum has a sense of anonymity, and people may be on the forum but not actively participating.

Shobhit Verma

January 13th, 2016

Just based on my user experience
Group - implies a common characteristic but not necessarily a common purpose. Extreme examples - HBS class of 99, Mom's group of Philadelphia
Forum - implies intent based conversations (common purpose) but not necessarily common origin/characteristics. Extreme example is Quora, where you get view points from all walks of life, not necessarily from people who have something in common with you.

FounderDating gives the best of both worlds as it ties common origin (Founders / Future Founders ) with common purpose (by participating in the discussion that you want to participate in).
This has inherently more value as it filters out the noise from people who might not fully appreciate the challenges faced by an entrepreneur.

Josh Miller Startup-focused product manager, speaker, and serial entrepreneur. I only use my powers for good.

January 13th, 2016

The biggest differences are culture and context. Culturally, I agree with previous posters.

I would add that forums and groups reside within different product contexts. A group only makes sense within the context of an already social product, wherein a sense of shared self-selected characteristics can bind members, as Shobhit pointed out. In contrast, a forum can exist as a product (Stack Overflow) or within an unrelated product (like a support forum), but a forum within a social context would seem odd and probably off-putting. A standalone group (e.g. a hypothetical UxProfessionalsGroup.com) with no offline counterpart would seem similarly odd.

Brian Pontarelli CEO of Inversoft

January 29th, 2016

Groups are good for sharing news articles, stories and short discussions. They become less effective for sharing knowledge and solving problems. I also find that groups don’t often show up in Google search results (or other search engines). This could be due to the fact that many Groups are private or require the user to be logged in to read even if they are public groups. In any case, it makes them hard to use in some cases.

Forums are good for Q&A, solving problems and deep discussions. Most forums are public and don’t require a login to read. This makes them easily searchable via Google and other search engines.

When it comes to choosing a one for your business, the answer is simple: forums. Using a forum to build an online community for your customers is almost a business requirement at this point. Here’s a few articles on that topic and an Infographic:


The key benefits of an online community include: reduced support costs, brand awareness, SEO, and customer retention.

If you are interested in a forum, I'd be happy to discuss Inversoft's turn-key forum solutions using our Gather product.

Benjamin Olding Co-founder, Board Member at Jana

January 14th, 2016

Based on how I use the two, I'd say - for me - the difference is the time-value of the information.

The forums I actively use have information that is relevant even 5 years after posting, occasionally longer.

The groups I actively use have information that is well out of date even a year later - in the extreme case (mostly social), it can be out of date in a week.  Increasingly, Slack is starting to edge out email for me when the time value is lower.

I don't use much that is in between.  For the forums, I heavily use search & the web.  For the groups, I heavily use email & filters.

In terms of product, I see a trend in becoming more extreme: Slack groups are replacing email groups for me wherever the information value is closer to real-time.  I expect a "meta-forum" (forum with no original content but highly specialized search/browse ability across a lot of information sources) would definitely be helpful for longer-lived information: even now, I'm as likely to use Google to find info on SO as I am to search SO directly.  However, in a page worth of Google search where I end up on SO, easily half the original items are often irrelevant.

In context of FD, I'd appreciate a "local" FD group that had more real-time info.  Most of FD has advice that is as applicable 3 years ago as it is today.  In contrast, I saw someone get moderated this morning for posting info on a new co-working space in East Cambridge they are trying to open.  

Irrelevant info for the vast majority of people on this forum.  However, if you live in Boston, it's actually slightly interesting to know about for next 1-3 months, and could have lead to a worthwhile discussion if the participants were mostly local.  

Moderating the post was the right choice given how FD is setup right now, but I can imagine a different setup  biased towards more temporary info where a post like that would be encouraged instead of viewed as spam.

Yeshiyah Amariel

January 14th, 2016

Facebook is polite, personal, social
LinkedIn is polite, Business, social
Google+ is distant social
reddit is social unplugged
stackoverflow is blunt professional, tech
Wikipedia is anonymous vs elite
Founderdating is professional business elite

A. Andrew Chyne

January 25th, 2016

Hi Jessica, a group is like any other group that anyone would like to be a part of or get the update from any of the group members. Whereas a forum is more of a platform to discuss and share one's  idea about any subject which is relevant to a person's interest. In a forum, you would find different topics where one could post and start an interaction. A forum is more interactive than a group. 
I hope this helps. 

Harikumar Krishnannair Executive Director at ITsAP[formerly HYSEA]

January 29th, 2016

Groups have a common purpose and many agenda to meet and interact periodically. They may join similar groups based on shared purpose or interest.
Forums are more structured in nature and have limited scope and more focus. 

Jenn Marie Freelance Evangelist & Coach, Content Marketing Specialist

January 29th, 2016

Piggybacking on Brian, I believe groups are good for building a brand while forums are excellent for driving immediate traffic.

From an SEO perspective, forums are typically better indexed for search and they additionally solve customer problems. From a marketing perspective, if you have a solution-based product, a forum might be the best place to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge around a particular customer pain point.

A group on the other hand, may not build traffic immediately, but it lets like-minded people identify your product as something that fits with their beliefs. It's a deeper connection that takes more effort to build but ultimately has a bigger payoff in the long run. Groups can also drive traffic once enough people join and begin talking about it on social.. It engages influencer marketing, which trumps SEO. (Sorry SEO guys!) so if you use this strategy, be sure to include social media channels as well so that your group members can easily become your influencers.

For my latest project, I am combining a forum with a group to build a brand and create traffic. Four weeks into it so far, wish me luck!