The question of how to cultivate activity and build a popular forum is as old as the internet itself. And many of the internet’s most popular forums actually are that old. If you cruise around the web and stop off at random successful forums, you’ll notice that many of them are over a decade in age. The question that begs to be answered is, are these forums successful because they’re old or are they old because they’re successful? Are you probably already know, most websites don’t even manage to get off the ground and most get taken down in the first year. By sticking to with a forum and contributing to it regularly, there’s a much better chance that the endeavor will be marginally worthwhile.
Before deciding to write this post, I did some poking around in an attempt at getting the vibe for what people out there think. I wanted to know the consensus on what it takes to create a thriving discussion forum. Here’s what I found:
- Mostly hard work. A forum doesn’t become popular overnight – it can take years. Content, content, content. Get lots of threads up there. Respond to every thread posted.
- Fill a need. Provide good content. Have enough members who will create content.
- Start a forum about a subject you’re good/fluent with and that you thoroughly enjoy.
- Try to focus on a niche. Bring unique features to your forums that your visitors won’t find anywhere else. Before starting your forum make sure you have an established user base.
- Draw them in with new and amazing content, reworking that content and syndicating it on social networks. Market your forum like mad via paid advertising, social networks etc.
The best and most realistic comment I found went something like this:
Creating a successful forum is tremendously challenging. I have created and have worked on many successful forums, so I’ll give you some advice.
Q: Do you know how 90% of successful forums started?
A: They all had 5 or more friends actively posting in the forum when it launched.
It’s that simple. Real friends posting real threads and real posts about real stuff. This makes a forum popular.
Either you find friends to post or you can post yourself. Fake user accounts are a great way to get started, but you’ll need to write a lot. If you don’t create that content, the forum, just like any other website, will never get off the ground.
The truth of the matter is that every great website needs a lot of content that people actually want. As this content grows, the search engines will begin to pick it up and will eventually show it in the search results. Hopefully, when people find it, they’ll link their websites to it and will spread it around social media, which will help it grow even more. If you’re impatient, you can pay money to do advertising, but that might end up costing a lot. Larger sites with investors can do this, but the smaller guy usually can’t.
You Need a Target Market
It’s true. When beginning any website, you’ll need to know who your audience is. You’ll need to know where to find them and how to cater to them. Once you have this clearly defined, you’ll be able to begin writing your content to dazzle them. Just remember, some markets are already saturated. That means that there will be a lot of competition to combat. This doesn’t mean that you can’t penetrate that market, it just means that it’ll be tougher to penetrate than one with no competition. With both, perseverance and a very good work ethic will be necessary.
Start Off Slowly
There’s a great temptation out there that somehow convinces people that, once their forum software is all set up, they should add dozens and dozens of forums about every topic they can think of. There are a few problems with this approach. First, all of those forums are likely to remain empty for a good long while. Google and the other search engines will consider these thin pages and will never rank the website because of that. Also, when a potential user lands on a website that’s clearly empty, they’ll get up and turn right around to walk back out the door. No one wants to hang around a website that’s got nothing going on. My advice to you is to start off slowly and only add forums that you can either contribute to yourself or find others to contribute to. The search engines will love you for this as will visitors. Start off with just a handful of forums and add all of your threads to these. As the site grows, you can begin creating more forums and recategorizing the threads. As the threads grow, the forums grow. Unless of course you’re some sort of writing phenom and can fill all those forums up yourself. That may be the case. I know I probably could.
You Need to Contribute
The truth of the matter is that your website will never take off without your own contribution. You need to reply to every single post that’s written and you even need to create new threads and posts. Begin threads that are great conversation starters. Don’t just make statements. Ask questions. Pretend that you’re on a date with a girl or a guy. Always end with another question and then reply, reply, reply.
“Sure I like birds. What do you like?”
“My favorite color is blue. What’s yours?”
The trick is to stimulate conversation and to keep the ball rolling. Also, be prepared to do this for a very long time. Until new daily comments from outside users reach about 100 per day, you’ll need to do a lot of posting.
Create Fake Accounts
This is where we all start to feel bad for ourselves. I once read that out of 100% of all forum visitors, 90% only read and then leave, 9% answer questions, and just 1% begin new threads. It was something like that. These are some tough stats to deal with. The fact of the matter is that forums are ghost towns in the beginning and will remain so until traffic starts to pick up. That can take years and years. It will though if the content is forthcoming. While things are slow, what you don’t want to do is post everything yourself under the same username. That will make the forum look terrible and incredibly lonely. People will see that you’re the only one around will consider it as empty as if you hadn’t written at all. The best way to combat this is to set up some fake user accounts and to post under those as well. This way, when people stop by to read your wonderful writing, they’ll think you’ve got some friends. This will help break the ice.
Post Good Content
A forum may take on the characteristics of a blog in the beginning. Everything can’t be a question, so writing articles may be appropriate. Of course, you can always ask a question with one account and then answer it with another. The question can be short and the answer can be as long-winded as you like. The point is, you’ll need to do a lot or writing and it’s best to have a system in place for this. If you don’t, you’ll run out of things to say and you’ll lose motivation. What I personally do is write as I learn. I find textbooks for topics that interest me and I read each chapter. After I read, I write a synopsis for each. This benefits me two-fold. I get to learn and I get to fill up my forums with really good content. If you’ve got lots of money, you can fire folks to do the writing for you. Whatever works best for your personal situation.
Recruit Friends & Writers
While you’re doing all of this content creation, you should also be recruiting friends and family to register for accounts and to respond to a few threads that have already been initiated. If they do this for you, you’ll feel better and may subconsciously think that your forum is growing. After they write, ask them to share their posts with others they know. They can email them around or share them on social media. Whatever they’re comfortable with. I’ll give you a tip here too – try to go after those who are a bit older. Young kids don’t want to do anything. If someone is retired and you approach them about getting involved on your site, they may just take you up on the offer. They likely have the time. You’d be surprised how much one retired writer can contribute. They’ll take ownership of their little corner of your forum and you might even one day want to make them a moderator.
Never Give Up
The goal here is called critical mass. This is the point at which you can stop writing and the forum will continue to grow by itself. The trick is, you’ll need to do the lion’s share of the work until the site reaches this point. Keep writing and writing and writing. Create new systems for your writing. Get involved in other forums. Leave your forum’s link in your signature. Invite friends and family to your site. Ask questions. Give answers. Spread the word on social media. Pay for advertising if you need to. Just keep going and going and one day your site will take off. Remember, every single website on the internet began with nothing. No one ever started big and just became monstrous. Every idea in history began as a small kernel in someone’s mind and then grew from there.
Are you starting your own forum? Are you looking for ways to make it popular? Do you have ideas you’d like to share? If so, why not do so below? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!
How to Write a Great Forum Post
If what they say is true, then content is king. If, as a website owner or operator (or both), you don’t create wonderful, engaging, and compelling content regularly, you won’t get very far. Your website will end up in the dustbin of history before too long. Far too many website creators have fallen for the initial energy and luster of designing and launching a blog, forum, or some other type of site, only to have their enthusiasm fade days, weeks, or months later. Some never get off the ground at all. Some never even write the first post! We’ve all seen it. Time and time again, a friend emails us and tells us that he’s got the best website out there. Well, it’s going to be the best website. Only if we can stop by to populate it with our witty banter. “Pleeeease” they say. “Please help me. I need content for my site.” Of course, we rarely go and help out and if we do, we’ll offer a menial comment here or there. After all, it’s not our site. We have other things to do.
But what if we did want to help? What if it was us who created the site or what if it was our significant other who did? In those cases, we’d definitely want to write the best posts we know how to. And that’s why I’m writing this post today – to offer you some assistance in doing so. You see, I’m a writer by nature and I’ve been writing for years and years. Over a decade to give you some more perspective. If there’s anything I know, it’s how to write forum and blog posts.
I’ll give you a quick piece of advice before I even get into anything. Here it is – if you think you’re going to need to write hundreds of posts to help your site off the ground, then you’re going to need a system. Don’t think you’re going to go in fresh and simply write what comes to mind. Sure, you can get away with that for about a dozen posts, but you’ll lose steam. And you’ll not only lose steam, you’ll lose motivation, direction, focus, and you’ll eventually stop contributing to your site altogether. Trust me on this. What’s the statistic for blogs and forums failing in their first year? Something like 99.999999%? Yeah, probably something like that.
Now, before I offer you my tips below, please realize that in order for you to write dozens or hundreds of posts, you’re going to need to be a writer yourself. You’ll already need to have the passion and burning desire for writing inside of you. Without that, forming a structure to turn you into a writing machine will never happen. All I’d like to do down below is inform you of certain aspects you need to pay close attention to as you sit down to type out each and every post. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
The very first thing you’ll need to do before writing any post is craft a title. Well, I actually shouldn’t say that. You may want to write your post first and from that post you’ll find inspiration for the title. Either way you do it, the title will need to be as descriptive as possible, without being wordy. You want to tell your audience as well as the search engines what your post is about, without going overboard. Here is an example of a good title:
Water Skiing on Candlewood Lake
Here’s an example of a title that’s too wordy:
We Went Water Skiing on Candlewood Lake In May on a Tuesday With Friends Who Were Visiting
Again, all you want to do is tell the potential reader what your post is about. They’ll find all the details once they dive into it. And as for the search engines, all they care about it keywords, so save the fluff for the post content itself.
Proof Reading is Critical
Do you want to know the very first thing that loses a reader’s trust? Yes, that’s right. Horrible spelling and grammar. If they ever trusted you to offer advice or tell you something new, they won’t after reading your lousy prose. If you aren’t good at spelling, get good at it. The same is true for grammar. The internet is full of free resources and the time to start is now.
Don’t Go Overboard With Formatting
Formatting is fun. I use it here or there. Typically, I’ll limit myself to bolding a heading or italicising some piece of text I’d like to stand out. I don’t think what I offer special formatting to is distracting at all. Actually, I think my formatting has the opposite effect. I think it enhances my writing. A writer can go overboard though and it’s important to steer clear of over formatting a piece. The result of overformatting in the way of adding underlines, indents, bolding, and italicising can be reader distraction and loss. If they lose focus, readers tend to walk away.
If you don’t have a category for the post you’d like to write, or if you think you’ll only write one post of it’s kind, perhaps you should skip the post altogether. Every website needs a theme and writers shouldn’t stray from that.
Tag Your Content
Along the same lines as categorization done well, tagging done well can be important as well. While categories are big and broad, tags are much more fine and nuanced. Just be sure to stay within some set parameters and stay away from the temptation of going overboard. And if you feel that the search engines won’t like your kind of tagging, be sure to add a noindex meta tag on those pages.
Ask for Input
If you’d like to receive responses on your post, you’ll need to ask for them. The rule for forums is that 1% will create new threads, 10% will comment on threads and posts written by others and the rest will simply consume. If you want to tap into that 11% who’s willing to write, you’ll need to ask them a question or for their input. Ask and you shall receive.
Stay Away From Jargon
Not everyone is in or is familiar with your particular industry, so not everyone might know what the words you use mean. Recognizing this, it’s important for you to use common words when writing your posts. And if you’d like to continue using industry jargon, at least define the words you use so everyone has an understanding of what you write.
We all know this. Photos and images help just about anything and trust me, there’s an image for every topic under the sun. When writing your beautifully crafted post, try to find an image that will complement it.
Mention Other Writers
The most beautiful sound to a person’s ears is their own name. And the most beautiful sight to someone’s eyes is seeing their name on the internet. I just made that second one up, but it’s probably true. This tip has to do with not only drawing someone into a conversation on your blog or forum, it’s also a method of effective marketing. Use someone’s name to market your post and give it credibility. Top writers use this trick all the time. It’s more common than you’d think.
If You Wrote It, You Own It
Once you write a post on either a forum or a blog, you own it. You’re responsible for following up with those who have left comments or added to the thread. The more you encourage others to write, nurture, and cultivate the writing on your site, the more writing you’ll be committed to with going back and forth with others. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. This means that your content generation is on auto-pilot!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. Do you have any further tips or suggestions you think others might enjoy using? If so, please leave them below. Thanks!
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