Some say the rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter has led to a decline in forum use. Others say the shift to mobile has led people to abandon forums. However, many forum communities continue to thrive in the age of social media. This tells us that even if your forum is on life support, there is still hope.
What steps can you take to revive your community? In the short term, it takes a blast of adrenaline. Over the long term, it requires good old-fashioned persistence.
When relaunching a forum community after migrating to Ninja Post, we incorporate elements of Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula into the process to pique interest and to collect feedback from users. After the launch, we take steps to keep users engaged and attract new members. The steps break down like this:
- Pre-launch Announcement #1. Send announcement to all users that “something big is coming soon”. Take this opportunity to ask users to complete a short survey. The survey can be used to see what users want from their community.
- Pre-launch Announcement #2. Send a follow-up announcement to all users. Remind them that “something big is coming soon” and remind them to take the survey.
- Big announcement. Share high level survey findings with users and invite users to the new forum.
Regular newsletter. Send a weekly newsletter to all members to recognize contributors and highlight popular content. This step is about training users to visit the forum regularly.
- Funnel users from the main site. Forums sustain themselves by adding new users to the mix. We know the best forum users come from your main site so we advise funneling them from your main site to your forum.
Following these steps will give your forum community a rosy outlook. As soon as you get a pulse back, the best long terms solution for any forum community is to post fresh content on a daily basis. This takes dedication and persistence and creativity. Although you could do all the heavy lifting yourself, we recommend engaging your most passionate and prolific users using the steps outlined above to revive a dead forum.
Assuming you have enough traffic to make a forum viable, what steps can a webmaster take to test their concept prior to investing too much time or money into a new forum?
After all, galvanizing users to contribute to your forum can be challenging. Overcoming the empty restaurant problem, getting users to make their first contribution, or simply finding likely participants is often easier said that done. Even when done correctly, this process can be tedious and slow moving.
In this post, we identify three techniques to test your community concept and generate more activity in less time.
- Lighting rod. This strategy involves bringing in a well known, well respected, and possibly even controversial figure to the forum. Think of this person as a high powered influencer, like a company’s CEO or a special guest brought in to entertain questions from users. (Note: mature forums often have a handful of “power users” that serve as de facto lightning rods.)
- Magnetic force. This strategy relates to the subject matter of your forum. How is your forum positioned? We have found that if your forum can help people get laid or make money, users will flock to you. In cases where the forum topic is mundane, we advise altering the topic to be more appealing or employing the lightning rod strategy described above.
- Anchor. The “anchor” strategy refers to common interest that brings people together. For example, an anchor could be a physical location such as an office building or college campus or it could be a cause that binds people together (such as those afflicted by the same disease). Another example of the anchoring strategy is bringing together people who share the same goal.
If you have adequate traffic and feel prepared to employ at least two (if not all three) of the strategies described above you should be in good shape to proceed with your forum community. If not, take a step back and consider how you can make your concept more provocative.
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.
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!
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
We previously advised site owners to use an ever expanding circle of trust to launch their forum community. We are big believers in the power of checklists so here is a handy guide to using the “circle of trust” strategy to launch your forum community. After your forum is set up (be it through Ninja Post or another service):
- Ask your closest confidants and colleagues to test the software by registering and creating a new thread or replying to a post.
- Ask power users to test the software by registering and creating a new thread or replying to a post. Power users include any users who have sent feedback about your site, commented on a blog post, or visit your site routinely. One strategy is to pass out “beta tester” invites to these users and to make the forum private early on. We advise contacting these users individually as opposed to sending a mass email.
- Begin to seed your forum with provocative content and shift away from “just testing” posts. Your power users should do this for the most part but if they need help, visit similar communities to see what users are talking about. Use these topics to brainstorm ideas for your board.
- Announce on your newsletter that you’re testing new forum software and need feedback from users.
- Funnel users from your main site to your new forum. We recommend a large advertisement, and displaying content from the forum on your main site among several other effective tactics.
It is easy to over think and/or delay the launch of your forum. Unfortunately, it turns out that doing nothing is a horrible launch strategy. However, the “circle of trust” method for launching a new online community allows you to proceed in a safe and controlled manner.
Jason Fried of 37 Signals once said, “The longer it takes to develop a project, the less likely it is to launch.” Most project managers and software developers understand from first hand experience how true this statement is. From the very beginning, one of our goals with Ninja Post is to speed up the time it takes for you to launch your forum community. There is nothing worse than getting stuck in project development purgatory.
Once the set up and design of your forum is done, what comes next? When it comes to launching a new forum community, we preach feedback, not fanfare. We advise our clients to use an ever expanding “circle of trust” to launch their new forum community. Think about a steady, calculated launch as opposed to throwing a big launch party and hoping people show up.
The idea is to collect feedback, iterate based on this feedback, and slowly expand the circle of trust. In very broad terms, the launch strategy for a new forum community can be summarized like this:
- Request feedback from users
- Iterate based on this feedback
- Funnel users into the forum from your newsletter, main site, search engines, etc.
- Engage good users while excluding trolls, spammers, and other jerks
- Get value from the forum traffic (monetize via ads, examine content trends, eCommerce integration, etc.)
For any new service, user feedback is like oxygen: a necessary ingredient to survive and thrive. The approach outlined above ensures users become part of the decision process early on. User feedback can be more valuable than gold and users become invested in the success of the community. This is especially true if early access is meted out carefully. For example, you might consider making your forum private to start.