20 actionable steps to make forum popular among its members, so they keep coming back to create conversation among other forum members.
Have you ever asked yourself why some forums are so popular whereas others aren’t? What is the secret to making a forum super active and highly popular?
If you are into an online arena, I am sure you had this question in the back of your mind. I had this question, and I still have this question which I ask myself each time I stumble upon any new forum.
We all have the question, and probably each of us may have an explanation.
Being an admin of highly successful forums and worked for clients on super successful forums I will share not only share how to run a successful forum website but also discuss ways to make a new forum super popular among its members.
But … before we begin, let’s see what the advantages and disadvantages of having a forum are
Advantages of Having A Forum
As a webmaster, having a forum is useful because:
- Content Generation – User creates threads and interacts, which is a source of content for the forum owner.
- User Interaction – A medium for members to interact with other like-minded members.
- Get Help – As a member, one can ask questions and get help as well as help others to show his or her expertise in the field.
- Attract New Members – Forum members can create content that can attract more members from their social media as well as from search engine.
All in all, it can help boost the site traffic for forum owner.
Disadvantages of Having A Forum
Here are some of the common drawbacks of adding a forum:
- Chicken Hen Problem – Forum need traffic and conversations for members to remain engaged. The traffic comes from conversations. The subtle case of chicken and hen problem. If the forum looks quiet, no members will be interested in creating conversations.
- Moderation can take a lot of time – Forums attracts a lot of spammers. One can block automated spams, but human spam is hard to prevent. One has to manually moderate, and there is no alternative to it.
I am sure the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. So if one knows how to create a successful forum website and make it popular, it always makes sense to be making one.
So what are some of the popular forum examples:
Popular Forums That Doesn’t Feel Like Traditional Forums
I don’t think Reddit needs any introduction. It is the largest community site where the president of the US has organized ask me anything.
Members are free to submit content on various topics. Other members up or down to organize the posts and determine their position on the site’s pages. The submissions with the most positive votes appear on the front page or the top of a category.
Quora is a QnA based community where members can ask question and request answers from experts. The site gain in popularity when Mark Zuckerberg acquired after asking it on Quora. The famous personalities not only ask a question but also reply to people’s question making the community vibrant.
I am a member of experts-exchange since 2004. The site name Go4Expert.com was inspired from the site experts-exchange. I wanted the domain name to have the word – expert.
Experts-exchange is a QnA based site. Answering a question one grabs points. With points, you grab expertise level in the niche. Back in 2004, I even won the member of the month award as well.
As a developer, no one can miss a StackOverflow site. It is the most popular QnA site, especially for programming related queries. Members ask questions. Answers from experts are voted and ranked based on the upvotes.
Members gain reputation points, and badges for upvotes received on their answers.
I even created a plugin for a client in vBulletin to sort the replies based on upvotes similar to StackOverflow.
One of my clients and they have taken a vBulletin forum to all-new levels. They still are using vBulletin 3.x with custom development route when vBulletin 4.x wasn’t being up to the mark.
One more of my client where the forum doesn’t look anything like vBulletin anymore. One thing that is working well for TOTV is how they streamline and organize the forum for its members.
One more of my client where they opted for custom vBulletin 3.x and remained with vBulletin. They also changed the look of the forum to suit their needs and break the traditional look of a vBulletin forum.
A forum in XenForo that doesn’t look like a XenForo forum.
Best Forum Solutions
Launching a forum shouldn’t take very long. I always prefer to use the one that is best out of the box. As the community grows, one can personalize it to suit the members needs as well as match the overall look.
vBulletin was one of the better choices for forums in 2004, but today it is XenForo.
If you are too concerned about the price, then one should opt for Discourse which is more modern than phpBB. Both are open-source, with many plugins to customize the community.
Moreover, there are ways to make money from forums. So make a choice based on functionality and not on price alone.
How to Make Forum Popular (20 Actionable Items)
Here are some of the specific steps a webmaster should take to make the forum super successful.
1. Encourage Conversations
The whole point of having a forum or community is to encourage conversation.
Users with similar interest can interact with each other for common problems. As an admin of a forum needs to make sure healthy discussion and conversations continue to flow, and things do not get heated up.
Moreover, at times, one has to create some threads or topics that encourage discussions more than an answer. One has to create a viewpoint generating discussions to encourage conversations.
2. Remain Open to OffTopics
People like to talk. Make sure you have a place in your forum where user can talk or interact with other members on a lighter note.
Have a space where members can share more about their achievements or meet and greet other fellow members.
Have some general discussion forum for conversations, and it is a way to make forum popular among its members.
3. Be Yourself
On Go4Expert.com I have more than 15,000 posts. When I talk with many users, they ask me why I did not use more than one account to interact or why I don’t have accounts like Admin, Owner…
I also did try having more than one account but could not get past my style of writing. No matter which account I use for posting I will have the same form of conveying things which is very easily identifiable (at least for me). As I could identify myself, I thought of having only my account and not use multiple usernames.
However, I don’t prefer username as admin because I like to keep it real.
Make sure you enjoy what you are doing. Make it part of your life, or else you cannot continue using the forum for years. If you as an admin can’t use the forum, why will other members bother to use?
4. Get Friends on Board
Your friends are your biggest asset when it comes to creating discussions in forums. Bring them to the forum and let them create conversations.
The key is to find friends who are passionate about the topic.
So if you want to build a technology forum, you want friends who can talk about gadgets. As a programming forum, you may want your friends with interest in programming to help you out. Let them answer questions as well as ask their own.
When you let the threads flowing, new members will jump into the discussions making the forum look active and popular among the members.
5. Launching a Forum isn’t Enough
I am yet to see a forum only site becomes a big success only based on user-generated content. One needs members to generate content. People will converse only when there is some content to converse on.
One may get a feeling when one looks at sites like Reddit or Quora that community blossoms on its own but one has to see things in the hindsight.
When Reddit was new, they created fake users to generate conversations.
According to Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, in the early days, the Reddit crew just faked it ‘til they made it. They created a vast amount of content that involved active discussions.
Pick any community, and you will find traffic-generating reliable content is the core behind the success. It is not only worth discussing but helpful to the readers as well.
As users end up reading the content and want to know more, they will create more content around the topics.
6. Build a Team
Did you notice what Reddit’s co-founder mention? It was a crew and not an individual.
Hire others to create genuine and useful content. It is one of the best ways to get conversations flowing.
Again, I am not saying you should be hiring expert authors in each category. But you will need a team with diverse expertise to create conversations. Build the team of content creators.
7. Organize Forums Topics and Sub Topics Wisely
Forum is all about on-topic content and conversations.
Facebook has everything for managing a group, but it doesn’t have an option to organize the content within the group. Facebook has every as a timeline with an opportunity to pin a few.
Forums are all about organizing the topics wisely.
As an example, one can’t have a Facebook group for programming and have active members of C++ as well as PHP. The interests of both differ considerably.
As a forum webmaster use it to your advantage and organize the forums/sub-forums as per your members want. It will make them feel like an integral part of the forum making it more popular among the members.
8. Start a Niche and then Expand
When people see too many forums without any active conversations, they tend to avoid being a member of such forums.
So always target to have few active forums. It is much better to have few active sub-forums than having too many sections with no threads created in them for months.
As many threads are for a topic, one can always move them to its sub-forum.
9. Participate in Related Forums
Participate in Quora/Reddit. Not for promoting but to understand how forums work.
You will find features that you enjoy in those sites. Implement them for your forum as well. Everything is right out of the box, but out of the box, things can’t get you to the next level for sure.
As an example back in 2005ish time, I found Sitepoint organizing member of the year competition. It made moderators be more active and help members. I also did the same, and it helped me get a lot of contributing members who wanted a badge for the most active member of the month.
10. Make it Easy to be a Member
Have a straightforward registration form.
Username and email are more than enough for anyone to become a member. At the most one can add a password.
The objective is to make onboarding as easy as possible for members.
11. Encourage Members with Promotion
Members contributing to forums means you should trust them to moderate and be the champion of the forum.
They can take the forum to the next level.
The contributing members are adults. So treat them like adults and let them have a sense of responsibility. Trust them with the fate of the forum. It is the most important aspect to grow the forum.
Promote members with a certain level of post count to be a moderator.
Let them bring in more users and content.
Let the contributing member be part of the team as well. Offer them a part-time opportunity to manage the forum. My experience has been, only some members will accept it. Majority of them will be too busy to be part of the team and will voluntarily like to contribute as and when they can.
12. Invite Experts
In other forums, Reddit or Quora interact with the experts and invite them to participate in discussions on your forums as well.
Invite them to contribute, to become a member or even become part of the team.
Moreover, don’t miss to notice an expert on your forum too. If anyone shares thoughtful or intelligent responses, encourage them to be an active member of the community.
One more way to invite experts is, keep an eye on Amazon for new and upcoming ebooks on the topic. Invite the authors to the forum and let them promote their book to your members. Author drive sales, but it can also bring in authors follower to the forum.
The industry experts discussing and replying to forum makes an excellent impression to new members, making it popular among them.
13. Welcome Members
Welcome new members and ask them to introduce themselves. It is one of the better ways to get conversations started. Moreover, when other members welcome them, the new members feel they are part of the community.
The other advantage is, everyone is not aware of how forums work. They may not even know the basic lingo of threads, forums, sub-forums, or posts. An introduction helps them to get accustomed to a forum.
Other ways to make members feel important is using birthdays. Recognize birthdays of contributing members and feature their name to make them feel special.
Forums by default had a very dull email sent to each member on their birthdays. I customized it to something like this, and it helps me get a lot of replies.
The whole point is to make the members feel special.
14. Make it Easy to Interact
The world is moving towards mobile. So having an app for the forum is a must. Communities need apps.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get an app for the forum.
Tapatalk for as little as $10 per month can get your app for the forum.
My iOS and Android App for DIY Technical Analysis Forum.
An additional one time fee to list the app in the iOS and Android marketplace exists.
Still, it takes out the hassle to develop an app from scratch. All I need to do is install a plugin in XenForo and opt for a build your App in Tapatalk. Rest is all taken care of by them.
15. Stop Spam Mercilessly
Forum with spam content can flee off genuine users.
Forum is prone to a lot of spam although it blocks automated spam. However, the forum attracts a lot of human spammers.
People create a profile on forums to drop link. Moreover, they create threads to drop links.
These are easy to spot and block. The worst form of forum spam is copy content from other sites into a forum to increase post count and show off expertise.
After a while, they drop links.
So one has to be right on the toes to combat forum spam.
16. Hold competitions and Give Out Prizes
Competition is one of the best ways to get a lot of interaction in the forum.
I organized $1 daily competition on Go4Expert, which took the forum interaction to the next level. The idea was, people with certain post count can participate and win. People were creating a lot of content to be eligible to win $1 in PayPal.
I had a $50 monthly forum participation contest for increasing forum activity for a C Programming forum which is now merged with Go4Expert. I wasn’t convinced a contest would work for a niche forum like C Programming.
See how the final moments in the contest surge the forum posting activity.
Finally, I can say that competitions and contests always work for forums.
17. Allow Guests to View Threads/Posts
Often webmaster considers allowing people to view the complete thread, post, or attachments can mean they will not become a member.
My experience has been it is better to allow. You can’t force users to become active members. Even if you do, they will register to view the content and nothing much after that.
Members should become a member to share a thought or an opinion and not because they were forced to be one to read a solution.
18. Enable guest posting
One can go even one step further as a new forum owner. Allow guests to post.
Forums don’t have guest posting enabled by default. Everyone don’t enjoy the thought of requiring to register to share a viewpoint.
Enabling guest posting can increase the interactions in forums dramatically.
The downside is, of course, spam. As one notices an increase of spam from guests, guest posting can be disabled. By the time spam starts trickling in, the forums will have a lot of exciting conversations for new members to jump in.
19. Share Valuable Content
Forum is not all about the discussion or controversial content. It should also have valuable content. The value of the content will help users to keep coming back.
Creating evergreen content even for a forum is as important as any other website, including blogs.
The conversational content can mean a lot of forum activity, but valuable content will drive more traffic to the site.
20. Use Email Wisely
Forums send birthday emails as well as a daily and weekly digest to members. I prefer to to go even one step further and have a newsletter.
It is a way to let all the members know about the important announcements as well as upcoming changes to the forum.
Before AWeber, I had an announcement forum and each new member who registered was automatically subscribed to the forum. It made sure they received the forum announcements.
If I have to relook at options today, I may consider Moosend.
Finally, Forum Needs Constant Work (Moderation, Content)
I get many forum partnership proposals, and one thing I see very common in those proposals is – they lack the idea to create user engagement and content regularly.
Most of the proposals are of nature where they think we can have a forum online, and the user will generate content which will rank higher in search engines and generate more & more traffic. It may be right for large forums, but to make the ball rolling, you need to get the best content for the forum.
As the forum becomes popular, members will take the initiative to create unique content for the site, which can drive more traffic and revenue. Forums are best for the snowball effect, but one has to get the snowball rolling. It isn’t easy in the midst of Facebook groups and social media, but it isn’t that tough either.