This guide will provides some tips on running a successful forum
- Make your content and topics interesting
Users will sign up and post on your board if they find the existing content interesting, and consider it worthwhile to participate. Try and find a niche category to base your board on – something that hasn’t been covered before (or at least not extensively or successfully). Establish a number of interesting categories within your forum, without going overboard; too many categories usually end up with half of them containing no posts. Post interesting and engaging content and get your friends to join in to kick start a good initial layer of attractive, interesting content. Post polls, contests and other interactive discussions to attract the user and then hook them in. Its usually a good idea to create an Introductions category, where new users can post about themselves and existing users can welcome them.
- Make your board design as unique as possible
There are thousands of forums on the internet, many of them with default, dull themes. Try to create one of your own, or if you have no design skills, purchase one. Additionally, most users will have seen the standard featureset of a forum before; try and add additional features to yours which will make it stand out. Many forum scripts have hundreds of freely available addons, for example, vBulletin, including social networking addons, live chat, shops and arcades. By using addons wisely, you can introduce incentives such as rewards and contests for your users. The more your forum stands out, the more likely the chance a user will sign up. Don’t go overboard though; a forum with hundreds of additional modifications can make it less user friendly and slow.
- Ensure that the registration process is as simple as possible
One of the biggest mistakes a forum administrator can make at first is making the registration process overly complex. For example, some forums make you agree to rules, answer security questions, validate your identity via email and await moderator approval. While all of these are good at stopping spam, if your signup process is long and tedious, many users will just give up. Try and achieve a good balance between security and ease of use.
- Optimize your board for search engines with SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Your rankings in the search engines can be incredibly important when trying to attract new users. If done correctly, a good amount of SEO can result in users searching via Google for a topic and ending up viewing one of your threads. Most of the major forum scripts are fairly well geared for SEO as it is, but there are additional steps you can take, such as adding search engine friendly URLs, or in the case of vBulletin, adding vBSEO, a full suite of SEO enhancements and tweaks
- Put in as much of your own time as possible
Don’t expect your forum to be successful automatically. The most successful forums are a direct result of incredibly hard work by their administrators. Be as active as possible (but don’t overdo it; the administrator constantly posting new threads makes your forum look like an inactive community, not an active one) Introduce new features, more incentives, thereby making your users feel like the community is progressing, rather than stagnating. Many forums fail due to lazy administrators, even if they have an active userbase.
- Spread the word
Many forums fail due to a lack of publicity; luckily, one of the best ways of attracting new members to your board is by word of mouth. Tell your friends to join, and if they find it interesting, they will tell their friends, who will tell their friends etc. This can tie in very well with a referral scheme, whereby users are rewarded for referring other users to the board. Word of mouth advertising, in tandem with other forms of advertising e.g. SEO optimization, Google Ads, link trading with other forums, can result in a powerful combination which will draw more and more users to your forums.
- Don’t overmoderate
A big mistake that many administrators make is to appoint an overly large team of forum moderators, who then proceed to use their new powers a little too frequently. Moderators who constantly edit/delete posts usually end up annoying users, which can make a bad reputation for your forums. Remember that freedom of discussion is what makes your board succesful; a large amount of moderation can cause problems. When you have a small userbase there is usually no need to appoint a moderation team; only when you have a medium to large userbase do you need to start adding moderators who can help with the day to day tasks of running a forum.
- Introduce incentives for visitors to sign up
Many forums implement a number of systems to encourage visitors to sign up and become members. The most basic of these is not allowing a visitor to view any thread content. This is a huge mistake; you are blocking new members from viewing the very content that is meant to interest them. A better system to implement is to allow visitors to view a certain number of threads, and then remind them that to cooperate in discussions they have to signup. This can sometimes tip a user over the edge into registering. Be careful to balance this though; a forum chock full of notices screaming at a visitor that they must sign up can have a negative impact.
- Encourage your existing users to post Sometimes forums can have a substantial userbase, but 90% of them are inactive. There are ways you can kick start this inactive group; send out emails to them reminding them of their membership (careful; some users will interpret this as spam and get more annoyed than anything), or for some forum scripts addons are available which analyze a user’s activity and put messages at the top of the screen, encouraging them to post. The most important factor to consider is new content. If content isn’t being actively posted, more likely than not users won’t bother to post their own. Try to keep a steady amount of threads being posted to keep your community active and happy/
- Have patience! Setting up a forum and maintaining it can be very difficult. But don’t give up; usually, if you put enough effort in, you will be rewarded. On the flipside, if you put in hours of work intitially and then stop, the forum will most likely die and you will have wasted your time. Try to constantly enhance and improve your forum; there is never nothing to do when you administrate a forum.
Many of the tips listed here can be achieved by the use of addons to your forum (specifically in this case, vBulletin). Many other forum scripts other a large collection of addons that can be added to your forum; browse around and find whats best for you.
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