Growing an Active Forum

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I imagine that scattered around our planet our tens of thousands of empty, deserted ghost towns.  A vast array of mini metropolises that never got off the ground, were abandoned, or just mysteriously died away.   In the same way, the internet is populated with hundreds of thousands of dead forums that are simply rotting away.

An internet forum doesn’t have to be abandoned, mis-managed or deliberately killed off to become derelict.  The unfortunate truth is that a successful forum requires a delicate combination of ingredients for success.  Not all successful websites can sustain a forum, and not every person with a great idea can pull one off.

10 Tips for establishing a successful internet forum.

  • Start with a great idea – Not all ideas are equally suited to a public forum.  People need to be excited about your topic and they need to be motived to share opinions or ask questions.  The difference between passively reading something on the internet, and actively registering and participating is massive.  Your forum most provide a service, even if its merely entertainment, that makes it a valuable commodity worth the price of the time and effort required to join a discussion.
  • Use great software – vBulletin, phpBB, and Simple Machines Forums are the only forum platforms I currently recommend, with a strong preference for the first.  You need a strong foundation for this endeavor, and you don’t what to change mid-stride.
  • Post Relentlessly –  This may seem obvious, but if you want others to join in, you need to lead by example. Post frequently and at a consistent rate.  If you run out of things to talk about make new categories and add new topics.  Set a weekly goal and be sure to hit it.
  • Promote Constantly– Every person you come into contact with must know about your forum.  Add it to your email signature, business cards, invoices, products, promotional materials and anything else you can think of.  Wear t-shirts that promote your forum.  Get a tattoo, paint your car, be willing to go to extremes to notify the public!  Simply remind everyone who will listen in any way that is not irritating enough to scare them off.
  • Provide timely and useful feedback – The key to reinforcement is timely rewards.  Whenever someone posts you should ensure that they get a near immediate response.  You can configure most forum software to send you an email notification whenever a post goes up.  Even if you don’t have an immediate answer thank them for their response and assure them that you will encourage someone better qualified to chime in.  No post should ever go unanswered.
  • Recruit confederates – There are very few people, if any, who can successfully build a forum on their own.  You will need friends, co-workers, associates and other co-contributors who are also motivated to see your venture succeed.  Pay or reward them if you must, a core of strong contributors is essential.
  • Improve your product or website – Don’t abandon the rest of your business model!  Your forum needs quality information, entertainment, services or products to support it.  As your business grows and your products get better your community will benefit.
  • Learn about your forum software – Good forum software always has a strong community supporting it.  Subscribe to blogs about your forum software, keep an eye on new developments, and find a little time to read tutorials.  You simply can’t win a serious race without knowing your vehicle, use the vast amount of information and tips that are at your disposal.
  • Explore basic SEO – Although intimidating, some knowledge of search engine optimization is critical.  Spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the SEO options bundled with your software and be prepared to experiment a bit.
  • Be patient – There is almost no chance your forum will become self supporting in under a year.  Like a newborn, your new forum will depend in your constant attention, and the smallest slip up or omission can be critical.  Have realistic expectations, and work hard to find ways to exceed them in small ways.  Developers who expect too much to soon are also too quick to give up.
This entry was posted in Website Elements.