When creating your forum, ask yourself what would make you register in your forum? Here are some tips on how to create that.
Setting up a web forum, while not quite as simple as getting a WordPress website set up, is still pretty straightforward now that many hosting providers include an option to install them automatically. Even companies will handle the hosting for you if you are not technically inclined.
But choosing your forum software is only one step; the most important is getting people to use your forum.
In this article, we will give you some tips on how to do that.
Why do people join forums?
Remember two things: people join forums because they get value from the community, and it’s a positive environment for members. There is no substitute for good content, and it will keep people coming back and attract new users. User engagement is critical, too, as nobody wants to be in a ghost town.
When creating your forum, ask yourself what would make you register in your forum. Is it the topics and having discussions with witty users? When you know what would make you register, then build that.
Start simple with your forum, then grow.
Don’t get carried away with features, and explain features the might confuse users as part of your onboarding.
Consider having a section that explains some forum features. For instance, PhpBB has private messages. When a user sends a message, it shows up in their outbox until they read it. If users are more familiar with email, they might assume a problem sending the message and might try sending it again.
Onboarding new users are critical.
When a user joins the forum, it’s important to welcome them. Explain what the forum is about, any rules you have (treat other users with respect, no spamming topics with off-content, etc.)
When setting up a new forum, don’t create a ton of forums that have no topics in them.
This can make the forum seem empty, instead start with no more than four. As your come up with subjects, try to group them under one forum. Then you can create individual topic posts that act as conversation starters and will make the forum look a little busier.
As the forum grows, you can break them down into new forums. Most popular software like PhpBB and vBulletin make it easy to shift topics around as needed. You can create new categories so the site doesn’t look empty.
The owner must keep contributing.
It’s hard to keep motivated when you keep adding new content, and it still seems like you’re the only one talking. It takes effort to keep writing fresh content and get into the routine of making a few posts every day.
Two things that make an online community successful is good content and user engagement. When you’re just starting, this is hard to have, so you might find yourself doing this yourself.
As part of building your forum, you need to also think of how to get visitors and potential members to find you. This is where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and social media come in.
Forums have been around since before the internet. Back in the 1980s, BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) were basically forums that ran on the day’s personal computers, so it’s not surprising that forums were some of the earliest types of websites that appeared. As you might guess, that means search engines are pretty good at indexing them. Here are some ideas you can keep in mind to help search engines find the most relevant information on your forum:
- Use Proper Titles and Descriptive Topics
Just as a well-organized forum makes it easy for a visitor to find their way abound, good forum sections and topics also make it easier for search engines to index your forum.
- Borrow ideas from the world of SEO for Forum Topics
While it won’t get your members directly, there are some ideas you can borrow from SEO to build your ranking. One of these is lookup phrases in keyword research tools to see what people are searching for in the area your forum is addressing. One particularly promising area is KGR (Keyword Golden Ratio). This is a strategy for finding low competition keywords invented by Doug Cunnington a few years back. Basically, you look for phrases that are searched for in Google for which there few exact search results for that thing. As you might guess, this can be adapted as forum topics by incorporating the keyword phrase into the topic and the first post. Just remember to pick phrases that are natural – but if you’re practising KGR, that’s part of the method already.
- Use Social Media To draw Visitors and Encourage Engagement
Web forums are the original social media, so why not use today’s social media platforms to draw in new visitors who might become members? One idea is to post a question that’s being asked on the forum, like, “What kind of pet food does your dog love?” for a forum on pets. On Facebook, you can post a link and attach an image to make it stand out. With Twitter, some forums will have plug-ins that will generate the necessary code to add an image for a link. Both Facebook, Twitter others support tags, use 2-3 of these to draw more attention.
Create some alter-egos to make the forum seem more alive.
There’s an old internet maxim: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” when you’re starting an online community, it’s quite acceptable to create a few new fictional members and get posting. Some forum administrators will create a character bio with age, sex, personality type, and occupation to get into the character like a novelist or scriptwriter would when crafting a story.
This method is a lot of work, as you must keep logging in to make new posts. However, it can make the forum look more active than just posting under your name. It will also make it more inviting for others (real people) to join. Eventually, you can retire your alter-egos.
How long does this take for this to start bringing in actual users? Realistically, expect to put in at least 3-4 months before natural users start showing up.
Coming up with forum topics
While in the building stage, you’ll probably run out of ideas for your alter egos to “talk” about.
Sometimes you can get ideas from social media. For instance, Twitter users post multi-part tweets. You can turn these around and post the complete thread into one forum post (maybe as a quote) and link back to the original Tweet for attribution. Since it’s hard to find old Tweets sometimes, you might get more traffic by organizing them into one place. Generally, you shouldn’t copy things verbatim from other websites, but short posts quoted with a link back to the source are probably ok if done occasionally.
Another idea is once your forum starts growing is to take forum topics and turn them into a blog post. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is a time-honoured way of coming up with blogging topics – but in this case, you are “stealing” from yourself. If you do this, definitely link back to your forum – it will hopefully drive more interested readers to your forum.
Get your friends to join or at least help spread the word.
Word of mouth is a great way to build interest. Tell everyone you know about your new forum. But don’t be pushy. Mention it and invite them to check it out. For friends, say you want their opinion before you launch. Giving them a “sneak peek” will make your friends and family feel valued as you demonstrate that you value their ideas, so they will be more inclined to check out your site.
Another idea is to mention your new community in your email signature. Consider making a few posts at newsgroups that focus on your target market and hit some other complementary (not competitor) forums in a non-spammy way.
Look into social media marketing (Facebook and Twitter) too, it can take a long time to attract members, and you might have to keep posting lots of content yourself,
Just don’t come across as too desperate whenever you promote your forum. If there’s an interesting discussion that somebody has posted some interesting content (even if it was you or one of your alter-egos), that can be a good thing to mention as a non-pushy way to boost interest.
Recognize good members
Some forum owners have organized competitions like the best user of the month/week or have a competition based on topics. Some rewards also do wonders.
The holy grail of forum building is your members become the best advertising tool you could ever have. Their word of mouth helps the site continue growing and attracting new members.