Why Does The Participation Rate Matter? (Hint: It’s All About The Network Effect)

They say “excellence” can be defined as a lot of little things done right. You could say the same thing about achieving a high Participation Rate. There are countless “little things” that draw users into a community. Some are obvious, like making the “sign up” button front and center. Some are more subtle, like making the user interface easy to grasp. Some are more meaningful, like concentrating activity so that prospective users can be assured of a reply. Countless little things just like those mentioned add up over time and make a big difference. But aside from sheer embarrassment, why does the Participation Rate matter?

The Participation Rate matters because of the “network effect”: the bigger the network, the more valuable it becomes. But the kicker is that the value doesn’t increase linearly; it increases exponentially. To understand this concept, it makes sense to examine the value of each registered user. To quickly determine the value of a registered user, we can use the following formula:

Average Revenue Per User = Monthly Revenue / Monthly Active Users

For a forum with 500 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $200 per month. This makes the Average Revenue Per Active User $0.40.

For a forum with 1,000 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $500 per month. This makes the Average Revenue Per Active User $0.50.

For a forum with 2,000 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $1,500 per month. In this case the Average Revenue Per Active User is $0.75.

The value of each Active Registered User increases as the network grows in size. In other words, each time a user registers, the Average Revenue Per User goes up. Thus, a new user today who stays engaged long term is significantly more valuable than a user that registers later on. For starters, it makes it easier to attract more users. Plus, it enhances the value of every user who came before.

These are just “back of the envelope” calculations but they’re important because they demonstrate how improving your forum’s Participation Rate (i.e., enticing more users to register, and keeping them engaged) can lead to exponential growth fueled by the power of the network effect.

Posted in Misc. Forum Discussion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Overcome Participation Inequality With A “Bottom Up” Approach

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!

Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things That Cause A Low Participation Rate On Forums

Whenever we see a forum with an abysmal participation rate, we cringe. It makes us feel embarrassed because it indicates missed opportunities for serendipitous flukes. In the screen cap below, you can see the percentage of registered users is 1.73%. That is not a number to be proud of. We prefer to see the PR in the 10-20% range. While it gets more difficult to maintain a high PR as a site grows in popularity. For a site with 500 users on the site at once, a PR of less than 2% is downright abysmal.

A low Participation Rate has many causes. Some common culprits:

  1. Hidden sign up button.
  2. Confused by user interface.
  3. User is concerned he or she will get a prompt reply.
  4. User is not confident he or she will get an accurate or helpful reply.
  5. User is afraid he or she will be rejected for being dumb.

These causes typically fall into two groups: it’s either too hard to participate or the user lacks sufficient motivation to participate.

With Ninja Post, our goal is to address both of these issues. First, by making the forum software impossibly easy to use. And second, by taking steps to create a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere with regards to community management. For sites lucky enough to have tons of traffic we believe strongly in doing everything in our power to draw as many users as possible into the conversation.

Posted in Forum Architecture & Design | Tagged | 1 Comment

Forum Software, Variable Rewards, And Serendipitous Flukes

Last week we examined how Nir Eyal’s Hooked Model applies to forum software. We acknowledge the power of the Hooked Model and argue that as more and more users make a habit of using a given forum, powerful network effects occur that strengthen existing hooks which in turn attracts new users and keeps existing users engaged.

During his presentation, Nir said, “The unknown is fascinating.” He went on to explain that variable rewards (as opposed to constant or predictable rewards) cause users to increase focus and engagement. He presented findings from various studies that prove dopamine spikes in anticipation of random rewards. And what’s more is that variable rewards can be used to instill habits in users.

Variable rewards are meaningless if they’re devoid of any real substance. Imagine, for example, “winning” a search badge but not getting the desired search results. This is not a positive outcome. However, coupling variable rewards with whatever the user is seeking is a powerful and virtually irresistible 1-2 punch.

Let’s put variable rewards in the context of forum software. Some common rewards from participating in a forum include:

  • Answer to a question
  • Humor/entertainment
  • New friends
  • Satisfaction from helping others
  • Reputation points, badges, etc.

The reason these rewards are so appealing is that they are infinitely variable. There is no shortage of knowledge that can be gained, new people to meet, or ways to impress others. When these endless possibilities result in something new and fun and positive and exciting, we call them serendipitous flukes. A serendipitous fluke is a chance encounter that results in a net gain of some kind for all parties. As a forum owner and community manager there are few things more gratifying that engineering serendipitous flukes on a daily basis.

Posted in Misc. Forum Discussion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Forum Participation And The Hooked Model

One of the highlights from ForumCon this year was the fascinating and engaging presentation by Nir Eyal. In Hooked: Harnessing the Power of Habit, Nir explained why certain technologies are habit forming and how to apply these concepts.

He noted that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media applications developed habit forming technologies. When they were introduced, these technologies did not address an existing pain in the traditional sense. Instead, they addressed an emotional need and, in turn, created a dependency among their users. “Habit is when not doing causes pain,” he said. Most people can relate to mindlessly checking Facebook on their phone, only to feel a shooting pain when their phone’s battery dies.

Nir explained that users can be hooked by crafting a user experience which cycles through four steps: Trigger, Action, Reward, and Investment. In the infographic below, we put the Hooked Model into the context of forum software.

The Hooked Model Applied to Forum Software

* External Triggers may include: ** Internal Triggers may include:
  • Link/advert on main site
  • Email Alert
  • Search engine result
  • Bored
  • Curious
  • Seeking connection

Internal triggers are more powerful than external triggers. But before tapping into internal triggers, forum owners typically need to activate an external trigger first. In a successful use-case scenario for an end user, external triggers eventually give way to internal triggers as the user becomes more deeply embedded in the community.

The Hooked Model explains why we at Ninja Post have put such emphasis on making the user participation rate as high as possible. Making forum software fun and easy to use, and rewarding users for their contributions, instills habits among individual users. When the habits of these individual users combine, a powerful network effect occurs which in turn creates more and more powerful hooks to attract new users keep existing users engaged.

The slides from Nir’s talk are included below.

Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Forum Analytics: Influence Content Decisions And Enhance Revenue

Ninja Post is unique because we are focused on (1) getting users to participate; and (2) analyzing user generated content. We previously discussed the importance of achieving a high participation rate. In this post, we discuss the benefits of analyzing user generated content.

Ninja Post’s Statistics page and Trending Content Dashboard summarize the most popular topics, aggregate the most popular search terms drawing traffic to the forum, and graph visitation trends. We believe that a site’s forum analytics reveal trends that show what users are really interested in. This information can be used in turn to inform content decisions for the main site.

Forum analytics such as those provided by Ninja Post have a significant impact on a forum’s ability to generate revenue. Site owners can identify advertising opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed. Advertising partners can rest assured they’re reaching their target audience. Finally, forum analytics are necessary to craft the community newsletter, which is a lucrative and often overlooked tool to generate revenue from a forum community.

A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard

Above: A snippet from the forum statistics page.

A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard

Above: A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard.

Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Using The Participation Rate To Gauge Our Progress

When we began to develop Ninja Post, one of our goals was to create forum software that improved upon traditional platforms. However, we needed a concrete way to gauge our progress. In other words, how do we know with certainty that we’re making correct design decisions?

One metric we look at is the “User Participation Rate”. A high Participation Rate is crucial because activity instills confidence that questions will receive answers in a timely fashion. This confidence is what compels users to participate. If the user doesn’t think his or her question will garner a response, he or she won’t ask it. But if the user is confident in getting a worthy reply, he or she is likely to dive in.

We measure the PR in several ways. For example:

  • What percentage of users are logged in vs. lurking?
  • What is the average number of posts per registered user?
  • What is the average time before the first reply?
  • What is the average number of replies per thread?
  • What is the average user reputation score?
  • What is the average pageview-to-post ratio for threads?

Making the Participation Rate an integral part of our feedback loop guides our development process. We live by the credo “measure, improve, measure”. We are striving toward our goal to build the fastest, most effective forum software and thanks to studying the Participation Rate so closely, we’re confident we’re on the right track.

Posted in Forum Architecture & Design | Tagged , | 2 Comments