3 Components To The “Forum Success Cycle”

We theorize three components feed on each other in a cyclical manner so that a site owner is willing to work on his or her forum community over an extended period of time:

  • User activity
  • Motivation for site owner
  • Effort by site owner

User activity motivates the site owner to put effort into his or her forum community. In turn, this generates more user activity which creates renewed motivation for the site owner which compels him or her to keep working hard. We believe this cycle is one way to describe why site owners are willing to invest so much time and energy into their forum communities. It also illustrates how the site owner feeds off the users and vice versa. Can’t have one without the other, it seems.

Forum Success Cycle

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A Little History About Why We Do What We Do

I began work on Ninja Post for two reasons. First, I had first hand experience with the power of online communities when I got to Boston College in 1997. With “always on” internet access for the first time, I joined email lists for my favorite bands (Phish and moe., especially), and quickly forged friendships that persist to this day.

Secondly, as the internet became more intertwined in my day-to-day life, I would often come across forum discussions in search results. The information was usually helpful but there was no obvious way to register and leave a reply or even a token of gratitude. Existing forum software was difficult to use and there was no assurance that my remarks would reach the intended recipients.

While in grad school at Georgia Tech in 2005, my gut told me that it was possible to create a higher standard for forum software. A few years later, the seeds were sown when I completed a very, very rough prototype as part of a computer science course in my last semester at Tech. In the spring of 2009, Ninja Post was accepted into the Shotput Ventures program. Several months later Ninja Post was officially born.

Since then, several years have passed. The thrill of bringing new forum communities to life is one thing that keeps Ninja Post going. This idea that we can help two people who would never otherwise meet form a lifelong friendship is inspiring. Even if it’s not a lifelong friendship but just bringing together people with a shared interest for a brief laugh, a new insight, or a debate that leaves both sides more knowledgeable is unbelievably gratifying. This attitude served as the blueprint for our core values and it will fuel us for many years to come.

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Why A Private Forum Makes Sense For Many Organizations

Private forums appeal to many organizations because they provide an environment that is safe and secure from prying eyes but accessible to approved members from virtually any device. If your goal is to help employees connect with one another and create a persistent knowledgebase, a private forum makes perfect sense.

Although an email list can be limited to members-only and is relatively secure, mailing list content is not easy to browse, support for rich media is limited at best, and the content is difficult to categorize and search. On the other side of the spectrum, enterprise level social networks like Yammer and Jive tend to be overkill: their complexity can hinder adoption and their vast feature set only makes sense for a handful of the most gigantic corporations.

A private forum launched with Ninja Post strikes a good balance because it’s neither too simplistic nor too complicated. This balance encourages participation and, at the same time, preserves content for years to come. It creates a foundation for progress and improved camaraderie. For example, a private forum allows an organization to:

  • Improve sales. A sales team can quickly disseminate information to one another.
  • Improve company-wide communication. An entire organization—from CEO to front-line employees—can interact.
  • Improve on-boarding of new employees. New hires can get instant advice and feedback from company veterans.

These benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, they demonstrate how powerful—and just how integral—a private forum can be for many organizations.

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Traction For Your Forum

Getting traction is a major hurdle for most online communities. One of the most effective methods we utilize with our clients to draw in quality traffic is to feature the forum prominently on the main page of the client’s site. Instead of including a small link to the forum in the main navigation, we recommend a large link accompanied by a catchy photo and a promise that users’ questions will be answered in a timely fashion.

Here are eight more strategies to garner users, gain traction, and develop your community:

1. Seed content. Remember: no goes into an empty restaurant. Therefore add “seed content” to give life to your community. Do what it takes to keep the seed content fresh.

2. Invite friends to contribute. This is the easiest and cheapest approach. And most obvious. Start by asking friends and colleagues to contribute. This may require a personalized invitation. Perhaps even repeated invitations. But friends are generally willing to help, especially if the topic is of interest to them.

3. Use social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to invite contributors that you don’t know personally. Ask these users for feedback on your product and/or service. Couple this with a interesting content such as a contest of some kind. (See #5 below.)

4. Advertise. Consider advertising as a way to draw in users. Just be careful to target the right audience. For example, seek a complimentary website or mailing list on a related topic that you could partner with to advertise your site.

5. Be interesting. Entice people to join the conversation by making things interesting. For example, create some provocative threads. You can also offer discounts or coupons or hold a contest as incentives for people to get involved. The contest would not necessarily requires prize per se. However, inexpensive prizes for the top three winners could be enough to get people involved.

6. Obtain celebrity endorsements. I use the term ‘celebrity’ loosely. Think: bloggers or Tweeters that can give you a good word and drive users to your forum.

7. Highlight user contributions. People generally love to see their name in bright lights. Therefore, highlight user contributions to the forum on your main site. To help achieve this goal we developed a WordPress plug in that displays the most recent threads on your blog. If you have a print publication in addition to your website, that’s even better. Use your print publication to highlight user activity on your forum and vice versa.

8. Stay persistent. It’s not easy to build a vibrant community. It’s something that takes time to develop. However, stay persistent. Continue to seek new users using social media. Continue to reward users for their contributions. Continue to seek endorsements from popular bloggers and other luminaries in your field. Continue to keep your content fresh and interesting.

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