Growing an Online Web Forum Community
This article examines the difficulties in growing an online web forum community beyond the technical aspects of simply installing a forum software. It is the marketing side that has stumped ambitious webmasters who have all but succeeded in bringing user participation to their forum. We are addressing a scenario whereby a fully functional web forum system has been set up but is gradually rotting due to its emptiness, even when visitors are coming by as a result of ongoing advertisement. What could the reasons be for a forum's failure to grow ? Can this be attributed to the forum software itself, the design of the site or is it an advertising failure ? I believe that the issue is not comprised of any single factor but rather the a collective of different contributing factors, and in this article, we are going right to the core in addressing all the contributing factors that lead an online web forum to its eventual doom.
The concept of an online web forum is not new and I'm sure that anyone who has used the internet for even the shortest period of time has encountered one. It is a type of online community where people meet up for discussions. Each forum will concentrate on a particular topic and can have varying amount of members, depending on the popularity of the individual forum. Members are allowed to posts topics which can be replied to by other members. These forums are managed by "forum moderators" and their job is to maintain the smooth running of their forum (technically), build up their forum community by increasing its member base, encourage participation from their members through posts contributions, maintaining the order and course of all conversations going on and also to achieve financial returns from their forum.
Of all the obstacles facing forum board owners, not being able to recruit members is the single biggest problem for them. This is attributed to the fact that recruiting members is no longer a technical problem, but rather a marketing & social problem. Lacking the ability to recruit members goes against the very definition of an online community. Without members, there is no community. The forum software is just a tool to achieve the ultimate purpose of a discussion medium. The question arises then, how can a community be created ? Clearly, the forum software alone is akin to a lifeless empty shell. While the shell itself can be purchased or downloaded freely from the internet, the hermit crab itself is not for sale!
Most forum starters fail terribly because of their first wrong assumption. They assumed that by setting up a web forum, people will automatically flock over to join their community and begin participating. The truth could never be farther than this. On the contrary, installing the forum software itself is the simplest phase of the entire process. The amount of work ahead, although unknown to the forum starter at this point, is daunting as it is enduring. The rest of the process needs to be completed in stages, and indeed there is a systematic way of doing things. Of course, one could try random unproven ways to build up a forum community that stands a small chance of succeeding in 2 years or probably 3 against the greater odds of its failure. But if you are one to favor success at first try, then please continue reading on.
We should now be questioning ourselves, not to what purpose will our forum serve, but rather, to what purpose would a user want to be on any forum at all ? Is it not blatantly clear that if we are able to understand the benefits which a user seeks in joining a forum, and then being able to provide these aforementioned benefits to the user, and preventing any other possible interference unto the benefits which the user seeks and we provide, then we will achieve success ? For example, if an auctioneer wants to sell away his exclusive home. His intention is to make the most possible profit from that auction. And if our goal is to own the home which he is selling, and that we can fulfill his needs by paying the highest price for his home, then wouldn't we be the definite winner of that auction ? By paying the highest price, we have thus removed any interference of a higher bidder. The seller is happy to deal with us because we are able to give him what he wants, while receiving what we want and preventing anything that will change his mind that could effect the deal. This analogy is the same in the forum business, as it has always been for all other types of businesses. If however, we know for a fact that there is a definite higher bidder that we could not afford to outbid, then its best to not participate in the bidding process at all.
At any given time, a user who participates in an online forum is looking for one of the benefits below:
Getting answers that cannot already be found on the internet
Fulfilling passion & interest on a hobby
Social lifestyle & friendship ( or seeking relationships )
Trading - information, software, songs ( indirect financial power )
Attention & Recognition seeking ( status & power )
Earning money or job hunting ( direct financial power )
Building profile or resume ( security, job preservation )
Private group ( exclusivity )
Research & surveys
Spamming / Marketing products or services
It is crucial that every forum addresses one or more of the benefits above, but sadly enough only a handful do. And not surprisingly so, these are the ones that ended up with rich ongoing participation and a high rate of member registration, a dream that only a minority of forum owners are privileged enough to brag about.
The next issue deals with the chicken and its egg, whereby without one, there could not be the other. In forum terms, without content your forum will always be empty and unappealing to users who would like to subscribe to it. And without user subscription, there can be no post contribution, which in turn will not fill your empty forum with some content. Hence you're going nowhere. Is there a way to address this issue ? Could you be thinking of making 5000 posts all by yourself, having an insanely conversation between split personalities of your different aliases ? Admittedly, some forum starters have tried to accomplish this, but eventually resign to the fact that it just doesn't work that way.
What I have brought to mind are just two issues among many. In order to achieve success at first try, you must also address forum leadership issues, the ability to lure users shamelessly to your forum, inducing excitement into your forum, forum exposure, a yardstick for measuring success, defeating competitors effortlessly, tweaking your forum for optimal publicity and profiting endlessly from your forum. These are just a few things that you must learn, among many others. The entire discussion could never fit into a single article. [[REMOVED: We don't allow self promotion on this forum.]]