Promoting your forum can be a difficult task, far more difficult than one might anticipate. Here are some tips that I believe will help you in creating a buzzing, lively and happy community.
The Right Forum
Choosing the right forum software is vital, in order to help make your user experience simple, easy, and clean. For example, for my forum, we chose to use MyBB (which, at the time, had just updated to the new MyBB 1.8), since it had very positive reviews, and many features that were ideal for our forum. These included a flexible permissions system, a clear, easy to use layout, powerful moderation tools and low server load. In addition, we also had previous experience using MyBB, so that was taken into account, since it's important that you don't have to spend too much time learning new forum software, which would make you appear inexperienced to your users.
The right forum software for you will vary based on several factors, including the ones mentioned above. However, it is critically important that you select forum software that works for you, rather than against you.
The Right Server
Your users will quickly get annoyed and leave if they find that your server is slow, unreliable, laggy, or has excessive downtime. Depending on how many users you expect to receive, the right choice for you may be good quality shared hosting, a VPS or even dedicated hosting. Free hosting is to be avoided where possible, since often they have bandwidth caps and the response time is often into the thousands of milliseconds rather than the hundreds.
The Right Purpose
Your forum is doomed to fail should you select a poor purpose from the outset. Try and hit the sweet spot between too wide, which will fail to attract users from larger forums, and too small, which would mean appealing to too few people to succeed. An example of a poor purpose is a 'general discussion' forum, since social media sites already fill that purpose more effectively. Another poor choice could be stamp collectors in a particular city collecting 1980s US stamps only, since it's going to be unlikely that many people would be interested in such a small topic. Therefore, before publishing your site, consider whether your purpose is excessively small or large, and adjust to avoid catastrophe later on.
The Right Staff
It's key that you select trustworthy staff that you know will enforce the rules correctly, and people who you are sure won't destroy the forum while you're gone. It's key that you don't just pick a random member who joined three days ago to become moderator or administrator, because they could be irresponsible, hostile or just not up to the job. This also extends to "moderator recruitment" forums, from my experience you'll get someone who stops visiting after a couple of days, and you'll be left to start the process all over again. Instead, pick active, trustworthy people from the forums, and if you like, have a vote on who the community likes, and go from there. Be wary though, since if you don't like the candidate the community has chosen, you may be left in a sticky situation!
The Right Structure
Make sure that your forum structure is clear, understandable and not too large. No-one wants to look through 40 forums to find the one they want, so just have the ones that are vital, and expand as you go along and as the community needs it. A 10 person forum doesn't need 50 subforums, so try and strip it down to the basics. If you see any empty subforums, merge them into a different subforum when you can, to prevent your forum from looking too barren.
The Right Rules
It is of utmost importance that you select fair, effective rules that promote discussion while avoiding arguments. A forum I visited a few weeks ago had very poorly written rules, and poor moderation to accompany it, and many legitimate discussions were stopped due to these rules. If users feel that they're being censored or edited unfairly by moderators, they will leave
. Therefore, if you have to perform any moderation actions, it's a good idea to give the user a brief PM telling them what's happened and why - this will hopefully help you to establish a more friendly relationship with users as a helper, rather than a dictator. Remember though, if a user is bullying another or being offensive, do not stand for it, or other users who are being offended by that member may leave instead.
Promoting a forum is an extremely difficult balancing act, though it is achievable, and sites like ForumPromotion.net are extremely helpful in getting traffic to your site, since even if all of the above are perfect, in the end, you to reach out to people who are interested in your type of forum.
Note about the author
The author of this article was Aurora from int 0x10
, a developer community with IRC and a forum, as well as a projects hosting site. If you have any further comments, please leave a reply to this blog post.