A Successful Forum Has Purpose, Community, and Usability
Creating a community website or discussion forum can be incredible, and there's nothing better than embracing a community that you yourself started from scratch. However, there are many reasons why community forums are failing - especially in 2020. That's why we would like to share 3 golden rules to follow as a webmaster to manage a successful community forum. Whether you use the famed software XenForo or a free solution such as MyBB or phpBB does not matter. These guidelines will help you transform your ideas on paper into an incredible online family of high quality discussions and friendships. A forum has a much better chance of being successful with a clearly defined sense of purpose that drives people to the site, features that embrace the community, and good modern designs that bring the forum to life and allow it to be easily useable by people across the world on a variety of devices.
Have a Defined Purpose & Interesting Niche
It's 2020 and many website ideas have already been taken, but that doesn't mean they cannot be redone. Your ideas must be executed well if you would like to create a community forum based on a topic that has serious competition. One example of this may be creating a general tech forum. This has been done millions of times, and it can be extremely difficult to jump-start discussions when all of your potential members can go join a Facebook group as a nerdy outlet for their passions.
Although it would be wonderful to have a truly unique niche, or a website idea that has never been done before, there are many other ways to stand out. After all, that's what this entire list is about. However, it all begins with the general idea of "being interesting", or as Steve Jobs might say - Think different. I would like to rephrase his words by saying, "be different." Be unique in every way possible, even if your forum's focus is similar to competing websites. One way to do this is to have a defined purpose.
Your purpose does not have to be 100% unique from all others, but it should be known to you and especially known to all of your members - from the first member to your last. They should know what they are signing up for, understand what to expect, and ultimately you need to deliver on those promises. I have signed up to exactly one forum in the last year, and it's a new website owned by a member here at Forum Promotion. Malcolmjr96, the owner of CodeForum, reached out to me numerous times through private messages telling me about his ideas and website. His purpose was clear. He had created a community focused on answering questions related to coding, sharing tutorials, and discussing specific technical issues. Of course, his forum is home to many other quality discussions that are a bit more generalized, but the purpose of the forum was declared from the start. I decided to give his website a chance, and luckily for him he was able to deliver on all of his promises. For having a tech site in 2020, I personally think he has done a fantastic job of not only having a defined purpose, but also making sure his "general/common niche" is interesting. One way his site does this is by embracing community-orientated features or forum plugins to ensure there is constant discussion.
Embrace Community-Orientated Features
Features that improve the community are countless, and there are so many to choose from regardless of what forum software you end up using. Whether it's free or not, you can choose from notification plugins, social network single sign on options, or more specific features like on CodeForum. Make sure you read our recent article, Why Your Website Needs Social Plugins in 2019, to learn more about how you can improve your community.
Malcolm's website embraces a well known feature that is somehow uncommon on tech forums - for whatever reason. Of course, I am talking about the question/answer related tags on discussions. A member can tag their discussions as a 'Tutorial', or as a 'Question' and with the latter they can choose a reply to their thread to mark as 'Answer'. This encourages users to help other members and also allows people finding CodeForum on Google to quickly identify the correct answer to a difficult technical question.
Of course, this is just one example of a community-orientated forum add-on. There are plenty more, and one of my favorites is the "outspoken" shoutbox or general chatroom that many sites in the 90's and early 2000's featured on their homepages. This type of feature was often displayed right at the top of the forum home, and was usually not much larger than a typical banner advertisement. It didn't take up much room for the most part and allowed members to discuss anything they wanted with other online members. There has been many interesting debates about whether these were a distraction from actual forum discussions, but I personally am a fan of this type of plugin.
Having a chatroom is a fantastic example of a website feature that can improve a user's experience, even if it does in fact take away from other ongoing threads in a forum category below. It allows a logged in member to feel instant gratification by quickly chatting with other users and can give non-member visitors the impression that the site is more active than it is if they can see recent messages, or even a scrolling chat.
Whether it's forum points tied to a shop, notifications, enhanced profile pages, chatrooms, something more specific like a question-answer feature, or literally anything else that improves the average visitor experience, you should give it a try. Brainstorm some ideas for what types of features benefit your community the most and try them out.
Design & Usability
The design of your community website should be as modern as possible, but that's not to say that retro themes can't succeed. While many companies do opt for a sleek, flat design concept, there are still websites using older styles such as gradients, 3D graphics, and even flashy animations common in the 90's.
More importantly, the usability of your website should be spot on. Whether you use pure CSS icons or small images for section headers, you need to make sure your site can load quickly. There should be no offense taken if someone criticizes your design choices because they do not load quickly over a home internet connection or a mobile network.