I am working for a company that runs a forum website. And they want to start surfacing content on the forum, i.e. articles, downloads, webinars etc, that might help/solve/be of interest to the forum posters/readers.

I feel that this might be quite a tricky thing to do.

However, from the point of view of the business, they feel that they can offer a richer experience to their users by surfacing things that could help them in the tasks they are trying to achieve/problems they are trying to solve.

What do you all feel about this, as a community.

Is it right or wrong?

And have you seen it done successfully anywhere else?

  • Errrrrr... You mean like the entire stackexchange.com network where there's a mix of user generated content and links to anything you could think of in a wide variety of subjects? – Devin Jul 29 '15 at 5:16
  • 1
    This is really not a UX question at all. Your team is trying to figure out a business model issue that has some user experience perspective, and the question is unfortunately far too broad for this forum. – tohster Jul 29 '15 at 5:33
  • @hannah-carlisle Why don't you reword it so it asks how to do this, rather than whether to do this? – JeromeR Jul 29 '15 at 7:24

Right or wrong is a moral decision; I'll take a slightly different perspective and think about 'can this benefit our users' and 'will this benefit our brand': Ideally you want a win/win!

If people are on the forum looking for help, and the company content is relevant, it COULD work really well: the users get what they need and the Brand is promoted as a result. For this to work, the company content would need to be pitched in a way which is directly relevant to the user. This relies on content titles being worded appropriately, and presented in a way which doesn't appear to crowd out the user-generated content: if the company content is seen to overpower the user content AND the company content is less relevant, then this has a negative impact on your brand. To address this, I think you should err on the side of underplaying company content EVEN where you know it's relevant.

I've not seen this done anywhere, but I think it's going to be a challenge to do well. Partly the challenge is with the design, but also with curating the content: I think it would be much easier to do with smart humans curating the content than using an algorithm - but I may be wrong.


Just to be clear here; do you mean paid advertisements and promotionals, or do you just mean editorial stuff?

In any case it's not wrong per sé, but you would be moving away from 'forum' and somewhat towards 'commented blog'.


Have I seen it done? — Yes, by using a content-management system.

A content-management system can easily be adjusted (customised) to promote content that's been flagged for such promotion. The choices vary from "sticky posts" to an algorithm that always includes some promoted content with user-generated content. Whether the content is integrated with user-generated content or presented in parallel is a design decision.

Is it right or wrong? — It's fine.

A design decision can be about business drivers (organisational goals) as much as user needs. There's nothing unethical about this, especially not if the content author is identified: "posted by Karen of Company K." Promoted content could even make the site more useful, because a company is a credible source of information. In contrast, user-generated content may vary in quality or reliability. I'd also point out that promoting and demoting of content occurs on every good forum—moderators do it all the time. (We do it on StackExchange, by voting and editing.) I propose that promoting company content is self-regulating over the long run, because a forum's reputation and traffic will suffer if its advertorial content is perceived to be skewed or otherwise suspect.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.