[OzzModz] Building A New Forum Following 11 Useful Tips


Well-known member
Commonly people use a forum as the center point for their discussion community. Although building a active forum is no simple/easy task and requires patience, dedication and more dedication.

Probably the least important aspect is what forum software to use, although it is a vital aspect depending on how you want your site to function. Listed below is a list of the most common free and paid forum platforms.

Free Forum Platforms:
Vanilla (Open Source)
Simple Machines Forum
Yet Another Forum

Paid Forum Platforms:
Ninja Post
WoltLab Burning Board

No matter which of which forum platform you decide to use, the most difficult part of building up your community is getting members, and members that stick around and are active. Obviously your forum should be targeting your business niche or target market if it’s not a business site.

Choosing the niche you target is vital for success, and the forums/subforums you create for your future community must clearly showcase the purpose of your community. When you start building forums and subforums you might get carried away with all the interesting things you can create. You dream of your users soaking it all up and posting away about every area of interest you can come up with. Picking the niche area you target is vital for success, and the individual forums you create for your community must clearly represent the purpose of your community. However this is where some lessons can be learnt. At first when you start building categories and individual forums you might get carried away with all the interesting forums you can create. You dream of your users lapping it up and talking away about every little area of interest you can possibly create. This is the first major mistake you can make. You end up with way too many forums and subforums that have no threads in them. Even if you do manage to somehow get potentialy quality visitors to your site, they hit your site and see a bunch of empty forums and subforums and then they move on. The visitors do my feel compelled to join an empty forum.

So now you ask, "how can I go from having an empty forum to one filled with threads and posts when no one wants to get things started?" Well this is a catch 22! The number one thing to remember is that people bring in people. If visitors see threads, posts and discussions they are interested in, they are more likely to join the site and participate in the discussions. It’s hardest early on when you first start the site, but there are some tricks you can do to make it a bit easier. Here are the key pointers I’ve learnt over the years to get through this early stage of a ghost-town forum.

1) Think Small When Adding Forums And Subforums:

Start off with about four to six forums at the most to start with, even less if possible. If you find yourself coming up with a lot of different forum subjects, try and group them together under one forum. In that forum you can create individual threads to cater to each area. This way you are building conversation starters and are making the place look a little more busy. As the forums grow and you have enough individual entries to start breaking down into more forums and you justification for creating new ones. You can then move the existing threads into the appropriate forums and the newly added forums don't start off empty and looking dead.

2) You As The Owner Need To Keep Posting Quality Content:

Although this might seem obvious, it can be difficult keeping yourself motivated when week after week you create new threads and try to stimulate activity and conversation, but you seem to be talking to yourself. Most people get really excited when they first create the forum, thinking of all the great topics that can be discussed. Once everything is done it takes more and more effort to keep writing fresh content as the weeks go by. The only suggestion I can give is stick to it, and don't get unmotivated. Get into a routine of making a few threads/posts everyday.

3) Stimulate Activity With Alternate Personalities

This may seem controversial and a little dishonest to some, but a commonly used little trick you can do to stimulate activity and conversation is to create a few different member accounts each with their own persona. What you do is create some fictional members and get posting in previously created threads and creating their own threads. By doing this you can have full forum conversations between your alternate accounts (just don’t go overboard!). You will be the only one who knows which members are fake, to anyone visiting your site it appears as if your forum is gaining activity and becoming popular.

I have known people that have done this with the site offline, they do this for 6-12 months, some even longer. I have know them to keep dossiers on each account such as age, occupation, sex, personality type, religious and political affiliation. This way when they post as the fake member, they can stay in character.

While this takes quite a bit of dedication because you need to keep signing in with each character and making new threads and posts. It cans be quite a bit more effective than if it was just you making all the threads and posts as your own identity. It can look quite sad to potential users when it is just the owner chatting away to no one other than them selves, but not quite as sad when Howard, Steve, Max, Lisa and Joey are interacting in threads even if they really are only you.

4) Make Use Of Pre-Published Content

There are article sites oit there that have articles that they allow you to publish on your site, provided you follow their terms of use policy that you can find on their site. This is generally saying you need to publish the articles as is, leaving all links intact etc. The authors who wrote the articles make them free because they get can get some decent promotion if their article is widely used on the web. Problem is that since these are free articles they will most likely be found published on quite a few different websites. That said, the benefit of this is you may be able to fill some holes in your forums that you simply don't have the time or knowledge to write them up yourself. Below I have listed some of these sites I have been able to find.

A directory of free content for websites or blogs,

Source of free content for publishers and webmasters offering free submission.

Article Alley
Internet articles covering a wide range of topics.

Article Biz
Provider of free articles, reprintable for websites, newsletters and ezines.

Article City
Database of free reprints.

Article Cube
Article directory offers free content for websites, blogs and newsletters.

Article Geek
Article distribution channel. Authors publish their copyright free articles. Also, a free content source for webmasters seeking free content in the form of articles and RSS feeds.

Article Slash
Free articles directory offers free content for websites, ezines, newsletters and blogs.

A free article directory featuring a variety of categories, free submission and content for websites and blogs.

Site allows webmasters to freely use articles for publication. Authors can submit articles freely.

Articles Base
A free article directory to choose articles and content for websites or newsletters.

Articles Factory
Provides free content to be reprinted on web sites or newsletters.

Free content and reprint articles for websites, blogs, newsletters and ezines.

Expert Articles
Expert articles and tutorials on many subjects. Free content and article submissions.

Ezine Articles
Articles for authors, publishers and everyone.

Free articles for website owners to publish. Printer friendly versions available.

Lady Pens
Articles by women for blogs, newsletters and websites.

Article directory offering articles sorted by categories and free content for publishers.

Offers content for publishers and accepts articles via email for free.

Sooper Articles
A free article directory for website owners and bloggers to publish articles. Content feeds for each category available in JavaScript or RSS format.

Free article directory offering high quality articles on a wide range of subjects.

Unpublished Articles
Site dedicated to publishing previously unpublished authors and their unique articles.

If you can find decent content relevant to your niche and publish it on your site, you have a good way to stimulate activity and conversation while making your forum look a little busier. I would not over do this though, use it sparingly.

5) Minimize Hidden Content

Sometimes owners feel this need that they should hide threads and/or posts from guests, thinking this will get them to register to see the hidden info. This is not always the best approach! It can harm your rankings in SEO terms because search engine bots are not able to see and index your content as guests. Also quite a few of potential members will be turned off by sites that hide content. They will go elsewhere and that will not do any good for you or your site at all. That said, you can hide some stuff such as attachments and downloads etc, as those sort of items may not be found elsewhere and could encourage guests to register.

6) Use Guest Messages Asking Them To Join

Most forum software gives you the ability to display a message to guests. Write a guest message that is friendly and welcomes them to your community. You should also add a few benefits and reasons why they should join the site. Ensure you include a link to the registration page as well. Perhaps tell them that they can do more things like downloading files that are not available to guests.

Now while doing this, you should not use the annoying popup messages, or ones that they may dismiss, and show up again after "X" amount of page views. People will mostly get annoyed with these type of messages and go elswhere to find content they are interested in.

7) Take Advantage Of Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn etc, should not be something you avoide, use it to your sites advantage, make a brand for your site. Post on them at least a few times a day, with links to new threads, articles and such. Interact with people that have like minded interests in your sites niche. Make sure you answer any comments on them as soon as possible, to keep the users interested, and they may finally decide to interact on the site instead of the social media page.

8) You Should Be A Niche Expert And Have A Passion For The Niche

This is really a necessity is if your starting the community from scratch where you will be the sole contributor for quite some time before the forum gathers momentum and is self sustainable. If you start a addon and support site for XenForo for example, and have zero coding skills, and don't know the software inside and out, of course the site is going to be a failure. You need to be well versed in the niche you start the site based on, or at least have someone that is willing to work with you and put in as much dedication to the site as you, if not more. But the problem with that if the person feels they are doing most of the work, and you can't contribute much to the site, they may start their own site, or just leave you high and dry. Being a expert in your niche, or at least having a great amount of knowledge will show members and guests that you know what you are talking about and that they can trust you and your content. It will also allow you to develop more loyal members.

Only being interested in a subject is not enough for you to start a forum! To be able to create a successful site it is imperative that you have a true passion for the niche, otherwise failure is the only path the site is going to follow. If you don’t live and breathe the subject, it will only be a matter of time before your interest in your forum is going to deteriorate. This simply means instant death for your newly born site, and a waste of your time.

9) Do Not Over Staff The Site

Hiring staff early on is a common mistake made by many new (and old) forum owners. Some owners start putting people on as staff before the site is launched and other owners do it after hitting ten or so members. The sad result is the majority of the members are staff, which can put many guests off registering, because they know their posts are going to be read and scrutinized by one or all staff. Although they might not be breaking your TOS or rules, this might still make them feel a bit uncomfortable. It is just like being stopped by law enforcement, although you might have done nothing wrong, it is still can be quite intimidating. The best time to add a staff member is when you are no longer able to read the majority of threads and posts on your site. Don’t go crazy though, only hire one staff member at a time.

It should be noted to hire someone from the inside (members on the site) rather than from the outside (someone not a current member). The reason for this is a current member is more likely to be interested in the sites niche, while someone on the outside might want to be staff just for the power. The first place you need to look is at the list of the most active users, the ones with the most threads and posts. Once you have compiled the list of the 10-15 top posters, then you need to read through some of their threads and posts, to see if they are good quality or just mediocre. Remove anyone off the list that have a lot of one word or one liner replies, or don’t often create new threads or anyone you don’t feel is right for the position.

It is imperative that your staff knows what their job is, it is recommended for you to write a staff/moderators guide that can be sent to your staff, or viewable in a staff forum informing them how to handle certain situations on the site.

Finally, the golden rule to hiring staff is: Never hire someone who asks to be a staff member.

10) Usability

If possible you should get a unique style msde for your site. Now this may not be a option for most due to the costs of having a style made. So you can purchase a premade style and tweake aspects of it to be unique to your site. Should you not be able to do this on your own, ask for help in the community where you got the forum software from.

Consider the color schemes in particular from the usability side of things. If there are any potential contrast issues with the text images etc, get people with different eyesight to look at the forum and see if they find any issues with readability and usability. What ever you do, do not place topic text overlaying on images. Weird colour schemes may seem like a good idea, but for most people they get quite annoying in just a short amount of time.

Don't over bloat the site! If you want members and guests to stay on your site then your pages need to load in roughly two seconds. Research shows that 47% of people expect pages to load within that narrow time frame. If you've tested your sites page speed, and found it be less than optimal, then you need to decide where to cut back on bloat. Images are usually the first area to pay attention to. Are all the images directly relevant to your site? Are all the images optimized to the fullest extent? Are they all really necessary? These are questions you need to keep in mind when adding images all over the site. Less is more, especially when you are trying to appeal to mobile users, which is on the rise and makes up as much as 75% on some forums.

11) Persistance Is The Key

The most important advice anyone can give you to grow your community is to not give up. Sometime after months, or even after years of making new threads and posts, adding new and quality content and spreading the word, you might just find that your forum has grown to have a few hundred or possibly a few thousand members, a decent amount of devoted regulars and no longer requires daily new threads and posts from you. You might finally reach critical mass and your forum moves forward like it has been online for years and don't require too much intervention from you. This is the goal of every new forum because your members have become the best advertising tool you could ever have dreamed of. Word of mouth from your members helps the site to continue to grow and attract new members, thus sparking new conversations, friendships and a bigger sense of a quality community.
Great thread. However, forums to compete with current social media sites, must be more than a forum. People tend to go to social media sites rather than forum, no matter if forums has greater content. But on their answer will be answered way more quicker on social media site than on forum.
Some great stuff here.

...t four to six forums at the most to start with, even less if possible.
And always double check your grammar :)

This may seem controversial and a little dishonest to some,
It is misleading for members who feel they have wasted their time replying to fake user.
You will be the only one who knows which members are fake, to anyone visiting your site it appears as if your forum is gaining activity and becoming popular.
Not necessarily true. I hav had some (albeit clever) members report sock puppets because they recognise patterns in the semantics.

I just find it a bit creepy. Don't you agree mother?

scared janet leigh GIF
Excellent article @Ozzy47 even though I could (and may when I wake up) debate one or two points. :)

Great thread. However, forums to compete with current social media sites, must be more than a forum. People tend to go to social media sites rather than forum, no matter if forums has greater content. But on their answer will be answered way more quicker on social media site than on forum.
Not necessarily, although in some forum niches that is accurate.

A well maintained and well moderated informational or troubleshooting forum, for example, can blow social media out of the ditch, if only because there is so much misinformation, disinformation, and irrelevant chatter on social media sites.
Not necessarily, although in some forum niches that is accurate.

A well maintained and well moderated informational or troubleshooting forum, for example, can blow social media out of the ditch, if only because there is so much misinformation, disinformation, and irrelevant chatter on social media sites.

Here I do agree with you. But that’s more relevant to old forums, new once are very hard to build.
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