This article was first posted on our blog on 11/02/2011. For this reason, the information may be outdated and no longer reliable/correct.
This question has been on the lips of webmasters and forums owners all around the world. I often get direct messages on twitter asking how its done, but 140 characters is never enough!
All content here is learned from past experience. I’ve been a webmaster since the age of 9, ran 4 forums and been staff on 6. I’m helping everyone here by sharing my experiences!
So let’s begin. In this post, you’ll read about the following:-
- Kicking off your forum with the right attitude.
- How to effectively publicize your forum.
- Generating original posts and threads to get users involved.
- Effective forum group permissions (only for older forums).
1. Personality, perspective and motivation.
The one mistake I see when people begin a forum is in it for the cash. Forums won’t tend to make money from the get go. Guides you read elsewhere are written by people who have started a forum in a brand new niche, and people responded well to it.
Running a forum is much like growing a flower. It takes time, care and attention. Those looking for a quick solution to an empty wallet, I’m sorry but this guide isn’t for you.
When starting a forum, many people will have a massive drive to make it successful. You spend all of your free time making posts and promoting it, but many people lose this very quickly. Many have risen to the challenge and not many came out of it at the other side, and I’m no exception. I helped run the Discussion Bulletin Board, it had great potential and over 1000 active posts a week.
This guide will help you to make the most out of your forum and having the most fun from it in the process! Everybody can learn something new, so older webmasters will get tips from this too!
2. It’s all about appearance.
From now ( dot dot dot dot) to now. That’s all the time you have to make a first impression. I see so many people with great forums but have an awful theme. Many webmasters will have spent a lot of time on their forums, meaning they would have gotten used to it and don’t pay much attention to it.
New users? Not so much. If they load your page and see the default logo, MySQL errors all over the place and thousands of spam threads, say goodbye to a returning user!
After research I conducted personally (through a psychology project for college), ~60% of the people I asked judge the content of a website on it’s appearance. This means that your theme and in some cases your MODs* possess the crucial seconds you need to convince a user that your forum is worth going to.
* This is for people who have a shoutbox and Topic Notifications installed. Meaning that every new thread is shouted, so if you have spam your shoutbox is full of spam threads/shouts.
So how do you optimize your appearance for others? Well I’ll tell you!
- Custom Logo (Just request one on FP!)
- Custom Theme (More expensive but worth it)
- Uncommon but good MODs.
- Unique niche (so your threads aren’t common!)
The last point above links in to the next section, so if you’re confused now, don’t worry!
3. Content, content, content!
First off, I’ll define niche for those quote don’t know:
A focus within a particular area, which is either popular or unpopular. This works to an advantage, as you can tap into a resource already producing results, or begin a trend and get results from the start!
For those who have experience in administrating a forum, but not so much posting in it, this is for you. I’m tired of seeing people not posting on their own forum, yet paying extravagant amounts of money paying others to do it for them!
Generating content is the most strenuous part of running a forum. I’m not going to lie to you, it gets slightly boring when you have 200 threads but only 26 posts. It’s demotivating, but that’s where post exchanges come in! I’ll go into that later on though.
Creating original threads that don’t make you look like you’re copying every forum is hard work. I often look round forums whilst browsing FP (just out of curiosity, I’m a natural born geek and I love to spy on others progress and look at page sources when I find an interesting feature) and see that many have the same “Favourite song?”, “Favourite sport?” etc. You get the idea. Forums nowadays are filled with generic content, and it gets boring! People are always out looking for excitement and something new. So why not be the next Facebook? The next Youtube? The next Myspace? Well maybe not Myspace, but you get the picture.
Try and research before buying a domain. Your domain is the 1st protocol, the first thing a user will read before looking at your site. If you have reeetylsswr.co.cz it’s not going to look too attractive. Whereas is you look at a site such as Facebook.com; the name is genius and relates directly to the content. This is EXACTLY what you want to be achieving.
Whilst doing your research:
Make sure that you write down a variety of niches. You need to compare what’s available and what you can achieve greatly in. Nobody wants to come to a forum where the owner hasn’t got the first clue about what he’s writing about. It’s like going to a gaming forum and the owner being 95 and asking if the new Gameboy Colour has come out yet. Yes, for those wondering I still play pokémon on my GBC.
You need to then write down a list of preferred domain names. Try and make a header/box with preferable/necessary words for the domain, and base your ideas around those. I spent around 3 days researching just for my domain alone, and ended up running the financial side of the Discussion Bulletin Board. This is literally the extend people go to to make successful forums, so if you get it right from the start you’ll be fine!
Creating activity around the forum, and keeping it there!
This is most likely going to be the most read part of this article. I ran a poll a few weeks back and this was requested, so for those who wanted it, here goes!
Activity. The most bewildering factor when it comes to starting and running a forum. As I said in the introduction, I have around 3 – 4 direct messages on Twitter daily asking me how it’s done.
Webmasters the world over have written guides on how it’s done, but I assure you these are my tips and I’ve seen them in action.
First I’ll list an overview, and go into detail later on:
- Turn your cap backwards, relax!
- Everybody’s equal!
- Nobody likes spam, get nutritional!
Turn your cap backwards, relax!
Strict modding of forums is a major downside. Many people look for a place to hang back and relax. So why remove loads of posts or warn people constantly when they’re having fun?
Obviously warning/removing racial or hate content is the exception, but swearing isn’t exactly murder so don’t treat it like it is! Everybody needs to let off steam, so let them do it online where they’re comfortable and you’ll see the posts come rolling in. If you create what is essentially a Youth Center but online, you’ll become popular in no time at all. I used to be a GMOD (Global Moderator) on a popular hacking forum (won’t mention the name) and they allowed anything up to and leading to swearing in all manners. People were happy to post, argue and debate all over the board because they could act like themselves on the board as if they were talking in real life.
This has to be the most annoying part of any forum; the admin who thinks he’s superior to everybody else because he runs the site. People will often leave the site if they think their opinions are not valid, or that they are just posting to keep the staff happy and not because they truely want to.
When I ran my first forum, I took the attitude that it was an honour to have each member. In my opinion, every admin should take the same approach and should come to realize that a forum is nothing without its members. So if you come across as too arrogant, try loosening up and letting people have their say. Take all suggestions into consideration, because if 1 person wants something, I can guarantee more people will want it too.
Nobody likes spam, get nutritional!
This witty one liner made me laugh when I ripped it from my overly active mind.
People won’t want to come to a board covered in ads, the Admins hoarding 352094492 links in their sigs and posting 1 word answers to increase their post count. Generating discussion amongst members is the easiest way you can increase your post count and keep the members there! They will want to constantly keep checking their threads to see if new replies have been made, and then post again. It’s a cycle, but not one of the vicious kind.
To create such discussions, try and avoid religious or moral discussions. These will almost always turn in flame threads where members have arguments and turn out very badly. So badly that members reading the thread may consider you to be a slacking MOD and turn their back on the forum. So take the first point above into consideration, but keep a careful eye out.
4. Advanced administration – Forum Viewing Permissions
This is just a short section to give people a tip that not many new admins use. Allowing guests to read threads when the forum is new is important. They will want a reason to come back to your forum, and won’t want to if they feel like they’re being forced into doing something they may regret later on. I mean, as a user you never know who has your email address. Why give it out more than you should have to?
When you start to get regular activity (I’d say more than 20 active members, deny guests the right to read threads. Much like myself, they will most likely check out the forum stats before they leave. If they see that you have an active member base they’ll be tempted to see what all the fuss is about. This is the critical point where all the tips above come into play!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this lengthy guide, it’s taken me 4 days to write and I’ve stayed awake till 1am GMT tonight to finalize it!
If anybody has any questions, be they elaborations on points above or additional information, give me a PM or post below!