As a blogger on WordPress for years, I already had a familiarity with forums. About a sixteen months ago I decided on creating a new blog/forum. I done this not as a money making venture but as a hobby. I wanted to pursue a hobby doing something I loved doing. There were many limitations to using WordPress so I researched and decided on moving over to XenForo.
My first move was to decide on the subject of the forum. I always knew it would have to be a niche subject in order to attract both readers and even more importantly content contributors.
What I did right was coming up with the idea of supplying information to fellow veterans and active duty members on benefits available to them by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. I was quite familiar with the content I wanted to supply as I was a 100% disabled Veteran and worked for the Veterans Administration in the past. What I did wrong was not know what my competition was. I knew of the couple of national organizations out there for our veterans but never thought they would be my competition. I was wrong. Many of my 400 plus members were also members of the huge competition sites. I was finding my membership would post to the larger sites more than they would my site. Although it was not unusual to see 30 replies to a thread on my site the others two sites were getting quadruple that. It was like the story of David and Goliath, but in this case Goliath won. What I did right was finding a niche …. what I done wrong was NOT narrowing it down even further than I did. I have made references to finding a niche in creating a successful site in XenForo threads so many times and I failed to screw down into the content enough to grab a user base that was looking for a certain content and had nowhere else to get it but me.
After much research, I decided on a domain name of Veterans Briefing.com, and it sounded Good! The word veterans was in the domain, and I was trying to reach the veteran. The word briefing sounded good, I was going to brief them with the information they needed. The domain was also available for sale. Everything sounds right here right? …....... Wrong! The domain name was too vague. It did NOT speak to a direct interested user group. Anyone doing a search for veteran, military or any of the other keywords of my site would always bring them to the much larger organization.
Another problem I had was finding content contributors. Most of the great content contributors wrote for the major veteran site and only from time to time started a thread on my site. I was online so much I felt the site was beginning to consume me. My site was very active, but it was just taking too much of my time and energy. There was no way I could compete with the big three.
I read many threads on XenForo that a new site owner should run his site alone for the first year or so until it takes off. That there was no need for a moderator(s) …. I disagree with this statement. If and when I create a forum again I would not call my assistants moderators, I should have looked for contributors, social media ambassadors. A contributor could have helped with starting new threads and replied to others. A social media ambassador could have left links on other sites, Facebook, and Twitter. Having these positions in place prior to going LIVE would have made a world of difference. If you don’t have positions like this for your site now, I suggest you open them up soon before you get online burn out.
Although I only had around five forums, and they all had related material in them I found they were competing with each other. A member would on average leave only one posting or new thread. Most of the activity on my site was replies or comments. I further found that they would post primarily in the forum that was presently being featured. (using the CTA Featured Threads & Portal). A user would log in and see maybe only one new thread in each forum. If I cut back in the number of forums to say one, there would always by at least five or more new thread no matter what time they logged in. So, I feel having too many not so active forums hurt me in the long run even though having five forums looked cosmetically pleasing. ...
Six mistake (and the biggest)
Burnout! I already talked about this above. If you're starting a new project or you are the admin of a current online forum. Get help! Find someone that likes the subject matter as much as you do and asked them if they would like to help. Do it now before the burnout creeps in later.