Why do people use forums?

Today we’re going to answer a question we get asked a lot.

“Why do people use forums?”

Well, lots of reasons, but let’s start with why you should care.

Forums are unique among social media – they’re places of anonymous discussion. As such they show us a more personal, intimate and meaningful side of life.

 Which is pretty useful when you’re trying to understand people, develop personas, target new audiences and work out how to tell your story in a more compelling way.

Why do we think this? Let’s start at the beginning.

What is a forum?  

Sure you know this, but we never assume!

A forum is a place online where people can post questions, ideas or thoughts. It’s a way of starting a conversation, about something important to you, that you hope other people will engage with and respond to.

Other people can then come along and reply to your post, or just read it (the lurkers).

Why do people use them?

We’ve noticed four common factors that drive people’s use of forums (irrespective of the topic) which can often become bound by closer by friendship:


  • Anonymity: is important for many. You chose any username you like and only share what you want to. It’s much less personal, which allows people to be much more intimate. No one knows who you are or where you’re from – which gives you the freedom to be much more open, unguarded and honest than ‘in real life’.
  • Similarity: successful forums work because they reflect the interests and needs of the people who use them. Mums want to talk to Mums. Petrol heads want to talk to other petrol heads. Amateur chefs want to talk to other amateur chefs. We like ‘people like us’. We feel a shared connection, a sense of trust and understanding.
  • Specificity: forums let us share very specific parts of our lives or questions we have with others. It’s the mundane (how do I get rid of spiders), to the intensely profound (how can I tell my kids I’ve got cancer). It allows us to ask very specific questions to people who are likely to know what you mean and how to answer.
  • Connectivity: when our immediate network can’t help, forums connect us to strangers who understand what we’re talking about, how we feel and what we need. It’s a North Star, guiding those on a similar journey to the same path.
  • Friendship: it tends to be easier to get on with people like us. Forums make this happen. We’ve seen loads of examples of threads lighting up with people jumping into conversations to support each other (my favourite is still this one on Mumsnet: OMG I fancy the gardener). They have a laugh, they have a cry, they meet up in real life. They become friends.

What does this mean for consumer insight?

These conversations are public, letting you observe how people want to talk about what matters to them. Not just what you want to ask them. It’s a profound shift in how we can learn about the world.

Its usefulness comes from this rawness, but also in the ability to look at these conversations en masse. You can learn from thousands of different perspectives on the same topic. Opening your decision making to a much broader view of the world.

Practically speaking it means you can:

  • Answer the questions left unanswered by other approaches,
  • Check for anything else that might be missed (that sits outside the edges),
  • Sense check what you’ve seen and heard elsewhere,
  • Add depth and a richer understanding of lived, raw experience that might be filtered out and censored through other methods.
  • Point to the questions you didn’t know you needed to start asking?
  • Look at the interactions, the social dynamics you can’t see in other research.

This is where new insight comes from. This is what we do and we’d love to have a chat about how you could benefit from it.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.


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