A common misconception I often find from webmasters starting a new forum is that all forum topics are alike. You start the forum, add content, add staff members, post content yourself, and soon you’ll be riding the gravy train with discussion everywhere. With some categories it can literally be that easy. There is no exact science behind forum communities or their future relevance to the internet as a whole. Politics however offers and entirely different model of forum and requires nurturing and attention that other forums simply do not need. Debate offers an endless and often argumentative experience for users seeking a different experience than the regular forum user. My experiences administrating Political Debate Forum and other debate forums in the past have allowed me to develop a certain dogma or way of thinking when it comes to starting and managing a community revolving around politics. With this article I hope to pass on some of the things I have learned to help future communities grow and populate in the ever growing topic of debate and politics.
1. It’s all about moderation and perception.
Debate Forums offer a unique opportunity for members to offer their own opinions and stand by their facts. The problem with debate is that the discussion often degrades into bickering and even insults. To the average webmaster this is flaming and simply unacceptable, but to the average debater this is expected and often desired. Forums have fallen due to accusations that their moderation teams practice heavy or strict moderation. Users come to a political forum for argument and interaction. They want to fight, and they want to flame, and they often do not give out apologies. Therefore the wise political forum admin will moderate with a light hand and only intervene when drama seeks to spill out from a thread and onto the forum as a whole. What you expect to moderate is actually what your users have come to expect you to not moderate.
2. Free Speech is a big thing.
Free speech is what drives a debate forum. It goes back to moderation as well. A forum where a word censor is on, a moderator is too active, or a spam filter is too aggressive can easily be labeled as a forum that does not promote free speech. Users expect free speech, in fact it’s their inherent right, and without close adherence to this, a forum cannot succeed. Moderators must have the experience to not put bias into their actions and likewise must know when to let things go without incident. A moderator who interacts with the community will often side with a particular point of view and then be called biased. Bias leads to violations of free speech and that leads to members leaving. Respecting your members and remembering that they came to argue and bicker will give you a perception of what is acceptable to moderate and what is truly not. Political Forums walk the line.
3. Balance is the key
Forums often become one sided and always risk becoming echo chambers. An echo chamber or social club forum can be described as a forum where everyone agrees with everyone else. There is no real opposition and when an opposing member does come along, they are swiftly outed and pushed out. Political forums walk a delicate line between Democrat and Republican but also walk a tight rope between the many hundreds of political views that associate with each party (or not). A balanced forum will be an active forum. A community that disagrees, fights, argues, and bickers will be a community that stands up and continues discussion by itself. A forum that remains a social club will continue on with little debate, little interest, and will grow slowly if at all. A political admin needs to balance themselves, remain neutral when moderating, and present a fair but strong presence when it comes to maintaining the balance. A successful forum will consist of all walks of political view and all manner of debate.
4. Design is still a key element.
Content is one thing but looking good is yet another. There are hundreds of political forums, successful and dead, and if you look and judge every single one, you will find one thing lacking the most: design. Political forums tend to look the same and use default forum styles. The largest forums are those who took the time to make their own look and style. Such a minor details presents an interesting dilemma. If a webmaster is too lazy to make a forum look unique then why should the guest expect anything more than laziness when deciding whether or not to join the forum? A forum that looks good is a forum that will attract members and will continue to grow with new members.
If these four steps are taken into account and worked into a forum model then the webmaster using them should except success. Of course, all of the usual burdens of the forum starting process need not to be said. One will still have to be active, maintain good SEO, and work towards gaining members. This article’s point is to highlight the extra mile one needs to take if one intends to be successful. You cannot just start a political forum and expect users to join. Many of us have made these forums our home and we stay in our home for years if not decades. To sway the political crowd you must arm yourself with knowledge, experience, and a clear desire to succeed. Otherwise you’ll fail like so many before.