Most forums fail because they don’t get enough traffic. We call this the critical mass problem. However, some forums have lots of traffic and still fail. Other forums have lots of traffic and simply underperform.
We identified eight factors that stop users from participating in your forum community:
- No Evidence of Activity. No one goes into an empty restaurant and no one posts to an empty forum. People are reluctant to post because they’re afraid they will not get a timely response.
- Lack of Experts. Newbies ask questions that require expertise. If the experts in your community are not visible or accessible, newbies are unlikely to participate. Put another way, newbies need confidence that they will receive a good answer.
- Bad User Experience Design. If users can’t figure out how to register or submit a reply then participation will remain low. We remain puzzled by forums that lack obvious cues to register.
- Snobby Atmosphere. If users are afraid they will be ridiculed by “cool” users on the forum they become less likely to participate. Arguably, an elitist attitude can be a good thing because it cuts down on the volume of “stupid questions.” But we believe there’s a difference between having high standards and outright arrogance or rudeness toward newcomers.
- Stuffy Atmosphere. Forum participants want to feel like they can express themselves freely. If the atmosphere is too “corporate” or if there are too many rules prospects will shy away.
- Lack of Anonymity. If users feel like their content could be traced past their handle to their actual identity they will not chime in. Even in cases where the subject matter is innocuous, we have found that users relish the opportunity to develop a persona specifically for their favorite forum.
- Crippling Self-Doubt. Many users refrain from participating because they’re embarrassed about their question, they lack confidence in themselves, or they’re afraid they will somehow appear weak.
- Easier to Consume Than To Create. Users don’t participate because they prefer lurking, they’re on their phone and it’s difficult to reply, or they lack sufficient incentives to participate. It’s easier to consume content rather than generate content so it makes sense that many users default to this mode of operation.