7 Reasons Why Email Lists (A.K.A. Listservs) Suck And How A Forum Saves The Day

Email lists (also known as “listservs” or “email groups”) are one of the most annoying holdovers from the ancient days of the web. Back in the 1990s, Yahoo Groups, Majordomo, and other mailing list managers provided a convenient way for like-minded people to find one another and communicate. But that was 20 years ago. Much has changed since then.

Here are 7 Reasons why email lists suck:

  1. Too many emails. You might be interested in the answers to your question but you don’t need an email with every post to every other topic. Subscribing to a “daily digest” cuts down on the amount of mail but still requires the user to sift through lots of junk and in the rare case when there is a post that merits a reply it is too late to chime in.
  2. Repeat questions. How many times have you been subscribed to an email list where a newbie pipes up with a question that has already been addressed countless times? This causes longtime members of the community to disconnect and disengage.
  3. Rich media? Forget it. Most mailing list software was designed to handle text only—no images allowed. Most attachments are stripped away from new posts or (at best) are cumbersome to download and access.
  4. No profiles, rep score, or badges. We don’t like to use the word “gameifcation” when we talk about forum software but it’s a helpful way to describe the instinctive need for users to show off their rank and contributions to the community and to say ‘thank you’ to those who have helped them.
  5. Where the $#% is the archive? Typically, the archive for a mailing list is buried on an external site that is difficult to access.
  6. Limited search. The search box should be built into the interface. This simple step would cut down on #2 on this list – Repeat questions – and help solve #5 – Where the $#% is the archive? – but obviously the email-only format makes this virtually impossible to correct.
  7. Harder to create excitement. Without any ability to integrate this content with your URL and brand, the activity is hidden from plain view. An exciting and vibrant community might look stale and boring.

While some forum solutions are stuck in the past alongside email list technology, modern forum software solves the complaints described above.

Easy to manage email alert options make gives control to the user so their inbox is not overcome. An archive that is quickly viewable and searchable cuts down on repeat questions. Support for rich media and engaging user profiles are more and more crucial as users strive to create a persona specifically for their community.

Finally, making new friends and finding like-minded souls is exciting, invigorating, and motivating. The platform that hosts this type of activity should reflect this atmosphere. That’s exactly what we do with Ninja Post.

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What Is The Difference Between A “Community Manager” And A “Forum Manager”?

Last week we said a dedicated community manager is not necessary to run a successful forum. That statement raised some eyebrows. Let me elaborate.

These days, the term “community manager” is most commonly associated with managing social media accounts. Forums do not fit this mold because they are unlike typical social media. You might say “social media managers” have commandeered the job title “community manager” away from forum owners (who run real communities), but I digress.

The standard job description for a “community manager” is likely to cover a wide variety of activities that involve social media. Typically those activities involve things like:

  • Generate buzz for the company via Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Devise strategies to gain more “followers”
  • Post fresh content to all social media accounts
  • Build relationships with customers

However, the tasks for managing a forum require a different skill set. These tasks include:

  • Respond to user help requests
  • Resolve user disputes in a constructive fashion
  • Manage relationships with sponsors/advertisers
  • Facilitate conversations between users
  • Highlight the best content
  • Study forum analytics to identify trends

Community managers—more accurately described as “social media managers”—spend more time cultivating content and working to generate “buzz” for their brand while forum managers are more like chaperones who do a lot of work behind the scenes but usually stay out of the way unless there is a problem.

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Does My Forum Need A Community Manager? (Hint: Nope!)

Many people ask us if they need a dedicated community manager to run their forum. While it certainly helps to have buy-in from people within the organization, the answer to this question is almost always the same: No.

I can hear you now. You’re probably saying that some large companies that have someone (or a team of someones) in place to manage all their social media accounts. Why would a community forum be an exception to this rule?

Well, even in cases where companies have a person or team in place to manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, etc. we have found that after critical mass is achieved and community norms are established, forums become autonomous, self-propelling machines.

This is a welcome relief because content generation is demanding and unglamorous work. But it becomes easy and fun when you “outsource” it to your users. As long as there are mechanisms in place to deal with basic help requests from users, the need for a dedicated person to manage your forum drops significantly.

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The 4 Most Common Help Requests When Managing A Forum

One of the great things about a hosted forum solution is that we are able to eliminate the grunt work associated with running a forum. This allows site owners to reap the benefits of a vibrant forum community without the hassle. That does not mean that we don’t get any help requests from users. We just resolve them before they reach the site owner’s desk.

The most common types of help requests we get from our forum communities are as follows:

  • Technical issues. “I’m having trouble uploading photos. Can you help?”
  • Account requests. “I’m can’t log into my account” or “Can you change my user name?”
  • Spam. Posts flagged as spam for removal.
  • User disagreements. “Someone called me an ‘ignoramus.’ Can you ban him?”

Technical issues and account requests can be quickly dealt with by Ninja Post staff because the platform is ours and we know it so well. Spam can be an issue on any board open to the public. While we have many defense mechanisms in place to stop spam, if a spammer does slip through, their ilk is easy to recognize. Finally user disagreements can usually be resolved with a simple reminder to be courteous and constructive. If that warning fails, then we bring out the ban hammer. Problem solved.

Bear in mind these requests are rare and represent a miniscule fraction of the total activity. They’re sporadic, but when these issues do come up, we work hard to resolve them instantly. Our clients tell us they love working with us because they never have to get their hands dirty. We love hearing feedback like that!

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On Boarding Users To Your Private Forum (Diagram)

Yesterday, we examined how to Add Users To Your Private Forum In 4 Easy Steps. As a follow up to that post, we created a diagram to illustrate how our on-boarding process works.

Obviously, some users will respond to the first invitation but there will be stragglers. We need to entice stragglers. Therefore, in addition to automatic reminders generated by Ninja Post, we have found that leadership from the site owner to engage users even before they join goes a long way toward facilitating the on boarding process.

private_forum_on_boarding_new_users

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Add Users To Your Private Forum In 4 Easy Steps

When it comes to launching a new forum it is absolutely critical to tell people that it exists and then entice them to participate. The need to on board users effectively is especially true with a private forum. In this situation, the potential user base is smaller and the visibility of the forum is lower because the content is private.

Most site owners that create a private forum have an existing user base. This could be a group of subscribers who already pay to access the site, it could be a group of students and/or alumni, or it could be members of your newsletter. In each of these cases, the users need to be corralled into the forum.

This formula works well for us:

  1. Tell users to be on the lookout! The company CEO sends an email blast to all prospective members. This email should contain enticing language the describes the amazing forum is warn recipients to be on the look out for a special, top-secret, super exclusive invitation.
  2. Send the invitation. The Ninja Post admin panel has a special “white list” invitation generator that sends unique invite codes to emails pre-approved by the site owner.
  3. Herd the cats. Not every user will accept the first invitation. It pays to be persistent! We make it easy to re-send invitation codes and recommending sending 3-4 invitations to any stragglers.
  4. Show activity. When the early adopters begin participating, we can then show proof of activity to anyone who still has not joined. This is like giving someone a sneak peek into the VIP section of a club and usually does the trick!

When we work with a new client, we take great pride in working with them to “herd the cats”. This process is not glamorous but when a new forum springs to life it is unbelievably rewarding and exciting.

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Six Key Topics To Seed Your New Forum

Starting a new forum can be daunting. Your job is to build something out of nothing and creating something out of nothing is not easy. But we know that no one goes into an empty restaurant and no one posts to an empty forum.

Therefore, it makes sense to seed the board with some topics that are sure to get people talking. Here are a few classic techniques and seed topics to jump start the conversations on your forum!

  1. Introduction thread. Get the ball rolling by encouraging members to introduce themselves. Ask users to answer a few specific “icebreaker” questions, such as “Your location?” or “State one interesting fact about yourself”. (See screen below for an example.)
  2. Inspiration and motivation thread. As the site owner, you have a strong understanding what inspires and motivates your users. Post some success stories that will excite users. Users will instinctively add their own sources of inspiration and motivation.
  3. Social media links thread. Some people prefer to keep their social media profiles separate because they want to project different images on different sites. However, when there is significant overlap between a user’s social media accounts, their true passion, and the forum topic they will share their social media links to gain more followers and exposure.
  4. Help, feedback, and suggestions thread. People love to provide useful and constructive feedback. And when we say that, we mean that people love to complain. Make it easy for them to air their grievances. This feedback is very helpful for us since we are always striving to improve and it proves to users that their voices will be heard by the powers that be.
  5. Funny pics thread. The say laughter is the best medicine. We know that hilarious meme pictures create laughter so it’s safe to say that funny pictures are a great way to cure boredom and get users to actively contribute.
  6. Mobile instructions. One key to running a forum these days is to have outstanding support for mobile. It is crucial to be “in the pocket” or “in the purse”. When your users are bored and scrolling through the apps on their phone we want them to click on the icon for your forum.

seed_thread_introduction

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Migrating To A Hosted Forum Solution: What You Need To Know

We have successfully migrated many different legacy platforms to Ninja Post. During this process we work closely with company personnel to ensure smooth transition. Our goal is to eliminate the pain, anguish, and uncertainty when it comes to changing platforms.

We talk to many site owners who are running a successful community on a platform that is less than ideal. They often say they feel trapped. The day-to-day rigors of running their main site and keeping their forum afloat are enough to make them think twice about making a change, even if there is a guaranteed return on investment.

In order to migrate your forum to a hosted forum solution like Ninja Post please take the following steps so we can help you:

  1. Export existing database. Be sure to include user names and email addresses, thread titles, posts, thread categories (if applicable), and groups (if applicable).
  2. Export images. This includes any images uploaded by users as well as users’ avatars.

When we receive this data we will resolve any platform differences (e.g., are the rules for user names different?), examine the character encoding on the data, and then import the data in relatively small chunks. We’ll start with users, then move onto thread titles, and then onto posts. Finally, we will set up a special page to help users create a new password and claim their old account.

After that, its a matter of Quality Assurance and slowly expanding the circle of trust until you’re ready to send an email blast to the entire community to let them know the good news.

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3 Fears About Hosted Forum Software (And Why They’re Bogus)

Most site owners we talk to want to outsource the “grunt work” associated with running a forum so they can focus on their main site. Despite the trend for companies to migrate to cloud-based technologies there are reasonable concerns. In this post, we allay the most common fears.

Fear #1 – Customizing My Forum Will Be Impossible

Why this fear is bogus with Ninja Post:

The inability to customize the layout and look & feel is a serious problem with many forum platforms. However, that is not true with Ninja Post. Customizing your forum with Ninja Post is a non-issue. We have been proponents of an elegant design that is in sync with your main site from Day 1.

Fear #2 – Data Security & Portability

Why this fear is bogus with Ninja Post:

When it comes to working with any service provider, data security and portability are top concerns. We fiercely protect and encrypt client data. In the event that you decide to change service providers we will help you export your data. Some service providers might not care about security or try to “lock in” customers but that is not true about Ninja Post.

Fear #3 – Server Uptime and Potential Data Loss

Why this fear is bogus with Ninja Post:

Once again, relying a 3rd party service for any web application bears some risk. We take the responsibility to serve your users extremely seriously. That is why we have redundancy built into our platform and continuously monitor our systems for any unusual activity. We also perform data backups on a daily and weekly basis. Finally, while some cloud service providers might shut down tomorrow (and leave their customers high and dry) we are in business for the long haul.

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Before engaging with any service provider it makes sense to understand their policies regarding data retention, protecting user data, and service level agreement (SLA). We are committed to earning your trust as a business partner and we are happy to discuss any specific requirements you have. If your needs are extreme, we will guarantee our service under oath and in writing to ensure that your expectations are matched.

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