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|The A-Z of how to build a successful forum
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Joined: 11 Jun 2006
|Posted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 9:11 pm
|The A-Z of how to build a successful forum
A is for... AUTHORITY
Your forum has to build a name for itself as the best place to go to for discussions about the particular niche.
* This means you and your team have to drive debate and discussion, usually by creating new topics the whole time. Get each team member to start one or two threads each day, and then go make interesting posts in the other threads to get those off the ground. Don't be afraid of bringing back interesting threads that aren't on Page 1 anymore and so are being ignored; bring it back with an interesting post aimed at pushing the discussion in that thread further and deeper. Each new thread means members staying on the forums just that little bit longer, making a few more posts, having a few more interesting things to read and say... basically, getting into the habit of spending time and being active on your site
* This also means getting top spots in search engines. Do that by getting links to your forum. Aim to add at least 1 new backlink every day; this means If I had a forum about fish breeding, I might hunt down a forum about salmon farming and send an email suggesting they could link to that discussion. Many forum owners will ask themselves 'what's in it for me?' - you could perhaps suggest they sign up, stick a link to their own website in their signature, and post in that thread - even if you don't get the link back, you've still added a new expert to your community, which helps with our target to become the Authority in the niche anyway! And if he likes your site, a link will eventually come... you'll see!
* There are other ways of getting links; if you run a website about music, getting an interview with a band will get bloggers and people on other forums linking to you when they talk about that interview. Remember: Content is King. Getting a reputation as a site that features lots of interviews (or other examples of attention from big names in the industry) will also boost your Authority
* In some cases it's easier to become the Authority in your niche if you focus of a fairly narrow niche only. It could be easier for you to get big by (easily) becoming the #1 board for jazz discussion, than being the place people think of to come to to talk about jazz music if your boards are about all kinds of music. You can expand into a bigger niche when you're bigger and ready to take a shot at becoming the Authority for a bigger niche.
B is for... BALLAST REMOVAL
The design and layout of your forums is very important. It can make all the difference whether a visitor leaves immediately, signs up - then leaves, signs up, says hello, then leaves, or signs up and makes ten posts every day, becoming an established member and recommending your forum wherever he goes. The rule of the day here is Keep It Simple
* A lot of dead boards out there made the easily-made mistake of starting out with too many subforums. It's easy to see a lot of established boards with a forum for each specific thing the community could ever want to talk about. What you don't realise is that all those forums weren't there at the start. You should have AT MOST ten forums on a new board; don't be afraid to lump similar topics of discussion together; for example a fish forum should only start off with very broad forums, maybe one for 'tropical fish', another for 'freshwater fish'. Resist the temptation to have, from the start, a forum about pond fish, one about trout, and another dozen for every species you can think about. It's effort to move from one forum to another, so your members won't do it much; you'll get much more activity and participation if you have five interesting threads next to each other in one forum, rather than five threads in five different forums.
* Once a forum grows so big that you feel interesting threads get pushed to page 2 (and thus ignored) too fast for most members to see it, that's when your boards will benefit from splitting a forum into two smaller ones. You might feel it's finally time to give trout their own forum if the existing forum has a lot of talk about trout; or you might want to take discussion about pond fish elsewhere. Only create a new forum if you need to make an existing forum slightly less active, and if you're sure enough people will talk about the subject of the new forum. That's how those huge boards came to have so many forums; splitting the big ones into two smaller ones.
* A lot of forums have beautiful, intricate skins. But this has many downsides. For starters, each page loads slower. This means it takes longer for each member to read threads, make a new post, move between forums, etc... if it's slower, then they can't do it as much! More than that, they're more likely to lose patience and leave. In many cases it's better to have a simple, snappy and uncomplicated design - look at how popular Google became compared to Yahoo... even though for many years they shared exactly the same results!
* Ballast doesn't just mean excessive graphics, wide borders between posts, etc. Ballast also includes jargon that make your site inaccessible to people new to your site, or new to boards in general. To you it seems obvious what the difference between boards, forums, threads, posts etc are. But what about someone that's never seen a forum before? So if you can, edit your language files to remove any jargon. Rename things to match concepts the user is already familiar with... for example, a new user using a Windows computer might come to your site and see a link to User CP or My Controls... without really knowing what those are. But rename it to Control Panel and suddenly his mind makes the link with Control Panels in Windows - obvious! Same deal with 'Archive' or 'Lo-FI' links... rename it 'Streamlined Version'! Go on a hunt for any jargon you can swap for normal, everyday words, and make sure you explain the rest of them in a Newbie Guide of some sort
C is for... COMMUNITY
At the end of the day, what brings people back to a forum isn't just the level of banter or the desire to learn more about the topic of discussion. The major factor that will keep a member coming back every day for a year or two is the feeling that he/she belongs to the community here. You therefore have to get members to feel as integrated into the community as possible.
* This means helping them establish an identity in the community. If it's obvious they're trying to be funny, tell them that they are! Likewise, if someone clearly considers themselves quite the Professor in these parts, don't hesitate to tell them when they make a good point. A member with an identity is no longer an anonymous outsider; it's a member that feels a part of your community, whether it's the know-it-all , the joker , the troll that likes to step on toes... The feeling of being a somebody in a community is one they'll find hard to let go of, and will help to keep them coming back.
* A monthly forum 'award ceremony' can be a quick and easy way of doing this for up to ten members at a time - 'Best Joke' 'Best Debater' etc...
* Developing your forum's community spirit also means encouraging your members to get to know each other better, to make friends, basically! You're unlikely to abandon a forum if it's a community you're an active part of and have people you consider to be friends in. Get them to post pictures of themselves, to describe where they live, to talk about their other hobbies, etc. You can't force people to make friends.... but you can certainly encourage it!
D Is for DOMAIN NAME and DESCRIPTION And DEDICATION.
myfreeforum.org and myfastforum.org give you a perfectly good domain name that gets you directly to your forum, using a free "tk" name might be shorter but the advertising you will then get will stop most users from bothering to look at your forum. A real bought domain name can be integrated to your forum for a small donation.
* Describe your forums accurately, but use the opportunity to create your sales pitch and to explain to users why they want to enter that "space".
Here's an example of a poor description (and how many times do you see this):-
Shiny Red Widgets
Posts about Shiny Red Widgets
This is a complete waste of bytes (the title already provides the low level description) as much as a waste of opportunity for the forum owner.
A good description:-
Shiny Red Widgets
One of the biggest problems red widget owners experience today is a lack of lustre. We look at industry news and member discussion about polishing techniques.
Dedicate time to your forum, and don't just expect it to grow on its own.
E) Is for EFFORT
Been covered already, but lets say it again and again throughout the alphabet! Building a forum is not actually like "A Field of Dreams", if you simply build the pitch for people to play on, they will not come! You have to have topics and look like a lively board, especially if you want general discussion.
The one small exception for this is a narrow niche where people have questions to ask. In which case the new punters will look less at how recently people have posted and more at whether they think they will get an answer to a question.
F is for FRESH And FRIENDS
So there`s a new pub opening in town the buzz of excitement is in the air, the doors open and the place is packed everyone talking and having fun, weeks go by new customers are still pouring though the door, then it seems to slow down, the management dont seem to want to alter things as it was working before but the customers are fed up nothing new has happened every thing is out of date, disgruntled customer start to leave maybe they might pop their hands round the door again maybe not.
Sounds familiar to your forum golden rule is to always keep it FRESH no one likes a STALE forum so you have loads of post on there but they are all old new members will see this and think its a dead forum or a boring forum.
FRESH is BEST
It stands to reason that when you make friends on boards with similar topics to your own, you've got people to invite to your board to help it grow. This would also add an immediate sense of community to a board in its infancy.
G is for GUEST
Love them or hate them you should make all guest feel Welcome
To me a guest is like a new customer in your shop or pub if you treat them poorly they are very unlikely to return, but treat them well and make them feel welcome by giving them good service and they will likely return.
Also a guest could be your window to many more members ever heard of the "Ice Berg Theory" A Guest will come on the forum have a look if treated right will then tell their friends who in return will tell their friends and so on and so forth.
There is a big difference between a Guest and a Troll never assume that all guest and trolls are the same
H is for HONESTY And HARD WORK.
It is pointless to be dishonest on your forum, or for members to be dishonest as-well, a well run board is a board of honesty.
I have seen many a times a good thread started where the admin or mods have deleted it just for them to post it so it looks like it was their idea. Or for some members to be modded while others who say the same are not, just because their friends with the mods.
Simple we could all open a forum with 20 post then leave it and hope for the best it will grow, thats like having a puppy feeding him for a day or two then leave it to hope it Will get along by itself with minimum fuss.
A good example to this is http://funnyworld.myfreeforum.org i started this site as a safe place to go (with out spy-ware and ad-ware and pop-ups) it has taken me around 3 months of solid work, and hours of uploading stuff to a file host then posting the direct links, and hours of searching the net for more stuff, to get it to look like it does, you have to remember it takes HARD-WORK to make a good forum, members will then follow.
I is for INITIATIVE
It takes a little initiative to start a forum, but even a well established forum benefits from you taking the initiative and encouraging others to take initiative. Never let things get stale.
J is for Jargon
The use of too much jargon on a forum can put the fainthearted off from joining and even posting, try to keep the amount of jargon down, remember the Internet is growing fast and new customers are just around the corner and they will not even understand ROFL (roll on floor laughing) also the Two biggest NO,S are
Text Talk, funny enough its called text talk because it is used for texting on mobile phones, to save time and space, not on a forum.
Text talk on a forum looks lazy and gives the impression that members cannot be bothered to take their time in thinking before posting. Not only that some people just do not understand text talk a good forum will always be open to all to understand and enjoy.
Street trash (Dont i look hard talk )
Save it for the playground it does not impress anyone, and to a potential new customer it gives the impression its a board run by lazy youths that can not string a sentence along without using foul language and some sort of dialect used by primitive man in the stone age.
K is for KISS
Keep It Simple Stupid - We are still in an age where people on the whole are not that web savvy. Look over the shoulder of a typical web user and if you are an expert you will cringe
In forum terms, this is one of the main reasons for using phpbb rather than a system with lots more bells and whistles. It is also a reason as a rule not to overload your forum with extra hacks that add complexity for the ordinary user.
The logic applies to the style used as well, an over graphical style can confuse people.
L is for LEARN THE BASIC,S
Learning the basics of how to use the admin panel, and how to create threads and topics, edit delete,sticky and so on and so forth, will be of such a great advantage to you and your members, no one likes to join a forum where the admin has not got the foggiest on how to run it or Even do the basic,s it shows the board is poorly run and is not likely to survive.
Once you have learnt the basics thens it time to learn the more complex things like style editing changing logos adding tables, and so on.
Do your home work first there is plenty of advice on myfreeforum.org support forum just read the stickys, then read the other topics this will give you a great insight on how things work. And if your question is not in the stickys dont be afraid to ask, wouldn't you rather ask a silly question than make a silly mistake
M is for MEMBERS
You have to remember that with out members your forum is going no where fast.
Golden rule for me is to treat your members with respect and dignity, you will find that not all your members share the same views so encourage them to have a sensible debate on topics.
Just because a member does not agree with you does not mean they are trouble yes it,s your forum you make the rules but having a one sided forum would be like living under dictatorship.
Members are your life line treat them as you would like to treated if you joined another forum.
Members in the world of open forums are like gold dust keep them keen and treat them well and they will replay this with good posts and topics.
If you have a problem with any members then try not to have a full scale childish slanging match on the open forum this will upset other members and any potential members will think twice before joining.
N is for NO NONSENSE
Very few people enjoy boards where aggravation is the normal course of events. Whilst I am sure elsewhere in the a-z a light touch will be recommended in the way a board is moderated, that is not the same as being a push over. You as Admin and your moderators must be a force to be reckoned with, you define the rules for your board and must apply them fairly consistently and forcefully. If you are flexible and put up with nonsense from members, soon those members will be only only sort you have left.
A no nonsense approach may lose you some members, but you will be better off without them in the long run.
O is For ORIGINAL
You want plenty of original content on your forum, especially in "stickies". Original high quality content is the stuff search engines love to index, and the stuff new punters want to read.
Create FAQ threads on the topics your board covers and place them as a sticky at the top of each forum. Use all the keywords people might search on.
P is for PLANNING
It,s no good sitting there and thinking I'm bored lets make a forum, then open it to the world in minutes.
PLAN ahead think what the forum could be about, then when you have decided,plan the style, have a look around at other forums and websites to get some ideas.
Now you have all that in place Plan your next move its no good opening a forum with just the test post in it.
Make at least 50 + post in various threads this will enable new members to get their teeth in to when they join, and lets face it no one really unless their your friends will join a dead or empty forum, would you go into a public library which had only empty selves.
Plan your advertising, also plan the forums rules before you have even opened it and post them in an announcement so there are no misconceptions from the start.
Planning is a very important thing for a forum to be successful.
Q is for QUALITY not QUANTITY
We can all go on a forum and post replays that are simply yes or no or but what is the point of that just to bump up your post count
Try and make QUALITY post rather than a QUANTITY of useless posts, this way the topic is still on going attracting people to come back time and time again to reply, bumping up post counts does not get you a blue peter badge , but by posting quality post gets you recognition as being a valued member who,s opinions count for more than a high post count.
R Is For READABLE
Not only is it against the terms and conditions of the myfreeforum system, but also if you stop guests from reading your forum, it will also stop search engines indexing it, and when you think about it, why should anyone make the effort to register on the off chance that you are a good forum?
S is for SECURITY
Whilst myfreeforum makes every effort to ensure you are safe from real "hacks", many forums on our systems do get trashed. They get trashed in three ways.
1) You leave the forum logged in as admin.
But you have a kid brother, sister or the pet dog that has developed keyboard skills. With browsers that can remember passwords, you don't even have to leave it logged in!
2) You use "password" as your password.
This has happened and will no doubt happen again.
3) You give other people "admin" rights.
Whilst many forums do run successfully with multiple admins. For example the myfreeforum admin is a joint admin on a forum with 8 admins! This is the exception and not the rule.
Sometimes to get a forum going, you are going to have to share the power but judging characters over the net is a very hard business So take the issue of admin power very very seriously.
Ask yourself do you know the persons character? are they level headed and not easily offended, are they responsible?
If you can get away with it, simply don't give anyone the idea that they can be joints admin, make a big thing of the position of moderator!
T is for Tolerance
Be tolerant in your rules when it comes to petty matters. I have known boards where moderators are on power trips and will pick on people for trivial things like "quoting" a bit too much No one likes to be "treading on eggshells" when posting on a fo
U is for unique and Usability
Try and make a forum like no other the most successful forums on myfreeforum.org and myfastforum.org are http://holidaychat.myfreeforum.org , http://theghosthousegang.myfreeforum.org , http://plasticsaints.myfreeforum.org .
Each of these have a niche in the market, just how many wow forums are there or game forums or general chat forums, the above 3 sites will always have a ready stream of members that are interested in their forum, holidaychat is as it says chatting about holidays great idea how many of us go on Holiday and want to share our experiences and photos, theghosthousegang again a good corner of the market especially as most haunted has grabbed so many peoples imagination also everyone has a view on the world of the paranormal and lastly plastic saints was set up for the fans of Southampton football club again it has a large fan base.
Try and think of something that has not been done before http://funnyworld.myfreeforum.org was set up for that just reason how many forums say this is not a site for chatting just for you to enjoy the vast amount of jokes,videos,flash clips and so on ?
On the other hand do not try and make it too unique a forum on Exploring the Science of chess may be a Little to unique for you to get regular members.
Consider your colour schemes in particular from the usability angle. If there are any potential contrast issues with the text, get people with different eyesight to look at the forum on both a TFT and a CRT monitor.
What ever you do, do not place topics text overlaying images.
Weird colour schemes may seem clever, but for most people they get intolerable in just a short space of time.
V is for VARIETY
Even if you are running a highly successful forum on green widgets, you will find your members do occasionally, or even a lot more than occasionally, want to simply natter amoungst themselves.
Accept this! variety is the spice of life and if you strive to hard to keep people "on topic" you may well find you get "no topic".
W is for WORK
Aren't you getting a bit repetitive on this one! you may well ask? Well of course we are, but as it is probably 90% of what making a successful forum is about in the first few months, it deserves a few letters in the alphabet.
X is for the X FACTOR
That thing that makes your members/guests feel that your forum should be their new home.
Perhaps you will get the ultimate accolade and find someone has made your forum their homepage
Admins "own" forum downsizer.net has had the home page complement a number of times as well as dozens of people saying the site has changed their lives There are other sites in the "downsizer" field, but we decided our "x factor" was to be more friendly and welcoming, to be totally non judgemental, to have top quality information, to provide fast answers to peoples questions and never to take a pious tone with people.
Ask yourself what will keep people on your site?
Y is for YOU
It's you who builds the forum. You have the responsibility of all your members and everything that goes on. If something goes wrong, you get the blame.
Z is for ZEN
You as admin may not have achieved "enlightenment" quite yet, but to run a forum you must appear at least a little on the way to your members.
An admin who is unreliable, childish, petty, temperamental or bullying will send the message to their members that the forum stands no chance of lasting.
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