Building a Community with Discussion Forums

So you’ve tried every tool out there to promote your site and achieved decent results. You’re probably thinking, "Now what?" I have one word for you — "Community."

Yes, creating a community on your site is the next big step to making your site successful; but, before I tell you how to go about this, let me tell you that building a community is not going to be an easy task. It requires time and patience. But don’t worry, it will pay off.

What I’m going to teach you is how to use discussion forums (also known as ‘message boards’ or ‘bulletin boards’) to get repeat visitors to your site and to build your reputation.

1) How do I install a discussion forum on my site?

First, you will have to choose which program you are going to use. Don’t underestimate the importance of the software being used, as it can turn off many potential ‘netizens’ of your community. Below I’ve listed some of the most popular programs available, and the pros and cons of each.

Ultimate Bulletin Board:

+ Plenty of features.
+ Clean and intuitive user interface.
+ Static pages, meaning less server load.
+ Easy to install and maintain.
- Free upgrades are available only for one year.
- Many people won’t be able to afford it.

My rating (from 1 to 10): 9 Available at http://www.ultimatebb.com

BigTalker:

+ Speed improvements.
+ Compact layout.
+ Clean code, easy to modify.
+ Built-in ICQ feature.
- Dynamically generated pages
- extra server load.
- Less features when compared to UBB.

My rating (from 1 to 10): 8 Available at http://www.bigtalker.com

UltraBoard:

+ Many features (including stats).
+ Price tag (free).
+ Very customizable without having to edit the code.
- Dynamically generated pages.
- Layout may confuse ‘newbies.’
- Grammar errors throughout the program.

My rating (from 1 to 10): 8 Available at http://www.ultrascripts.com

2) How do I get people to start talking?

This is one of the most difficult parts in the process of building a community. People won’t start talking unless you give them a reason. Get several friends to create discussions, always participate in them, ask for moderators and opinions on how to improve the forums. Also, be sure to include a link to your forums on every page of your website. It also helps to run a contest where users can get prizes for their help (ask for a logo, a good name, forum ideas, etc.) or a simple poll regarding a current (and, if possible, controversial) topic.

3) How do I keep the forums active?

Once your forums are active (say, over 100 posts per day), you are not going to need to do much. Be sure to keep SPAM out of your forums by immediately deleting any blatant advertisements. This is the job of the forum moderators, who should be carefully selected based upon their knowledge of the topic and the time they are willing to spend moderating a forum.

4) Facts and tips.
  • Do not expect to make a lot of money using banner advertisements in your forums. The click-through ratios will be too low to justify the money advertisers spend. Don’t bother with click-through networks either, you’ll make a pittance. In case you still want to put advertisements in the forums, be sure they are located at the bottom of each page to increase the click-through ratio; since users are more likely to click on them after they have read the conversation.
  • Try to ask for as much feedback as you can. Visitors love to participate in the building process of the community.
  • Don’t hesitate to delete (or edit) posts that contain either blatant advertisements or bad language. Not doing so will generate fights that might turn off some of your most active forum members.

That’s all for now. If you followed all the tips here, you will be on a route that will build a good reputation for yourself on the Internet. It will also act as a "lead generator" for your site, as people who participate in your forums, and will come to know and trust you, will be more likely to buy your products or hire you.

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