It is so easy to become overwhelmed with trying to drive traffic to your website, write copy that convinces your visitors to make a purchase, and figure out ways to add interested visitors to your list, that it is understandable that the idea of setting up your visitors as a community among themselves maybe isn't tops on your "to do" list. But helping your visitors become a community, can help you market the items they need, and thereby benefit everybody.
Regular visitors to your site, or visitors who sign up to be on your list, by definition have something in common: whatever it is that your site is directed to. Whether it is sports, recipes, on-line marketing, or politics, the focus of your website has interested a broad and diverse range of visitors. That one common interest can become the basis of community building. As your visitors grow and become a community - or maybe several communities - you will learn their needs and desires, and be able to present them with solutions or assistance. Sometimes you can offer this for free, and sometimes you can charge for it. And sometimes your community can help you improve your website or your marketing.
Email forms can be an effective way of having your community tell you their problems and concerns, but do not allow for response or interaction. You might be able to tally several email messages from several people, and then address common or majority concerns in your newsletter or ezine.
Forums allow for interaction among all members of the community. You can decide if you will moderate the forum, and how much. Will you allow posts that are just ad spamming? Will you allow posts that might offend others? Will you allow cross-posting (posts obviously designed or placed in similar forums)? Will you allow a handful of members to dominate - and maybe intimidate others - or will you "lessen the volume" on the most active and encourage less active members to post.
Finally, chat rooms allow for the most immediate interactivity, but they have two severe drawbacks. First, they rarely archive, so that great answer to a question might be lost forever. Second, unless you limit the hours so that you can attend all the sessions, you lose a lot of the ability to direct the interaction between the members of your community. As the person who drew these people together - like hosting a party - you do have some responsibility to ensure that everyone has a pleasant experience.
Using the unbelievable tools available to the Internet can help you create a community out of your visitors, faster and more broadly than at any point in history. With some planning and responsible leadership on your part, you can create a thriving community of visitors. Once the community has gelled, it will tell you what it wants, and you can introduce much more appropriate products to solve the problems the community members tell you they have. And everybody wins!