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New Communities: Are the Fundamentals Still Enough?

Discussion in 'Forum Management' started by taylor_smith, Oct 28, 2014.

  1. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    Introduction: Are the Fundamentals Still Enough for Viable Communities?

    This started as a review request at The Admin Zone (TAZ), but I think it could be a broader topic. Having spent years as a forum administrator, I've developed a general understanding of "the fundamentals" of launching a community. These include a clear brand/niche, a consistent flow of unique content, an aesthetically pleasing theme, intuitive and feature-rich software, a healthy backend (hosting, domain, etc.), best SEO practices, friendly staff, social media marketing, etc.

    The Questions

    Are these fundamentals still enough to launch a community? Is there still space for new communities?

    Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but I think that my newest community features many of the fundamentals. For example:

    • Clear brand/niche: news and community for nerds!
    • Original, engaging content is created daily by our many talented writers
    • Our brand and site are beautiful
    • The software is integrated stylistically and technologically (WordPress + XenForo)
    • We have a dedicated box and own multiple variations of our domain
    • We've hired an SEO expert
    • We have a team of around 30 people, including experienced community staff
    • We promote all stories to our social media outlets
    • . . . and yet, no growth
    Is my hubris coloring my ability to spot a fatal flaw? Or is this community anecdotal evidence that "the fundamentals" just aren't enough anymore?

    Epilogue: The Review Request Text

    Generally, what I posted as the review request on TAZ.

    [​IMG]

    Board Title: The Noobist Community
    Board URL: http://noobist.com/community
    Launch date: February 2013
    Number of members: 189
    Number of Posts: 2,835
    Custom style?: Yes
    Software: WordPress + XenForo
    Related Sites:


    The Noobist (http://noobist.com) publishes headline news on technology, entertainment, and gaming, as well as op-eds, interviews, reviews, and fan fiction, all served with a heaping spoonful of nerdy.

    Every post auto-creates a discussion thread with an excerpt from the story. These discussion threads are linked to the original WordPress post for seamless integration: when someone comments on a WordPress post, their linked forum account replies to the discussion thread; when someone replies to the discussion thread, their linked WordPress posts a comment on the WordPress story.

    I've been a TAZ member for quite some time and managed communities as large as 1.7 million posts. Clear brand, fresh content, large team, unique perspective, social media marketing, we've taken all the basic steps. What can we do to improve? And why do you think we're not seeing community growth, despite our publishing growth?
     
    yavuz and Anthony Parsons like this.
  2. TheBigK

    TheBigK Well-Known Member

    You've got most of the things right; but I see the 'first impression' isn't cutting it. When I visited your forum home, I found following topics-
    • Welcome
    • Gaming
    • Music & TV...
    It doesn't give me an impression of having something 'new' to discuss or participate in. You may continue with your approach and fill all the forums with some unique content. Something that will make me immediately interested!

    I'm not sure why are you spending on SEO. You're all set with WP and Default XF settings to take care of all the SEO in the world you'll ever need. Instead, direct your resources in building great content and going 'out of the way' to help members. That's worked wonders in our case.

    Above all - give it some more time.
     
  3. tajhay

    tajhay Well-Known Member

    How many other sites already fill that need? Quite a lot i imagine. Why should users have to sign up to another community when they already get all their info from existing communities.

    You need a well thought out niche.
     
  4. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    What do you think would help this? Maybe a "featured thread" in the header? Or sidebar?
     
  5. TheBigK

    TheBigK Well-Known Member

    I'd suggest rethinking what you really want to focus on. 'Generic' is so 2001; you need something extremely specific. Maybe you and your team could figure out what are the areas you all are awesome at.

    For example, instead of talking about 'Phones', can your forum go very specific about, say "Windows Phones" or 'iPhone' or even better: iPhone 6 Plus? That would get you a lot more audience.

    Or think about something that gives the first time visitor a feeling that it's something totally new or 'useful'. That will help you build traction faster.
     
    taylor_smith and Anthony Parsons like this.
  6. Anthony Parsons

    Anthony Parsons Well-Known Member

    Ok... firstly, I don't call creating a bunch of new sites or pages for your new site, established social marketing, or any marketing at all... in actuality, you've created a much larger problem for yourself by having SO much in other areas to now manage, instead of having everything in one place, one website, one domain.
    Lets look at your above list... noob nerds, really... Linkedin? That's business... why in hell are you creating a channel for that? Noobist.tv, get rid of it and stream direct from Twitch without the complication and integrate directly into your forum pages as required / publish direct recordings into your forums pages.

    Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube? Pick one... get rid of the rest for now. They're just noise. Social networking is not all its cracked up to be. Each one has very specific markets... and nerds playing games is not across them all. Probably YouTube is your most important for your market... ditch the rest. Leave only default social like / sharing type buttons... don't try and manage pages at this point.

    There is zero comparison between an established site and a new site. Get rid of the concept from your head, right now. Established sites meet the member base as they grow, they don't just establish themselves. They chop and change, they A/B test over years of growth, keeping what works for them, ditching the rest. Your members dictate the growth and additional aspects, not you.

    The fatal mistake of starting a new community is exactly what you've done... by trying to cover every possible avenue from the get go, complicating the point and concept of the site to all this noise.

    I don't even know what your site is about from looking at it? Is it for gamers? Is it for nerds? What the hell is a nerd? There is no defined niche for nerds... if nerds is your market, then your website should break down into all the nerd niches... but your site seems to be gaming / game streaming. That isn't a nerd... that's a gamer. They range from walking age to old age, depending on game.

    The @TheBigK mentioned... you need to get very specific and start there. Who is your competition, that is your first real issue. Name them, and analyse what they're doing and find what they're not. They either aren't doing something because the market wasn't there for it, as they tried it, or a hole exists for you to exploit first.

    You have to give people a reason to want to be on your community... and noise is just noise. What ever happened to simple? An admin forum is only going to confuse you IMHO... and if you got suggestions as you have from sites like such, it just reaffirms that they're useless noise for startups, from amateurs with no idea about marketing, let alone starting an online community that has competition.

    Running a big board does not make you a marketer... it simply means you got to something first and likely built something that you're passionate about. That is what builds big boards... passion, love, the desire that the subject is an infinite part of your life.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
    Rudy, Bram, The Forum Heroes and 9 others like this.
  7. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    Good feedback. Thank you! :)
     
  8. sbj

    sbj Well-Known Member

    To be honest, your site can't offer anything new. There are hundreds of forums which cover the content you want to cover.

    Are you really sure that your niche is for nerds? I just see some shallow/general topics. Almost every forum has a section about movies, games and IT stuff. The only half niche topic is your comics and cosplay section but I bet there are hundreds of forums that do this way better than you. Because I see no sub-categories, like really divided sections for a sub-niche.

    I would never consider your forum as a niche forum. It is a general, all-around thing. These forums died many years ago when Facebook and Twitter came around with few exceptions.

    edit:

    So what do I suggest? Keep looking for a real niche.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
    taylor_smith likes this.
  9. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the feedback! Part of the problem may be that the forums aren't the top priority. Although the forums do admittedly feel generic, they were designed more to support The Noobist's publishing apparatus.

    The Noobist has gained significant traction with our nerdy-branded publishing. Noobist.TV will soon become a YouTube partnership network, which will provide the majority of our financial support to the brand. The forums were created more to 1) provide a place to discuss articles and 2) provide a medium for YouTube partner support.

    Given this, I think you're all right. I don't think we'll see any organic growth as strictly a community. Instead, we'll expect to build a brand following from our readers and partners, which will hopefully translate to more active community participation. (Incidentally, most of our community interaction is via Twitter and Twitch, not via forums or Facebook).
     
  10. sbj

    sbj Well-Known Member

    Ah, so your niche is actually your brand The Noobist. I now understand.

    Well, in that case your forum suits it. You admit that the forum is designed to support the publishing and provide a support/discussion place for your niche "The Noobist".
    Then everything is fine. Yet I can't see from the forum what kind of content your The Noobist brand will offer but as long as you don't see the forum as the main attraction, I think it can work. Of course don't expect that your forum gets a good big community. It all depends on your main attraction. Your Youtube/Twitch or whatever thing.

    You pretty summed up it well in your last paragraph. So if you can offer this:
    it will work out. But I can imagine that this will be really hard. I can't think of a unique content you can provide with your brand and people will enjoy. But you must know your project and its dimensions. It must be a big thing if you want to earn money from it. You say you have a team of 30 people so I assume you know what you do.

    Good luck.
     
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  11. fos

    fos Active Member

    I guess I'm not one of your target audience. While I can work out the site name, "Noobist", it just doesn't make me want to come back. Sorry, I don't like the name.

    fos

    PS. Just my 2 pence worth and probably not worth that much. ;)
     
    taylor_smith likes this.
  12. MrB

    MrB New Member

    Hi...

    Just my tuppence worth: it appears like you're trying to go from nothing to the universe in one fell swoop, trying to be everything to everyone in terms of topics and features. Whilst that's an admirable aim, you have to already have a lot of relevant content and a lot of interactive users to pull that off. Maybe pull back a bit to smaller niches and then expand content/niches as you start growing your user base.

    Note: I'm not saying scrap what you're doing on the social media and SEO fronts. Those are needed to get users into your site. Once they're there though you need to get them to interact. This is where I think you can improve things. Engage your visitors. Finish articles and videos with a question or two - ask people if they agree with your article? Why? What are their thoughts? Tell them to hit you up in the comments.

    To that point you need to move your comments section in your site template to immediately below the story. This will encourage people to reply, especially if they're asked a question at the end of an article as suggested above. At the minute below the article you have the share bar, then two rows of suggested articles with large pictures, then tags, then the previous and next article links in big boxes, then a large author bio, then a row of related posts with large pictures.... And finally the comments section.... Move that above everything else and it will encourage people to post.

    Get people to start commenting on your posts, signing up in the process. Get a newsletter going to your members where you don't spam them. Close the forums for now - then relaunch them once you have 50 or 100 people signed up with 70% of those commenting in a given two week window. Then you can launch it with fanfare on your front page and in your newsletter and will have users ready and eager to use them to create posts and threads.

    When you do re-launch your forums launch with as few sub-forums as possible. Having 12 sub-forums and no users makes your site look unused and so puts people off posting. Have just a general chat forum and maybe a news forum and a contact the staff forum, and they will look busy which will encourage people to use them. You can then create new sub forums for specific niches slowly to make them usable. To help you with all this you can use subject prefixes on threads when you only have a few sub forums. If one prefix starts to have a lot of threads that causes issues with other topics, it's time for its own subforum.

    Aside from that your site is really clean and really smart, and obviously has a lot of great content.

    My final comment is one that I need to be delicate with as I'm genuinely trying to help you but don't want to put a dampner on all the personal attachment you create when you build a brand... On paper I'm probably in your target audience. A nerd. A gadget freak. A gamer. I work in IT. I'm a child of the 80's..... All that said, the name immediately puts me off. I know the intention isn't to call your target audience noob's, but that's how it feels. Just looking at your brand, the takeaway is "it's a site for noob's". Even after I get what your site is really and your intentions, that's a really difficult stumbling block to overcome in my own head - let alone someone landing on your site or has the option of clicking a link.
     
  13. petertdavis

    petertdavis Well-Known Member

    When you say you're not seeing any "growth" could you explain what metric you're measuring? Is it traffic to the site? New members in the forum? Posts per day in the forum? Something else?
     
  14. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    I suppose I meant engagement. But as others have pointed out, our own team isn't really leading this engagement the way they should.

    We're launching a YouTube partnership network on 12 November and already have some partners lined up. Since our forums will be a central place for partner support, I imagine that area of the forums will begin to grow in the near future. We'll see.
     
    Anthony Parsons likes this.
  15. The Forum Heroes

    The Forum Heroes Well-Known Member

    Most what I would sy has already been said above. Also needs a better name. Yor trying to create a sit for geeks and nerds.. Yet they are noobs? Look at any big geek site, they use something techie or funny as the name, but they don't call their members noobs. I'm pretty confident the name is one of the major factors hurting your growth.. If your gonna stick with a noob name, your niche should be just that. a noob/for dummies type site.
     
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  16. taylor_smith

    taylor_smith Well-Known Member

    Seeing some nice growth this month!


    noobist_community_growth.png
     
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  17. Rudy

    Rudy Well-Known Member

    I agree in general with most of what was posted. Today's Internet success is going to be on newly-defined, unique niches. I've tried the "everyone else is doing it" route in the past, and ended up with dead domains.

    IMHO social media is a waste to maintain, content-wise. It's good to utilize it to create buzz (free advertising rocks!), but I use social media only for generating traffic back to the site. If I can post in one place and have links back to that content posted automatically on social media, that's all I need. fb pages are a losing proposition now that fb wants to charge for you to "reach" everyone who follows your page. G+, Twitter and others don't do that; your Twitter followers will all receive everything I post.

    And I agree--stay off LinkedIn. Too many of my so-called "connections" are starting to use it as a corporate-approved version of fb. In essence, a place where they think their witticisms and cutesy photos and selfies are welcomed. I don't like a lot of what LinkedIn does myself (I am strongly opposed to their "pay-to-play" attitude towards job searches), but I am also not about to pollute what others are using, where that sort of thing is not welcomed.

    On my sites, I've never used any SEO other than what was built into software. One of my big boards hasn't had one single bit of SEO tweaking, and ranks near the top of Google for many common search terms. I am one of those who believe the SEO field is too mired in shady "black hat" practicies, broken promises, etc. Just following common sense design practices, making URLs friendly, and creating high quality content with plenty of reciprocal links will do more than anything the "experts" out there will tell you is necessary.
     

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