Sharing Content From Your Forum On Social Media. Are Share Buttons Worth It?

Earlier this week we discussed best practices for marketing your forum on social media. Many forum owners insist on placing conspicuous “Share This!” buttons on their forums in an attempt to get users to re-post forum content to their social media accounts. We have found this practice is not very effective.

Few people share content in the first place and it attracts even fewer clickbacks. Anecdotally speaking, when it comes to forum/community content, it might take 100,000 impressions to garner just one “share”. This “share” might spawn 5-10 clickbacks.

Any traffic is good traffic but since the “Share” buttons take up valuable screen real estate in an increasingly mobile world, the additional clutter is not worthwhile. This real estate would be better used to (1) highlight forum content and/or (2) nudge users to contribute fresh content to the forum.

The beauty of this approach is that it keeps the interface simple but does not preclude a motivated user from copying the URL and posting it to their favorite social media page.

We still encourage site owners to share forum content on their social media feeds. Share early and often, as we like to say. But expecting users to take on this task is asking too much. Therefore, we don’t think “Share” buttons deserve prominent placement on your forum.


sharing forum content

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How Many Sticky Threads Should I Have On My Forum?

When running a popular forum, there is usually a desire to create a LOT of sticky threads. Some popular examples:

  1. Introduce yourself here!
  2. Forum rules and FAQs – READ BEFORE POSTING!
  3. Site announcements and updates
  4. The Idiot’s Guide to using this site
  5. List of informative links

We find that some sticky threads attract few posts. Other sticky threads are simply ignored by newbies who prefer to dive into the fray immediately. This behavior makes us wonder. Does it make sense to have a long list of threads taking up prime real estate at the top of your board?

We don’t think so. We prefer no sticky threads at all. This ensures that the hottest content always rises to the very top of the page.

However, we admit there are instances when a single sticky thread is warranted and there are even times when it makes sense to have multiple sticky threads. For example, let’s say you have a FAQ thread as a sticky thread and you’re running a contest and want to promote the contest too. That’s an understandable scenario, as long as the contest thread gets demoted when the contest is over.

By an large, we have found that users strongly prefer to have the hottest and most recent content at the very top of the page. Maybe your forum has a long list of sticky threads, some of which have not had a new post in a few months. Ask yourself if they are absolutely critical to using your forum or if you would be better served by letting the hottest content rise to the top of the thread list.

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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.


forum_software_and_community_apps

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.

Summary:

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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Forum Trends: Access By Device (Desktop, Mobile, Tablet) From 2012-2014

Thousands of users visit our forums every day. Incredibly, about half our traffic is users on a mobile phone or tablet device. The increasing popularity of mobile devices and tablets cannot be denied.

In just a few short years, traffic to our forums has shifted dramatically from primarily desktop visitors to a split between desktop and mobile users with a small slice of tablet users.

In 2012, 74% of our traffic was from desktop users and the remaining 26% of traffic was made up of mobile phones and tablets. Today, in 2014, only 48% of our traffic is from desktop users, and mobile phone users represent an astonishing 45% of our traffic. The remaining 7% of traffic is from tablets.

Tablet usage has not changed much. In 2012, 4% of our visitors visited on a tablet. Today, that number has increased to about 7%. Over the next few years, we expect to see an increase in tablet usage as these devices become cheaper and more prevalent. Our development team is planning accordingly.

The table below shows the how the landscape has changed over the last three years:


Forum visitors: Desktop, Mobile, Tablet

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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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2 Lessons Learned From Ugly Forum Software

Earlier this week we compared ugly forum software to the way web directories looked in 1996. To recap, web directories (i.e., early search engines) used a top-down system of categories to organize websites. Some forum platforms still use this design.

Looking back on the way Yahoo used to be, we can see why this approach proved to be ineffective: the Web is too vast and changes too quickly be broken into simple categories.

Eighteen years is a long time. Web design principles have evolved during and we are proud to incorporate some of these advancements into Ninja Post. Today, media companies like Yahoo, Twitter, and YouTube recognize the importance of showing trending content to users. We also know that search engines emphasize keyword searches that return results based on relevancy.

The takeaways with regards to forum software design are as follows:

  1. Emphasize trending content on the main page of your forum.
  2. Allow users to quickly and effectively search and filter threads.

The image below illustrates how these concepts are embedded into the Ninja Post community platform.

forum_software_trending_and_search.png

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Why Some Timestamps Are More Unsightly Than Tramp Stamps

One puzzling aspect of certain legacy forum platforms is their use of “verbose” timestamps. Often times the landing page for the legacy platform shows the actual date and time of the last post for each category. Or when viewing a list of threads, we are shown a list of dates and times that do not account for the user’s timezone.

Besides being unbelievably tacky (much like a tramp stamp), this data is not particularly helpful because most people can’t calculate date differentials in their heads. Just look at the examples below. It’s almost impossible to know how long ago that content was posted.


forum_timestamp_example1

forum_timestamp_example2

We know that popularity and decay are what drives interest in a given thread. When users are unable to quickly determine a thread’s decay (i.e., how fresh the thread is) the platform becomes more confusing because the raw data is, well, raw.

Our wish to avoid this confusion explains why we indicate the content age in terms of minutes, hours, or days ago.

This approach allows users to quickly grasp the freshness and relevancy of the content, as show in the screen cap below.


forum_timestamp_example3

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The Use Of “Loading…” Spinners On Forum Pages Is Downright Agonizing. Here’s Why.

One of the most frustrating things to experience when surfing the web is to click on a link and wait for the page to open, only to see a “spinner” indicating that the content still needs to load. This is like listening to a public speaker with a bad case of hiccups. It makes for an uncomfortable user experience, especially on a forum where the process repeats itself for every. single. page. view. It quickly becomes painful.

This technique is known as “asynchronous loading” and there are times when it makes sense. For example, it is commonly used to load recent Tweets from Twitter onto an external site. The main page loads, and then a small amount of extra content is fetched from Twitter. This seems reasonable.

It is almost impossible to believe that any web programmer would condone the use a “loading…” spinner for ALL of the content on a normal page load. But it happens. Several forum platforms utilize this approach, although it is not clear why.

Perhaps faster page loads are the goal but in our experience, asynchronous pages take longer to load than most Ninja Post pages. Besides, who cares about a fast load time if it ends with a jolt to the user? Ninja Post is designed to make forum pages load quickly, not to get the user’s hopes up by displaying a series of “still loading” spinners that ultimately make for an agonizing user experience.

One example of a forum that loads content like this is from the ESPN forums. Try opening this thread, for example. We grabbed some screen caps below to show how painful it is just to view one thread.

async-forum-loading-example

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Great Forum Software Is Like Reddit And Imgur Combined

What if reddit and imgur had a baby? Well, that might be a little weird. imgur was more or less or borne by reddit because existing photo sharing services like Photobucket and ImageShack were difficult to use.

But let’s just say that reddit inspired imgur (so technically, they’re not related) and the two parties decided to shack up. We like to think their offspring would be something like Ninja Post: great for collaborating with both text and images.

reddit-imgu

Here’s some background on reddit and imgur, and how they came to coexist:

reddit is an extremely popular discussion platform. Users submit content in the form of hyperlinks to interesting content (news items, photos, etc.) posted on external sites or text-only posts, such as a questions or comments.

reddit does not support images directly. Instead, users must create hyperlinks that link to images hosted outside of reddit. When a user wants to discuss a picture on reddit, the image is often uploaded to and hosted on imgur. When imgur founder Alan Schaaf launched his service, he actually posted an announcement to reddit:

I got fed up with all the other image hosts out there so I made my own. It doesn’t force you to compress your images, and it has neat things like crop, resize, rotate, and compression from 10-100. It’s my gift to you. Let’s not see anymore imageshack/photobucket around here ;)

While still closely linked with reddit, imgur has evolved as a destination for humorous and interesting content in its own right. Users can comment and vote on images posted to the service. However, on imgur, an interesting image is a requirement to start a discussion.

With reddit, there is an obvious desire demonstrated by users to post pictures in conjunction with their discussions. With imgur, there is an obvious desire to create and upload interesting visual content. The two services are complementary but distinct entities. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a product that supported all types of discussions and could quickly serve rich media such as photos and videos?

Great forum software achieves this aim. With Ninja Post we are determined to provide the best of both worlds: discussions that are easy and rewarding to join and super fast support for all types of rich media.

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