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  1. #1
    SitePoint Member tattobit's Avatar
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    Local forum - need advice

    am thinking of starting a local message board for the county that I live in. Unlike many other parts of the nation where a large city tends to a good branding option, in my area folks identify themselves as residents of a county and there is a large county government such as schools, zoning, court, etc.

    My intention was to to create local topics and useful information that county residents need as government sites tend to be woefully poor in organizing information, let alone run discussion boards. Additionally, I wanted to add a marketplace and a social board for those folks looking for pick-up games in the park and such.

    I have read a lot of information here and it does seem to me to be geared more for large internet type audiences so I am looking for advice on running a local geographic oriented board.

    What is a good way to promote? drive traffic? I thought of things like car bumper stickers

    The other thought I had was how to generate discussion and keep it lively for local issues and if anyone had thoughts about that. I could see the forum playing somewhat of a local user contributed tid bits sites, local happendings, etc.

    Your thoughts?

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard ryanhellyer's Avatar
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    I run a forum for a local sports club and we have around 94 registered members for a club which has only about 200 or so members. Discounting the occasional non-member who signs up, that gives us about 40% sign up rate which I'm pretty happy with. We've had 4894 posts since April 2006, although 90% of those have been in the past 6 months. So I suspect if you are including your entire community then you should be able to get considerably better stats - I'm assuming here that there's more than 200 people in your county.

    The trick I found, was to actively engage the conversation constantly and don't let up, it took literally six months of chatting to myself to get things to a point where it actually took off. Albeit I had a couple of members who helped out quite a lot.

    I also have a crude marketplace (board on my forum), it hasn't been very popular but it serves it's purpose. The main "general chatter" board of my forum has been used quite a lot by users organising pickup games, although that's to be expected for a sports club website I guess. I've let them keep posting in the main board because it's still fairly on topic for us, but for a general 'county' forum then a separate board may be more appropriate.

    I also made sure I uploaded whole stack loads of photos to the site so that they'd need to come visit to view them, then I moved on to videos. And eventually I moved on to allow my users to upload their own photos and embed Youtube videos. I also have a news page and full information about pretty much anything they could ever possibly expect from the site. All this has led to heaps of people returning to the site on a fairly regular basis which has been quite satisfying.

    Initially I had trouble driving people from the photos gallery, videos page and news pages to the forum. But I started moving all the news posts to the home page and linking from those news posts directly to the forum, so that if they wanted to know more information about the news in the news section they'd have to go visit the forum. I also created a photos and videos board in my forum for users to post links to interesting photos and videos they found on the net, or even upload their own. So I then had a link to that board from the main gallery menu which drove more people to it.

    So in a nutshell, get as much content as possible and find ways to drive them from the main part of your site to the forum, unless of course the forum is the main part of the site (wasn't an option for our site).

    Advertising I've used included getting our URL onto any posters our club produces, having it stuck on the end of all emails sent by our club (well some of them, the senders usually don't bother), adding to registration forms, information forms and best of all word of mouth! Getting users to tell their friends about the photos, videos and anything else they may be interested in has definitely turned out to be the most effective way of recruiting more members. I've picked up some members from other parts of the country via links from other websites, although convincing other sites to link to us has been rather difficult unfortunately (bureaucracy). We may have gotten a member or two from Google, but I can't be sure. Oh yeah, one other thing I do is to ask people to email links to a web page on our site, rather than emailing useful information to people directly. If they visit one page for specific information, they're far more likely to stumble upon the forum and sign up

    cheers,
    Ryan

    PS: my site is http://www.dunedinicehockey.co.nz/ in case you're interested in seeing the implementation.


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