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 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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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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Forum Software That Supports Mobile Devices And Creates Habits

In this day and age when 50% of forum traffic comes from users on mobile phones or tablets, every forum should have a fancy icon that users can add to the home screen on their phone. Kind of like a badge of honor users can add to their mobile device. We are happy to report that we have begun rolling out this functionality for our clients.

One of our goals is to create habits among users. When they’re bored and take out their phone, we want them to see what’s happening on their favorite forum! Requiring users to open the web browser on their phone and then navigate to the forum is a cumbersome process and one we want to avoid. After all, one key to creating new a habit is to make sure the habit easy to adopt and we’re mindful of that fact.

Getting users to add a sweet icon to their phone reinforces the “Hey, when you’re bored come see us!” habit and it acknowledges the dramatic shift from desktop to mobile.

Add shortcut from Ninja Post forum to phone in iOS

forum software that supports mobile shortcut 1

forum software that supports mobile shortcut 2

forum software that supports mobile shortcut3

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Lower The Bounce Rate On Your Forum

One reason popular forums have high bounce rates is because they draw in so many users from Google. We theorize that many users who land on a forum after a Google search leave the forum without clicking around because they’re in a narrow-minded “search mode” instead of a relaxed, open-minded “browse mode.”

Put another way, “searchers” are looking for something specific. Whether they find what they’re looking for or not, they’re likely to bounce quickly. By contrast, “browsers” are seeking entertainment and they’re more likely to stick around if anything at all tickles their fancy.

Although it is extraordinarily challenging to convert someone from “search mode” to “browse mode”, we propose the following techniques to lower the bounce rate on your forum:

  1. Show related threads at the footer of the page or in the sidebar.
  2. Encourage the user to search the forum if he or she did not find what they were looking for.
  3. Make the site impossibly easy to navigate so the user is enticed to view more content.
  4. Invite user to join the forum and explain member benefits.
  5. Display photos recently uploaded to the community photo gallery.
  6. Limit content visibility and require user to log in to view additional content.
  7. Include a “before you go…” popover before the user exits the page.
  8. Use a Hello Bar or WOAHbar to appeal directly to the user and ask him or her to stay longer. Employ cookies to craft specific messages just for the user.

We’ve noticed that forum bounce rates are particularly high for users on mobile devices. This makes sense because users are already low on patience thanks to the small screen, longer load time, and other obstacles wrought by mobile computing. We don’t have a good solution for this scenario. At least not yet.

However, we think the best way to get a “searcher” to stick around (no matter what device they’re on) is to show related content. Proving your forum has high quality content is a great way to introduce the user to the breadth and depth of the knowledge your community has to offer.

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Can Forum Software Thrive In A Mobile Age? Mobile Uploads May Be The Key

In last week’s blog post we noted, “Forums are desktop applications in a mobile age.” On the bright side, we believe that many existing monetization strategies for forum communities remain applicable no matter how their users access a given forum. However, for a forum to remain profitable, its audience must stay engaged and user contributions must remain high. If forum owners offer a lousy experience to users on mobile devices, contributions will decline. If contributions decline, then so does the ability for site owners to generate revenue.

We believe that users on mobile devices are unlikely to write long posts. On the other hand, we believe mobile users are likely to post pictures while on-the-go. If the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, then the shift to mobile represents a great opportunity to capture interesting and provocative user generated content.

This opportunity explains why one of our most important goals is to provide users with an outstanding mobile experience. Ninja Post already provides a user interface specifically designed for mobile devices and supports mobile photo uploads when users are on-the-go. The next step is to support mobile video uploads; a feature we plan to introduce very soon.

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Forum Monetization And Mobile Traffic

Ninja Post was very pleased to be among the sponsors at ForumCon this year. The event—organized by VigLink—was well attended and expertly run.

The panel on Forum Monetization was particularly noteworthy. This panel was led by Raymond Lyle of Topify and featured Crista Bailey of Texture Media, Vlad Dusil of Purse Blog, Joey DeTomaso of Plum Krazy Media, Ted Gill of Huddler, and Jerry Orban of Vertical Scope. Much of the discussion focused on the increasing trend among users to access forum communities from mobile devices. Monetizing forum traffic is a challenge in and of itself but mobile traffic creates a new and unique set of challenges.

First, panelists noted that mobile traffic is especially difficult to monetize. Even Facebook, Twitter, and other social media titans have not cracked the code to generate revenue from mobile users in the same way that Google Adsense disrupted the advertising landscape in the early 2000s.

Secondly, a small keyboard, screen, and user interface controls make it difficult for mobile users to contribute since forum software is primarily a text-based medium. Nowadays, users are more primed to post photos than long-winded manifestos. Forums are desktop applications in a mobile age.

These two challenges—monetizing mobile forum traffic and optimizing forum software for mobile—promise to be formidable obstacles for forum software developers and forum owners. Despite the changing landscape, panelists suggested revenue can still be generated using well-proven techniques no matter how users access the forum. For example:

  • Building communities focused on high margin items (fashion, electronics, etc.).
  • Instituting a three-tiered membership hierarchy: user is not logged in, user is logged in, and user is a “gold” member. Show ads to users if they’re not logged in.
  • Reselling aggregate user data to other companies.

Likewise, newsletter sponsorships, classified ads, sponsored threads, and other tried-and-true monetization strategies remain applicable. That being said, changing habits among users (i.e., the shift to mobile) could cause forum users to become less engaged. A smaller, less active user base could threaten revenue for forum owners. Therefore, we believe forum owners should focus on providing users with an outstanding mobile experience to ensure revenue does not decline.

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Rich Media And Mobile Uploads For Forum Software

One of our core values is to make it fun and rewarding for users to participate. We have found that supporting rich media (especially that animated gif where they guy’s head explodes) is crucial to achieving this objective. Therefore, we have gone to great lengths to accommodate users’ increasing appetites for posting rich media such as photos and videos to threads.

For starters, we make it easy to add images and YouTube videos to threads. Secondly, we allow users to upload photos and videos to their profiles. Finally, we provide communities with a Photo Gallery and Video Gallery that aggregates content from individual profiles.

With the last year or so, we noticed a particular demand from users to upload photos from mobile devices. The rationale is easy to follow: camera-equipped mobile phones are now ubiquitous, forum participants are inclined to share their photos, and, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Why spend time typing on a finicky, miniature keyboard when a picture can say it all? Adding this feature was a no-brainer. We are incredibly excited that users can upload pics while on the go and we’re keen to see how users incorporate this feature into their communities.

uploading a photo to the forum from a mobile device

Above: Uploading a photo to the forum from a mobile device.

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