A few days ago, I wrote about having publicly visible discussion forums, but cautioned:
I don’t recommend allowing public registration & posting, but having some or all of it publicly visible can essentially give people a taste of what they’re missing.
I got a great question in response to that article:
I’m wondering what your thoughts are on Laracasts’ “Free Community Pass”? It’s very de-emphasized on their sign up page, but it does offer free, public access to their community forums.
I’m on the fence on whether you should allow free signups for forum access or not.
On the one hand, more activity, greater visibility in search engine results, etc.
On the other hand, that could cannibalize paid signups, if your paid content isn’t a strong/attractive enough offering. Fortunately for Jeffrey (the founder of Laracasts), the paid Laracasts content is superb and widely recommended, so it’s probably not hurting him in the least.
One way to mitigate the possible downsides would be to diligently post links to paid content in the forums. For instance, you could have a discussion thread on each lesson/post so that those are highly visible to free members, thus making it very obvious to those free members what they’re missing. Combining Discourse with a WordPress membership site lets you automate this process.
If you’d like to use Discourse but don’t want to use your valuable time to set it up, I can help with that: http://memberup.co/discourse