David Mercer tackled the question of whether it’s better to blog or run a forum on Business Insider. Blogs and forums are like bread and butter to the expat business, allowing companies to target expat communities with highly specific information and build business by word-of-mouth. They also help boost visibility in the SEO rankings:

conventional wisdom dictates that a blog is the best way to build up a decent body of highly engaging, relevant and SEO enhanced content, over time. This is certainly true and blogs have proven their worth time and time again.

However, like any marketing method, blogging has pros and cons. In fact, the vast majority of bloggers who start a blog end up quitting.

Blogs, Mercer argued, require time, SEO experience and a great deal of effort to succeed. They also demand sound design sense. In fact, blogs can actually do more harm than good if they’re ugly, poorly written or lack compelling content, actually undermining customer confidence in the brand as a whole. After all, if you can’t invest the time, effort and money to run a proper blog, what’s that say about your product?

Forums, Mercer wrote, minimize some of these issues:

maintaining a forum addresses many of these problems because the responsibility for generating new content falls to your readership or community. As people ask questions, start debates and argue with each other, they build up a body of highly focused content that has great SEO benefits.

Forums are not without drawbacks, however. The value of a given forum hinges on the size and quality of its membership. If members can’t generate quality discussion, visitors simply aren’t going to come back (let alone join). Even more critically, until forums see regular posts from a variety of users they can be pretty lonely places–an empty forum does about as much for your brand as an ugly blog. In some ways this is even more difficult to manage than regular blog posts. On top of that there’s the tedium of moderation, making sure posts on expat bank accounts and visa renewals don’t drown in spam.

So what’s an expat marketer to do?

Ideally the answer is “both,” but some companies may not have enough resources at their disposal. Hence, they should start by looking at their own characteristics:

  • Manpower. How big is the staff? Are there enough employees to properly manage a blog? If not, are there funds in the budget available to either make new hires or contract to a marketing firm?
  • Technical skill. Does the “blog team” have the programming know-how, writing chops and SEO knowledge to make a blog work?
  • Sociability. Building a forum community requires both visibility and relationship-building. Online communities take time and effort to flourish–not everyone has a nurturing personality.
  • Goals. What are you trying to achieve with a blog/forum? SEO? Brand recognition? Your goals may give you some direction. There’s no wrong answer here (with the possible exception of “everyone else does it”).

In the end it’s less a question of “which works better” and more a matter of what you can integrate best into your overall marketing and business development strategy.