Using Discussion Forums – Guidelines and Ideas

discussion forums for internal communications and intranets
Discussion forums are a great way to have two-way conversations online, including on your intranet. ElevatePoint has ideas and guidelines you can introduce for your discussion forums.

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Whether you’re embedding discussion forums into your intranet or using a standalone forum, you may be worried. You’re not alone. Many organizations are concerned about — who moderates and monitors, what are the policies needed to protect employees and organizations, and how can you use them effectively to increase communication, collaboration, and productivity.

On your intranet or not?

Let’s start with our recommendation about whether it’s an embedded intranet or a standalone one. One big advantage of adding a discussion forum to your intranet is context. People can discuss the information presented without additional clicks or tabs. It also enables some social interaction on your intranet, instead of letting it be a one-way communication vehicle. From a technical standpoint, embedded intranets are also easy to dismantle when they’ve stopped being useful as well as easy to implement for organizations like ElevatePoint.

Either way, it’s important to think through discussion forums — the guidelines . At ElevatePoint, we recommend determining these at the beginning of an intranet project — even before purchasing a product.

Discussion forum guidelines

1. Start with a purpose

Why do you want people to discuss things online? What’s the strategy? How will a discussion forum help your organization (increase productivity and collaboration) while feeding your communication strategy?

Good reasons for discussion forums

There are a variety of good reasons to have discussions forums and a few examples of how to implement them:

  • Enable employees to help each other. Instead of walking over to a cube or desk, asking online enables remote employees as well as those who prefer online communication to get their answers. A real life example of a great way to enable employees to help each other is a discussion forum for mentoring as part of a manager program. Mentors can help each other with just-in-time information as well as provide some perspective and real-life experiences. This cross-training online is a great way to share information.
  • Collaborate. Some organizations have an idea box — a way to innovate or ideas the organization can embrace to reduce cost or increase profits. A discussion forum embedded in your organizational goals can really get ideas flowing, where communications professionals, IT employees, HR partners, and leaders can identify the best ideas.
  • Provide feedback. Comments on articles can help communications professionals hone in on information employees need for follow-up articles. They also enable a broader communications strategy in that you can adapt and respond to employees quickly and nimbly. In addition, you can use comments for your change management strategies, assisting employees through change.
  • Socialize. Teamwork is built through relationships — people who want to help each other. Relationships happen when people know each other — face-to-face or online. Discussion forums before and after events can help employees meet each other.


Discussion forums vs. other communication vehicles

intranet management ideasAs part of your discussion forum strategy, differentiate on how you’re using discussion forums versus other communication vehicles, such as Microsoft Teams. For example, Teams may be better for smaller groups, such as departments or project teams. Teams may also be better for specific issues that need immediate answers, for example Teams is a great vehicle for helping a fellow employee trying to help a customer in real-time. Discussion forums, on the other hand, are more useful for larger groups about organization-wide issues. Also, discussion forums take place over weeks, not minutes.


Success metrics

Determine how you’ll measure success and how it fits into your larger metrics that prove ROI. (The remaining ideas may help with success and metrics.) As part of your overall strategy, this will help you know whether discussion forums are helping (or hurting) in accomplishing the purpose.


2. Determine where to add forums

Chances are, you don’t want discussion forums across your intranet. Instead, you want to include them in places where they encourage productivity, innovation, and collaboration. For example, the area of your intranet site that covers organization goals and their progress is a fantastic place to include a discussion forum.It gathers ideas and continues to provide clarity. Also, adding a forum to your all-employee meeting event may get employees to provide questions before and after your employee meeting, helping leaders know what’s on employees’ minds.


3. Identify audiences, including whether you want anonymity

Who should post? Employees? Contractors? Partners? IT will need to know permissions ahead of time and work to implement those permissions. You may not want contractors and partners to see certain areas of your intranet.

Anonymity is trickier. Many organizations want full accountability for comments made. But there are reasons to enable employees to be anonymous. And there’s information gained when people don’t have their names attached. Though it’s typically a hard sell with executives, anonymity enables people to be honest. Really honest. You’ll get people being truthful about:

  • Requests for clarity. Disagreements about goals or tactics, including constructive conversations with data included
  • Emotional expressions. Though harder to take, these statements have merit. Knowing the “negative” employee sentiments are out there can help communications employees adapt approaches. Not only can follow-up information be provided, you can deal with the more difficult challenges. For example, reading disagreements about organizational goals may have value — employees may be right. 

Executives and leaders can discuss data, their decision making process, and even change direction based on employee feedback. And after discovering people were offended, communications professionals can engage managers and leaders to meet with employees to get more information in hopes of better handling a situation.

The culture probably dictates whether your organization can handle anonymous comments. At ElevatePoint, we can implement either. But we want organizations to really consider which one is right for them and why.

4. Leverage existing policies

Most organizations have an employee handbook, electronic policies, and social media policies including how employees engage with social media outside of work. These policies handle profanity, threats, exposing confidential data, and more. These policies and guidelines are all vital to moderating discussion forums.

Our advice? Don’t recreate the wheel and go after a new set of policies. Instead, dust off those policies and see if they cover moderating a discussion forum. Gather a group of people to evaluate if additions are needed, including:

  • IT employees
  • Legal advice (on discoverability) from corporate legal
  • Information or records managers
  • Policies professionals
  • HR employees
  • Communications employees, including your social media expert

Don’t forget to remind employees about these existing policies as you introduce the discussion forums.

5. Leverage your values

Your values are the way you want employees to conduct themselves, including online. Remind employees about these values, too, so they can demonstrate those values on your forum.

Your values will also dictate the hard calls about whether to remove comments. For example, if caring is a value, you probably shouldn’t remove superfluous comments — those “Yeah”s or “Agree”s. If your value is innovation, maybe you should remove those comments — as long as you make it clear ahead of time that complete agreement isn’t worth a comment.

Generally speaking, removing comments makes employees feel like you’re not listening. Our recommendation, overall, is to let even the dumb comments stay … as long as they meet your existing policies.

6. Engage your brand ambassadors, HR team, leaders, and communications team

Get the people who are on the communication forefront, including your HR team, to engage online. Consider assigning them to areas that match their responsibilities.

By asking them to moderate, you’ll:

  • Set a good example as they post themselves
  • Ge them to answer questions quickly
  • Provide communication feedback to the larger team, understanding issues, questions, and more to adapt strategies as necessary
  • Keep good discussion alive, including spotlighting good discussion
  • Remove comments that abuse policies and alert managers and HR as necessary

Also, we recommend your social media expert provide a story or video on what makes good comments in a discussion forum. That way, you’ll encourage meaningful discussion. The more fun this video or story can be, the more it’ll actually be watched or read.

Executives are also key to this strategy. Though they may be busier, it’s important to encourage them to show up, especially in areas that matter — such as organizational goal discussions.

7. Acknowledge great discussion, including in other venues

If you see really good questions or comments, spotlight them. Use your news or employee recognition areas to spotlight these comments and individuals making them. The more leaders can also acknowledge employees’ ideas even in meetings (including your all-employee meetings), the more employees will feel listened to and appreciated. And your leaders will know exactly what employees think, without a filter. You’ll also get more great discussion.

It’s a win-win.

Gather your team

We may seem like a broken record, but one of the ways discussion forums often fail is they didn’t include the right people planning the forums. Even if Corporate Communications owns discussion forums, they’ll need input from a wide cross-section of people.

At a minimum, ElevatePoint recommends you address the above ideas with the following people:

  • IT employees
  • Legal
  • Information or records managers
  • Policies professionals
  • HR employees
  • Communications employees, including your social media expert

Some organizations may need a broader group. For example, healthcare may want to include nurses to get ideas on what should and shouldn’t be allowed. For example, discussion forums shouldn’t be a place to note safety concerns or violations; healthcare organizations have mandated ways to handle those issues. Your industry should help inform who’s included in your team and what ongoing role they have in intranet and discussion forum management.

Each of the above team members can address the issues with an eye toward their expertise. For example, HR may want to consider what happens when people violate the discussion forum policies.


All of these ways make discussion forums more successful. You’ll know where you need discussion forums, why, and who is responsible for monitoring it. You’ll have executive engagement as well as input from core team members. And by working together, you can provide guidelines ahead of time, to increase employees’ success in using them.

In other words, thinking about all this before implementing ensures communication, productivity, and collaboration.

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