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.