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.
One of the most popular questions we get from new clients is, “What happens after I place my order?” Great question because most platforms give you a zip file to download and install and host yourself or an ugly looking template that you need to customize. Kind of like coming home from IKEA with a giant box that needs to be assembled. Rest assured: that’s not what we have in mind!
Starting a new forum community is difficult enough without having to worry about the setup and design. That’s why, when you sign up with Ninja Post, we begin working on your behalf as soon as possible. New forums are deployed and customized to your specifications within 24 hours of signing up for your demo.
We believe in the power of checklists so here is the checklist we use internally when setting up a new client:
- Ask the client to point the sub domain of their choice to the Ninja Post server.
- Deploy the forum on behalf of the client.
- Setup statistics, analytics, and trending content dashboard pages.
- Match the design to the client’s site.
- Create the mobile logo and test on mobile devices.
- Ask client for feedback and respond to any special requests.
It’s so easy, it’s almost like magic. We love handling the technical stuff so you can focus squarely on your users and your community.
Is there anything worse than coming home after shopping at IKEA? Now, the shopping experience is actually pretty fun. Navigating through the maze, thinking about what could be, and finding the perfect deal is a challenging and often times rewarding process.
The problem is that when you get home, you have to put everything together yourself. All of a sudden, that MALM chest or HEMNES bookcase or other Swedish-named what-have-you is just a heavy pile of wood and a bunch of screws in a box. Putting together your new furniture is a painful part of what should be a positive experience. Even though instructions are included they are not always easy to follow.
We find the same thing is true with forum software. Even if the end result is worth the blood, sweat, and tears, it’s painful to get everything set up. One of the most common things that site owners tell us is that they want a forum and its benefits but they don’t have time to get it started. That’s why we remove the blood, sweat, (and especially) the tears from the equation and make launching your new forum as pain-free as possible.
For us, setting up a new forum is easy and fun because we’ve done it so many times. Some may think that we have a twisted idea of what constitutes a fun time but to us — building beautiful forums that match your site down to the pixel is the fun. And hopefully it’s fun for you too, as a site owner. Building your community platform is not always going to be easy but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
Anyone who’s tried starting a forum community from scratch knows how challenging it is to create fresh new threads on a daily basis. It’s much easier when your forum has reached critical mass and hundreds or even thousands of users contribute to make your forum interesting. We have found that site owners often need help to bridge the gap between launching their forum and achieving “self propelling” status where the users take over content generation duties.
Ninja Post makes it easy for site owners to add content to their forum by creating a personalized news feed with Yahoo Pipes. This newsfeed pulls from related, relevant, and complementary sites selected by the site owner. Site owners can then visit the Newsfeed page in the admin panel (pictured below) and instantly post new and interesting threads to their forum. Adding content to your forum is as simple as a click of a mouse.
Above: Create a new thread from a list of recent news items. This newsfeed is related to college football and pulls relevant stories from ESPN College Football, The New York Times NCAA Football, and other related sources.
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.
A couple months ago we examined the Minimum Traffic Requirements For A Successful Forum. The economics of forum participation are downright brutal: only a certain percentage of users will click through to your forum from your main site, and only a certain percentage will contribute. This type of “top down” analysis is useful, and a good barometer that can predict whether or not a forum will take root.
Participation Inequality occurs because “power users” are rare, only about 1 in 100. “Intermittent users” are only 9 in 100. Therefore, a “top down” analysis indicates you need 500 users to capture just five power users, and 45 intermittent users. That’s a lot of traffic for a small number of users!
By contrast, another way a for forum owners to think about starting a new forum is to examine their user base from the “bottom up.” How many prospective “power users” are in your immediate network? You can invite these users to your forum to get the conversation started. A site owner that invites 50 highly motivated contributors (i.e., working from the “bottom up”) is likely to fare just as well as the site with 500 random visitors.
A good example is a site owner that leads a small sales team of 50 people, who are geographically dispersed. The sales team members are highly motivated and willing to help one another. While there is still going to some degree of participation inequality, each salesman has something at stake and is therefore likely to contribute. Another example is members of a paid subscription service. As paying members, they are bound to be highly motivated regarding the topic at hand.
These examples indicate that forums can work well, even for small groups when there is something to be gained by participating. (E.g., respect from colleagues, approval from boss, improved sales strategies, hints/tips/tricks, etc.)
Note: Thanks to Dan Ekenberg for the inspiration for this post!