On Boarding Users To Your Private Forum (Diagram)

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.


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Add Users To Your Private Forum In 4 Easy Steps

When it comes to launching a new forum it is absolutely critical to tell people that it exists and then entice them to participate. The need to on board users effectively is especially true with a private forum. In this situation, the potential user base is smaller and the visibility of the forum is lower because the content is private.

Most site owners that create a private forum have an existing user base. This could be a group of subscribers who already pay to access the site, it could be a group of students and/or alumni, or it could be members of your newsletter. In each of these cases, the users need to be corralled into the forum.

This formula works well for us:

  1. Tell users to be on the lookout! The company CEO sends an email blast to all prospective members. This email should contain enticing language the describes the amazing forum is warn recipients to be on the look out for a special, top-secret, super exclusive invitation.
  2. Send the invitation. The Ninja Post admin panel has a special “white list” invitation generator that sends unique invite codes to emails pre-approved by the site owner.
  3. Herd the cats. Not every user will accept the first invitation. It pays to be persistent! We make it easy to re-send invitation codes and recommending sending 3-4 invitations to any stragglers.
  4. Show activity. When the early adopters begin participating, we can then show proof of activity to anyone who still has not joined. This is like giving someone a sneak peek into the VIP section of a club and usually does the trick!

When we work with a new client, we take great pride in working with them to “herd the cats”. This process is not glamorous but when a new forum springs to life it is unbelievably rewarding and exciting.

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Introducing Private, Members-Only Groups For Your Forum

We spoke with countless community managers and learned that many forum owners need to create private threads, specifically for a certain subset of users. As a result of this feedback, we recently launched our very own solution to accommodate private groups within a larger forum community. This could be a members-only group for VIPs, a fringe benefit for paying members, or it could simply be a group for a certain niche within the community.

In most cases, the group requires privacy (from other users as well as search engines) and focuses on content that is specific to their niche and not relevant to the community at large. Often times, private groups are created exclusively for decision makers within the organization. This makes it easy for important people in the organization to reach consensus quickly, easily, and privately.

The screen shots below show the following steps:

  1. Create a private group
  2. Add users to the group
  3. Create a thread just for the group
  4. Private threads are designated with a color-coded arrow
  5. Thread is only accessible by members of the group
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5 Strategies For Forums With Paid Memberships

Regardless if your forum is public or private, you might decide to generate revenue through membership fees. Five strategies are generally available:

  • Supporter Badge. Allow members to join and participate in your forum for free. Encourage users to show off their community pride and donate money to the site in exchange for a “Forum Supporter” badge next to their user name.
  • Exclusive Content For VIPs. Encourage users to to upgrade to paid, VIP memberships in exchange for access to exclusive content, areas of the forum or site, and other benefits.
  • One-Time Fee. Charge a one-time admission fee for forum access, creating a lifetime membership group.
  • Recurring Fee. Charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee for access to the forum.
  • Lurkers Pay. Regular participants (e.g., those who make at least 10 posts per month) are exempt from paying a monthly fee but lurkers are not.

Allowing basic memberships for free is advantageous because it helps grow your user base, and growing participation in your forum may encourage users to upgrade by increasing their involvement in the community. However, not all users will upgrade, so your subscription fees must support the cost of non-paying users.

One-time application fees may limit initial participation in your forum, but will create a group of committed members who are strongly disposed to participate in the forum by virtue of their investment. Renewable subscription fees provide a happy medium, but renewals should be automatically recurring to encourage continued membership.

Many options exist for forums with paid memberships. The biggest strategic question is whether to make your forum’s content public or private. In turn, this decision dictates the optimal solution for your community.

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How A Forum Can Make Your Organization More Like The Knights Of The Round Table

Legend has it that King Arthur created the Round Table to prevent infighting between his Knights at company meetings. Since the table was round instead of rectangular, everyone at the table held equal status. This allowed King Arthur and the Knights to focus on pressing matters like slaying dragons, drinking mead at Yuletide feasts, and rescuing damsels in distress.

Even though the “Round Table” concept dates back to medieval times, only recently have business organizations begun to realize the benefits of a flat community structure. Starbucks, for example, is famous for its efforts to empower employees with the knowledge to make smart decisions and reduce organizational bottlenecks. By contrast, top-down military-style hierarchies are ineffective because such rigidity makes cross-organization communication difficult, and sometimes impossible.

In addition to changing an organization’s hierarchy like Starbucks and others have done, a private, employee-only forum is one way to improve communication throughout a company and flatten its organizational structure. For example, research has shown that the same communication patterns that result from a flat organizational structure lead to:

  • Faster decisions
  • More accurate decisions
  • Greater employee satisfaction
  • Rapid on-the-job learning
  • Superior performance

Buy-in from employees at all levels of the organization is paramount to make a forum successful but the benefits are enormous. Better decision making and greater job satisfaction are crucial drivers of company morale. Plus, a private forum lays the foundation for an environment that nurtures employees and values their input.

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Private Forums With Paid Memberships: 3 Examples

When discussing the 5 Types Of Private Forums, we noted that private forums with paid memberships require users to pay a monthly or annual fee to access some or all parts of the forum. However, there are several variations on this theme that create a spectrum of options for anyone wishing to launch a private forum with paid memberships. We offer three examples below.

The Walled Garden. First, we have sites where the main site requires a paid subscription, but the forum is one of several exclusive benefits that members can enjoy.

For example, Endurance Nation offers its subscribers access to training plans, resource libraries, equipment reviews, and robust online forums for input and feedback from other members. In essence, the forum is one of several benefits for paying subscribers.

Forum For Paying Members Only. In this scenario, the forum is not one of several perks; it is the perk. All content (or nearly all content) is restricted to paid subscribers. The forum is the main draw.

One example of this is RedIssue, a site for soccer fans (although they’d prefer I call it ‘football’). The forum provides a ‘teaser’ of 85 threads for public viewing, but the rest of its 30,000 threads are accessible to members only. This particular site provides a direct link to PayPal to facilitate sales of private memberships.

The Night Club. Finally, there are sites in which the forum is freely accessible to registered users and guests, but certain sections of the forum are for paying subscribers only. Very similar to the VIP section of a night club.

One example of this can be found on Simply Discus, in the sub-forum for hobbyists titled “Homesteader (It’s Your World Within Our World)”. In this particular case, content is visible to all users, but participation in discussions is limited to members paying a yearly subscription fee.

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5 Types Of Private Forums

The most common scenario for a private forum is to admit all members of a given organization using a pre-approved whitelist. However, private forums come in several different flavors, described in the table below.

Type of Private Forum Description
Registration Required Anyone can register but content is only visible to members who are logged in.
Apply Anyone can apply to join. Site owner approves users before they gain access.
Whitelist The site owner determines who has access. Approved accounts are added to a whitelist.
Paid Memberships Members pay a monthly or annual fee to access the forum or parts of the forum.
Hybrid Users must either (1) pay a monthly fee; or (2) actively contribute to the site (e.g. submit at least one review per month) to access the forum.

With regards to Paid Membership communities, sometimes it makes sense to make your entire site members-only and offer the forum as a bonus. Other times, it makes sense to keep your main site open to the public and launch a subscription-based members-only forum. Ninja Post supports these scenarios, and most others you can dream up.

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3 Criteria For A Private Forum To Thrive

We recently discussed Why A Private Forum Makes Sense For Many Organizations. A forum is a great way to create a knowledgebase that grows with your organization. And like anything else, a forum grows stronger when it is tended to properly.

We have found that private forums excel when three criteria are met:

  1. Employees at the highest level of the organization must lead discussions and actively participate on the forum.
  2. The organization must possess a culture in which employees are willing to help and support one another.
  3. The platform must be easy to use and accessible across different devices.

When these objectives are satisfied, a private forum will thrive.

The smaller the community, the more important it is for employees at the top to take command and lead discussions. This feeds into the second objective in the above list because it sets the tone for the organization. It shows that communication, collaboration, and the desire to improve are among the company’s core values.

Finally, the “ease of use” component is where Ninja Post comes in. No matter how motivated users are to collaborate, users won’t post if the process is too cumbersome, convoluted, or complex. Ninja Post removes that complexity so that feedback can spread throughout your organization, from to bottom.

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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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