3 “Must Have” Rules For The Like Button On Your Forum

Last week, we discussed how the “Like” button on your forum triggers an engagement loop. In the same way that forum communities must make the registration process for new users both obvious and easy, the “Like” experience must be intuitive.

Here are the rules we follow for the “Like” button on our forum communities:

  1. Make it prominent. The “Like” button must be obvious and easy to use.
  2. Provide visual feedback. Give feedback to the user after he or she presses or taps the “Like” button, so they know their feedback was recorded. This needs to happen almost instantly even though this can be challenging if the user has a slow connection.
  3. Reward and notify the recipient. Award reputation points to the content creator who earned the “Like” and send them an email notification with the good news. Chances are that user will come back and pay it forward to someone else, which will spark a new loop.

The “Like” experience is satisfying for everyone involved. It draws people into the conversation because it does not require much effort. Finally, it’s a great tool for both new and old members alike to stay engaged with the community and bring the tribe members closer together.

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How The Like Button On Your Forum Sparks A Feedback Loop

For any platform with user generated content, a “Like” button generates lots of reward for little effort, which is crucial. Given the ongoing surge in mobile usage among forum communities, it’s more important than ever to give users an easy way to participate. By comparison, writing a reply requires time and patience and brain power, three commodities that are always in short supply.

For one user to acknowledge another with a single click or tap is a simple but powerful act. It’s gratifying for the “Liker” because they get to display gratitude and give their stamp of approval by attaching their name to the post. Likewise, it’s gratifying for the content creator to be recognized in such a way and it encourages him or her to return to the forum to add more content. After all, most people love to garner approval from their peers.

On the Ninja Post platform, “Liking” something starts the feedback loop in the Hooked Model because “Likes” are connected to the user’s reputation score. So when a post gets lots of “Likes”, the reputation of the person who made the post improves. This approach forces users into a symbiotic relationship where users need to be friendly and helpful toward one another to improve their reputations within the community.


The above image shows a popular post and a popover window that displays everyone who “Liked” the post.

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The Fog Behavior Model, Forum Software, And Community Apps

One way to think about user behavior and forum communities is to apply B.J. Fogg’s Behavior Model. The Behavior Model states that Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger must converge at the same moment for a Behavior to occur.


When you have an icon for your forum on the home screen of your users’ phones, you just created a shortcut (both literally and figuratively) to achieve the user behavior you desire (e.g., repeat visits).

The icon helps solve the ‘Ability’ and ‘Trigger’ challenges. With regards to Ability, the icon is easy to click on; it does not require much skill. In so far as a Trigger, the icon acts that way every time the user looks at their phone when he or she is bored.

But what about Motivation? We think Motivation is driven by having a critical mass of users. Users are motivated by the opportunity to build friendships, share knowledge, and garner respect from other members.

We notice that large-scale, multi-topic communities such as reddit and Quora combine accessibility on both desktop and phone, a user in search of entertainment, and a large audience to impress.

We think this combination of factors is why such apps are so successful and it explains why we’re pushing to have our communities listed in the Apple and Android app stores.

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Three Options For Mobile Forum Software

We know that more and more users access their favorite forum communities on their phones and tablets. This trend will continue to accelerate. How should community managers react to keep their forum active? In this blog post we examine three options.

1. Do nothing.

The low cost, low stress approach. We find that a typical end user will “suffer” through a poorly designed platform if the community has achieved “critical mass” and the user generated content remains entertaining. This approach seems risky because there is so much competition for users’ attention.

2. Responsive design.

The modern approach. In this scenario, the forum platform maintains the same functionality but the page automatically responds to the size of the user’s device when it loads. Some custom programming is required but the underlying mechanics of the site can typically stay the same.

3. Build a native app.

The “app store” approach. This approach is appealing because it gives you “shelf space” in the app store. But it can be expensive and time consuming. Tapatalk is one option that exists to port your forum into its own app but a branded version of your forum requires a $99 setup fee and ongoing costs of $69 per month.


We are fans of the second option — responsive design for forum platforms. The biggest drawback to this approach is that, as a forum owner or community manager, you’re competing against apps like Facebook and Instagram that sit right on the home screen of the user’s phone. Unfortunately, a responsive forum platform does not automatically give you presence on the home screen of the user’s mobile phone.

In this day and age, such a presence is necessary to win the attention of your users. When they’re bored and looking at their phones, it must be easy for them to access your forum.

We create a shiny shortcut for Ninja Post forum communities but we typically rely on users to add the shortcut themselves. It is preferable to take steps to add your forum to Apple’s App Store and to the Google Play store, and this is a service we are beginning to offer to the website owners we work with.

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4 Ways To Advertise On Your Forum (Besides Banner Ads!)

We recently examined the types of banner ads that your forum needs. But that leads us to another popular question: what are some other ways to generate advertising revenue from your forum?

After all, banner ads are notorious for their low click-through rate and many users find them annoying because they distract the user’s attention from the page’s actual content.

Some additional options include:

  1. Sponsored threads. The sponsor pays to post a “sticky” thread on the forum. The sponsor may run a contest or giveaway as part of their promotional thread and the sponsor can ask for feedback from users.
  2. Board takeover. The sponsor receives a dedicated background image advertising their service or event.
  3. Newsletter sponsorship. The sponsor is featured as the sponsor in the forum’s weekly or monthly newsletter.
  4. Inter-text ads. The sponsor pays for certain keywords which are hyperlinked to the sponsor’s site on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis or for a monthly fee.

No matter what method of advertising is used, we strive to create a win-win-win scneraio where the forum owner generates revenue, the user gets something of value (e.g., free swag from a sponsored thread), and the advertiser gains the exposure they desire.

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The 4 Types Of Banner Ads Your Forum Needs

One question we get is about inserting banner ads on your forum. How does a community manager strike the right balance? Too many ads will antagonize users and muddle your forum’s content. But fail to include any ads and your forum may not generate enough revenue to keep going.

While we recommend showing fewer ads to users who are logged in, we have found these four types of banner ads are useful. In order of effectiveness:

  1. Header (all pages): 728px x 90px
  2. Mobile header (home page only): 320×50
  3. In between post content (display thread page only): Two ads side by side at 300×250
  4. Footer (all pages): 728px x 90px

This image shows banner ads in the header (#1) and footer (#4) on your forum.


The mobile header (#2) is an important ad because so much traffic comes from users on mobile devices.


This image shows two 300×250 advertisements inserted in between posts (#3) on the display thread page.


With Ninja Post, site owners can customize the display of banner ads to meet their needs. Advertisements can be tailored to certain locations and shown to certain types of users. (E.g., only show to users who are not logged in.)

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3 Components To The “Forum Success Cycle”

We theorize three components feed on each other in a cyclical manner so that a site owner is willing to work on his or her forum community over an extended period of time:

  • User activity
  • Motivation for site owner
  • Effort by site owner

User activity motivates the site owner to put effort into his or her forum community. In turn, this generates more user activity which creates renewed motivation for the site owner which compels him or her to keep working hard. We believe this cycle is one way to describe why site owners are willing to invest so much time and energy into their forum communities. It also illustrates how the site owner feeds off the users and vice versa. Can’t have one without the other, it seems.

Forum Success Cycle

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Successful Forum Communities: Motivation And Rewards

Running an unpopular forum is like trying to crowdsource something without the crowd. There’s lots of work for little reward. With no reward, there’s no motivation. With no motivation there’s no desire to work hard. That’s why forums without a certain amount of traffic or a core group of “power users” fizzle out.

We’re not arguing that it’s “easy” to run a popular forum. It’s just that running a popular forum comes with some extra motivation:

  • It’s easier to keep going through a tough time when you know that thousands of users are counting you to deliver.
  • It’s easier to keep going when your users say or do something hilarious to brighten your day.
  • It’s easier to keep going when you know your work helps your users help each other.

Besides the extra motivation, a popular forum offers more rewards too. For starters, there are many opportunities to generate revenue. There is a halo effect that reflects well on the main site. And, as we have discussed, content generation is easier and protection against spammers improves when there are more “eyeballs” on the site.

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Why Spammers Love Unpopular Forum Communities

We previously examined reasons why unpopular forums require so much effort. One of the reasons we gave is that an unmonitored forum is a haven for spammers and bots. If a forum doesn’t have much legitimate traffic, there is no motivation to monitor the forum 24×7. Spammers love unpopular forums because they are usually unmonitored which means they are free to swarm the community with their rubbish.

What we have learned over the years is that if spammers locate an empty forum, they will do their best to take over that forum. It might be a low-value target but it’s often an easy target. By contrast, we’ve found that spammers are less likely to have success targeting forums with extra security or if they know their content will be removed quickly.

One of the extra benefits of a popular forum is that it’s monitored by users around the clock. This is a huge advantage for a busy site because if (or, more likely, when) a spammer does slip through, legitimate users are on standby to flag and/or remove the content immediately. Unfortunately, unpopular forums lack this extra security “feature”.

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Why Large Groups Generate The Best Forum Content

Earlier this week, we examined why unpopular forums require so much effort. One reason is that it’s easier for large crowds of people to generate compelling content than for a single individual or a small group. Let’s explore this notion in more detail.

We know that compelling content is usually controversial, provocative, or extreme in some way. However, many site owners simply don’t have time to create provocative content or they prefer to remain neutral because of their status as leaders in the community.

In other words, the court jester can entertain crowds in a way that a king cannot. It is exhausting to play the role of king and court jester at the same time. And, successful forum communities usually a have a large number of “court jesters” operating at the same time.

But it’s not just the court jester-types that make forum communities spring to life. In actuality, popular forum communities are filled with all types of people. It’s the variety of viewpoints, personal experiences, and character traits that make forum conversations so compelling. Large groups generate the best forum content because it is impossible for a single person or small group of people to emulate this vast array of personalities.

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