8 Reasons Why People Don’t Contribute To Your Forum

Most forums fail because they don’t get enough traffic. We call this the critical mass problem. However, some forums have lots of traffic and still fail. Other forums have lots of traffic and simply underperform.

We identified eight factors that stop users from participating in your forum community:

  1. No Evidence of Activity. No one goes into an empty restaurant and no one posts to an empty forum. People are reluctant to post because they’re afraid they will not get a timely response.
  2. Lack of Experts. Newbies ask questions that require expertise. If the experts in your community are not visible or accessible, newbies are unlikely to participate. Put another way, newbies need confidence that they will receive a good answer.
  3. Bad User Experience Design. If users can’t figure out how to register or submit a reply then participation will remain low. We remain puzzled by forums that lack obvious cues to register.
  4. Snobby Atmosphere. If users are afraid they will be ridiculed by “cool” users on the forum they become less likely to participate. Arguably, an elitist attitude can be a good thing because it cuts down on the volume of “stupid questions.” But we believe there’s a difference between having high standards and outright arrogance or rudeness toward newcomers.
  5. Stuffy Atmosphere. Forum participants want to feel like they can express themselves freely. If the atmosphere is too “corporate” or if there are too many rules prospects will shy away.
  6. Lack of Anonymity. If users feel like their content could be traced past their handle to their actual identity they will not chime in. Even in cases where the subject matter is innocuous, we have found that users relish the opportunity to develop a persona specifically for their favorite forum.
  7. Crippling Self-Doubt. Many users refrain from participating because they’re embarrassed about their question, they lack confidence in themselves, or they’re afraid they will somehow appear weak.
  8. Easier to Consume Than To Create. Users don’t participate because they prefer lurking, they’re on their phone and it’s difficult to reply, or they lack sufficient incentives to participate. It’s easier to consume content rather than generate content so it makes sense that many users default to this mode of operation.
Posted in Misc. Forum Discussion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Forum Communities And The Magic Number

GORE-TEX, the maker of water resistant jackets and outerwear, famously caps the number of employees per factory at 150, even if that means building two factories right next door. The company adopted this policy because they discovered that when the factory gets too big, people working for the company become much less likely to work hard and help each other out. When that happens morale goes down, and so do profits.

Research by anthropologist Robin Dunbar supports this rationale. Dunbar correlated brain size of different primates with the size of their social groups and extrapolated these results to humans. His research indicates that 150 represents a “magic number” for humans and the number of meaningful relationships they can maintain at one time.

We have spent many years studying online communities and believe Dunbar’s number is applicable to online communities as well. If a group is too small there isn’t much interaction. But as the group hits the critical mass of more than 100 visits per day, activity starts to pick up. As traffic exceeds 200, 300, 400, or more visits per day then it becomes necessary to institute more restrictive rules.

A bigger forum is usually better because it benefits from the network effect but there is something to be said about small, close-knit communities. Benefits from the network effect typically offset the loss of intimacy but we also note that engagement on a per user basis tends to drop as a forum grows in size. Our experience suggests smaller communities have more camaraderie and users offer each other more support. We doubt that Dunbar would be surprised.

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

7 Ways To Gain Traction On Your Forum

For a forum to become successful we have found the most important ingredient is a critical mass of users. But if you have traffic, how do you capitalize on it to gain traction? We offer the following suggestions:

  1. Make it easy for users to find and participate in your forum. E.g., create a large, unambiguous link from your main site.
  2. Get buy-in from the highest level of your organization (e.g., CEO) and thought leaders in the community. In other words, make sure the “cool people” are using your forum.
  3. Make your forum a welcoming and hospitable place for new users. Encourage participation by ensuring users will get a reply in a timely fashion.
  4. Help users achieve personal goals (especially make money, lose weight, achieve higher job satisfaction, etc.). Encouraging users to ask for help, encouraging users to help others, and encouraging #humblebrags makes for a good mix of content.
  5. Remind users to visit the forum by sending relevant email alerts and highlighting recent activity in other verticals (e.g., monthly newsletter).
  6. Let the “network effect” take over so the forum becomes self-propelling and users visit the site out of habit.
  7. Reward and recognize users for contributing to the forum.
Posted in Misc. Forum Discussion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Content Generation For Forums Is Hard – But Ninja Post Makes It Ridiculously Easy

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.

news feed to add content to your forum

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.

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

Instill Confidence In Visitors To Lower The Bounce Rate

Earlier this week, we asked ‘Why’ five times in a row to understand why the bounce rate is high on a forum. We concluded that highly personalized and accurate advice is hard to come by because people with the expertise necessary to answer certain questions are rare. Furthermore, users with questions often require an answer customized to their unique circumstances. This makes sense. If the knowledge needed was readily available or widely understood, it is unlikely the user would have a question about the topic in the first place.

So how does this insight help us solve the high bounce rate problem? Well, it could be that users find what they’re looking for and bounce right away. Or, more likely, they don’t find what they need but they don’t have enough confidence that posting a new thread or follow up question will garner a better response.

We need to do more to instill confidence in the user their question will be answered accurately and in a timely fashion. Specifically, we think that by (1) showing related threads; (2) encouraging users to “ask our experts” and (3) showing the average response time for getting a reply, we can lower the bounce rate and instigate more activity on the forum. These steps should help us overcome shyness and/or lack of confidence and, in turn, lower the bounce rate.

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

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.

Posted in Forum Architecture & Design | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Lower The Bounce Rate On Your Forum

One reason popular forums have high bounce rates is because they draw in so many users from Google. We theorize that many users who land on a forum after a Google search leave the forum without clicking around because they’re in a narrow-minded “search mode” instead of a relaxed, open-minded “browse mode.”

Put another way, “searchers” are looking for something specific. Whether they find what they’re looking for or not, they’re likely to bounce quickly. By contrast, “browsers” are seeking entertainment and they’re more likely to stick around if anything at all tickles their fancy.

Although it is extraordinarily challenging to convert someone from “search mode” to “browse mode”, we propose the following techniques to lower the bounce rate on your forum:

  1. Show related threads at the footer of the page or in the sidebar.
  2. Encourage the user to search the forum if he or she did not find what they were looking for.
  3. Make the site impossibly easy to navigate so the user is enticed to view more content.
  4. Invite user to join the forum and explain member benefits.
  5. Display photos recently uploaded to the community photo gallery.
  6. Limit content visibility and require user to log in to view additional content.
  7. Include a “before you go…” popover before the user exits the page.
  8. Use a Hello Bar or WOAHbar to appeal directly to the user and ask him or her to stay longer. Employ cookies to craft specific messages just for the user.

We’ve noticed that forum bounce rates are particularly high for users on mobile devices. This makes sense because users are already low on patience thanks to the small screen, longer load time, and other obstacles wrought by mobile computing. We don’t have a good solution for this scenario. At least not yet.

However, we think the best way to get a “searcher” to stick around (no matter what device they’re on) is to show related content. Proving your forum has high quality content is a great way to introduce the user to the breadth and depth of the knowledge your community has to offer.

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

Funneling Users From Your Main Site To Your Forum

We recently discussed why users from your main site are likely to become contributors to your forum. Therefore, effectively targeting these users, and shaping their path from the main site to the forum, is essential to growing a vibrant forum community.

The goal we set for our clients is to achieve a 10% click through rate from the main site to the forum. Here are some techniques and tips to guide users from your main site to your forum:

  • Link to the Forum in the primary navigation at top of page. (Well, duh!)
  • Insert a “Call to Action” advertisement in the site’s side bar. A small rectangular graphic 300px wide by 90px tall works just fine. For the text, “Got Questions? Visit the forum!” is a simple and effective nudge.
  • Using the ad slot mentioned above, rotate 2-3 “Calls to Action” to appeal to different types of users:
    • Attract people with questions: “Answer guaranteed within 24 hours”
    • Attract people with experience: “Share your story”
    • Attract people with expertise: “Others need your help”
  • Add a Hello Bar (or the free alternative WOAHBar) to the top of the main page and link to the forum.
  • Display recent activity (thread titles, avatars, uploaded photos, etc.) on main page side bar or in the footer of the page.
Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Finding Contributors For Your Forum – They Might Be Closer Than You Think

Participation inequality is a tough nut to crack. Tough, but not impossible. In fact, contributors (and possibly even some “heavy contributors”) might be closer than you think.

We have found the best users—those who we can count on to register and contribute in meaningful ways later on—are often funneled into the forum from the parent site. At least, that’s how they discover the forum for the first time.

In a typical example, most visitors in a given day come in via Google and other search engines. A small percentage of these users register, but most bounce. They’re in search mode; not contribution mode. It is very difficult to convert this type of visitor into a contributor.

Another cohort of users—most often users with existing forum accounts—enter the forum via a direct link. E.g., they have the forum’s URL bookmarked in their browser, they’re prompted by an email alert, or they enter the URL directly.

Finally, a third significant set of users enter the forum from the main site. It is this third group that is especially interesting because these users are likely candidates to become contributors.

We can think of several reasons why this is true:

  1. The user already trusts the site and knows the brand.
  2. The user is fascinated by the subject matter and wants to engage with like-minded individuals.
  3. The user browsing for entertainment (as opposed to actively searching).
  4. The user has a question about the subject.
  5. The user has knowledge to share about the subject.
  6. The user wants to share an accomplishment.

While users that land on the forum via Google (who are most likely to bounce without registering or posting) meet the fourth criteria listed above—that is, they have a question about the subject—they often do not have enough trust, spare time, or fascination to compel them to participate.

Users who are already browsing your main site don’t suffer from these same limitations. They have a different same mindset. For this reason, we recommend directing visitors from your main site to your forum because, once the hit the forum, they are likely to participate.

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

Forum Software And The Power Of Weak Ties

Thanks to inspiration from the book, The Power of Habit, we recently examined how strong ties, weak ties, and a sense of identity can be used to understand how forum communities start from a small group, grow to achieve critical mass, and eventually become self-propelling knowledge machines. Perhaps the most interesting and surprising part of this framework is the power of weak ties.

You can think of “strong ties” as your closest circle of friends. People you see all the time and interact with most often. Weak ties are more like casual acquaintances or friends of friends. This might defy expectations but it turns out that weak ties are extraordinarily important when it comes to sharing news and novel information.

To illustrate the power of weak ties, Habit author Charles Duhigg cites research by Mark Granovetter, a pioneer in the field of social phenomena. In the 1960s, Granovetter studied how a group of 282 men found their current job. Granovetter determined that weak ties were crucial to finding employment because “weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.”

Weak ties are absolutely critical for news of job openings to spread from one clique to another. However, the power of weak ties is not limited to news about job openings. It is equally relevant to the way habits, schools of thought, and social patterns permeate through the world at large.

The power of weak ties is especially pertinent to forum communities. Forums excel at creating weak ties for many reasons. For example, forums connect people who:

  • …are likely to be friendly due to a shared interest.
  • …would otherwise never meet in real life.
  • …possess different levels of expertise.
  • …come from different social circles and parts of the world.
  • …are keen to share knowledge with one another have an eye toward self-improvement.

We know that weak ties are like bridges that shuttle novel information from one group to another. While it could be argued that forum communities are prone to isolation, more like an island in the middle of the Pacific than a diverse and well connected city-state, we believe that open platforms which foster civil discussions, even among users with unique viewpoints, allow weak ties to flourish. When weak ties abound, we like to say they bind together to create a motivational force field.

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