As a forum owner or community founder, you are probably well aware of the growing pains that many online discussion boards face. With both free and affordable forum software being available to everyone from experienced adults to much younger children, there is hardly ever a shortage of competition. In 2019, even obscure niches have dedicated forums, pages on Reddit, and groups on Facebook sprouting up. It should be no surprise that building a popular website is more difficult than ever. These 10 quick tips will help you grow your forum from an empty webpage into a thriving community.
#10 ) Notifications
Although instant notifications come packaged with many forum software solutions, there are still countless webmasters choosing to not use alerts in their community. Unless your website is receiving thousands upon thousands of new messages per day, you will find that notification features or plugins are not as stressful for your server / hosting as they may have once been. There is hardly any reason to ignore this easy way to notify your members of new replies on their threads, so make sure your forum has them enabled by default.
#9 ) Multi-Quote Replies
It may seem silly to you that a person might create a new thread, just to not read the replies later. Or perhaps it is ridiculous (to you) that someone may write several paragraphs in a post and then ignore the responses. However, this happens frequently and is a major issue – even if you do have notifications toggled on. Unfortunately, many forum setups do not notify users of new replies on a thread unless the user is quoted, they’ve opted in for thread-specific notifications, or the default forum settings have been changed. To increase participation, try to quote at least one person in each of your replies. This will let them know you have read their content and in most cases will bring them back to write a new reply of their own.
#8 ) Limit Your Forum Categories
Even general forums have been known to scatter their members across many different sections, or categories. This may be acceptable for a large community, but makes it extremely difficult to start a new forum when there are so many unique places for members to share content. Even with a limited number of options, you can still broaden the scope of the forum categories you do choose to make available so that members never feel like there isn’t an appropriate place for their discussions. This is important because having a small number of active sections not only looks better to new site visitors, it also helps your members engage with a large majority of your community as people are all engaging in similar content.
#7 ) Relax on the Rules
Of course, there will come times when you must ban, suspend, or strongly warn a member. At the same time, be wary of the effect this can have on a community. Obsessing over the rules or being too strict can make members feel unwelcome, even if many think the rules are understandable and fair. People make mistakes, become irritable, and may even break the rules sometimes. You may need to discipline them or speak with them, but make sure you remember that people are capable of change, and sometimes a private message to the offender can go a long way with reforming their behavior. Publicly calling them out, banning or suspending a user, or strictly enforcing your rules may drive members away instead of encouraging them to stay and become some of your best contributors.
#6 ) Avoid Over-Staffing
Imagine a classroom with twenty students and ten teachers. That sounds a bit excessive, right? While your community is still growing, there is no need for a large number of moderators or administrators. If a staff member is doing their job, they should be able to handle a solid amount of reports, warnings, and even bans each day. If you are growing a positive community, there should be a very small number of offending users compared to the number of valuable members. Simply put, each moderator or administrator should theoretically be able to handle at least one hundred members. So, if you only have 10 active members then you may not even need a moderator, or at most 1-2 to help you out while you focus on more administrative responsibilities.
# 5 ) Consistency & Patience
Consistency is vital, so avoid making too many changes too quickly. Even if something is not working, you may find that time is all you need for your best ideas to truly come to fruition. I have witnesses so many webmasters fall victim to themselves and their numerous ideas. I often think it is because they are not patient enough to see what truly works, so they assume something is broken when it simply is too soon to know. Even the most famous games, websites, and communities experience major backlash when there are significant changes, but often these new features, rules, and changes end up being community favorites given enough time. Be consistent with your forum, so avoid changing your site too quickly or going back on changes just because of initial backlash.
#4 ) Don’t Take Success For Granted
Have you ever heard about a lottery winner losing their fortune because they loved their money, but did not invest? Perhaps you have listened to the famed stories of sites like Friendster going out of fashion due to MySpace, or MySpace to Facebook, or Di.gg to Reddit. All of these sites were too busy feeling excited about their success to predict the future, or at least attempt to stay relevant and consistent. Don’t forget #5 on this list, but definitely make sure you are always looking forward and able to adapt when you need to. If you are happy about your success, remember that you only got there because of your dedication, drive, and effort. If you stop putting in that time, you will quickly find that success doesn’t always promote itself. You need to never forget what helped your forum in the first place if you want to preserve the principles and efforts that helped you grow. Never take success for granted or assume each month or year of forum ownership will remain the same.
#3 ) Build a Website, Not Just A Forum
Building a community is difficult as it is, and it is totally okay if that is all you wish to do. However, you can expand your site a lot more quickly if you grow your online content in other ways too. You can build a blog and share articles on social media, or come up with unique web pages that are helpful to visitors. Resource pages that provide information about topics related to your forum are great for leading your website’s visitors to your forum community. Try out a few different ideas like reviewing products, sharing information, top 10 lists, and more. If you know how to code or are friends with developers, you can even create web tools or features that are 100% unique to your website.
#2 ) Great Design
It should go without mentioning that a beautiful and unique forum theme or design is one of the best ways to increase sign ups – or on the flip side, having a slow or outdated webpage may convince potential members to never give your website a chance. Although many people may disagree that a forum design change matters, a lot of people who think this way may not be acknowledging the natural and subconscious reactions that humans have when seeing almost anything for the first time. Whether it is a potential romantic partner, a book, food, or a website – Looks matter. We may not always appreciate that first impressions often come down to looks, but it is easier to make your forum more appealing to site visitors than it is to change their instinctual response to what they see. Don’t neglect your duty as a webmaster to provide a positive and beautiful experience.
# 1 ) You, Your Forum, and Your Success
Last but certainly not least, the best thing you can do is acknowledge that it is you who is running your forum, and your success depends on you understanding that nobody owes you their time on your website. Yes, that’s right. The most important advice I can give you to help you grow your community is to tell you to focus on yourself, your efforts, your dedication, and be honest to yourself. You cannot create a hugely successful forum just by following this article or any other like it. It requires effort, sometimes money, and maybe even years of continued dedication before you ever reach your goals. To be honest, most forums started today will not be here next month, let alone next year. I have decided to include this last part because it is too often that I see young webmasters believing they can start a successful forum if they just follow a “9 quick tips article” they saw online. Although it is important to follow good advice and stick to certain standards for forum communities, you should never betray yourself. If your instincts are telling you to try something different, go for it. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your forum is to be yourself, trust yourself, and run things the way you know how. You are the only one who knows what you want, where your site came from, and where it is going.