Nobody likes to see a huge crack appear in their home – it is a sign of weakness and acts as a warning: if you do not invest in the property it will soon crumble and end up as nothing more than a pile of rubble. The same thing can happen to an online forum. Ignore the early warning signs at your peril.
This article will help you identify the top five early warning signs that suggest your forum is in trouble. If you can relate to any of the issues in this post, make sure you take action sooner rather than later.
Early warning sign #1 – No new members
If your forum is not attracting new members, you are doing something wrong. For your community to remain lively, diverse and energetic it needs a steady injection of new users. Furthermore, a lack of new members can also be a symptom of a real problem at your community – there must be a reason why nobody is registering at your forum. Perhaps you offer nothing unique. Perhaps your site is impossible to navigate. Perhaps your members appear unwelcoming. Perhaps your site has no content (*gasp!*).
If you are not attracting new members, you have already pencilled in a date for the demise of your online community. Put simply, if you are not attracting new members, you will only have a community for the short term. Any plans you have for the future might as well be shelved.
Early warning sign #2 – New members not welcomed
Attracting new members is hard work. The last thing you want to do is fall at the final hurdle. An individual has gone through the trouble of registering and activating their account. They have even gone to the trouble of introducing themselves to the community. They are then greeted with silence. Hardly encouraging, is it?
A fresh member is someone that needs lavish attention. They are keen to become a long term member of your community, but they have not been around long enough to develop any sense of loyalty to your site. Make sure that your forum has an ‘Introductions’ section, and that you and other members welcome every new user to the community.
Early warning sign #3 – Members do not know how to contact you
If your members feel they have no say in the community they will not develop a strong sense of loyalty to your site. They need to feel valued and be assured that their opinions are respected. It is impossible for them to feel such a sense of belonging if they are unable to contact the decision maker – namely, you!
Not only should you be clearly identifiable as someone in a position of authority within the community but your site should also provide clear instructions to members about how they can get in touch. People don’t want to search around your site for contact information – how about putting a few words in your signature advising people how they can contact you?
Early warning sign #4 – No new threads / posts
Even worse than not attracting new members, is a lack of new threads and posts. You can have a successful forum in the short term without attracting new members, but if your community is not generating any new threads or posts it will fail in the short term. Community members are impatient people – they may give you two or three chances, but if there is no new content on their fourth or fifth visit, don’t expect them to be back.
If your community cannot generate fresh content on its own, the job is down to you. You need to create new posts and contribute to threads if your community is not yet mature enough to stand on its own two feet. Act now, before members start to leave. It is far more effective to create content whilst you still have interested members than to start creating content once most of your members have left due to a lack of forum activity.
Early warning sign #5 – Failed threads
If your forum has any threads that only contain the opening post, you are in trouble. You do not want any failed threads on your forum. They are a classic sign of a lack of interaction and a lack of any commitment by the forum owner. Quite simply, you should not be allowing a thread to die out – particularly if the thread was started by one of your members.
Failed threads give a bad impression of your community to both existing and potential members. The member who started the thread will be unlikely to start more if they feel they are talking to themselves.
A forum should never, ever contain failed threads.
Of course, these five signs of a failing forum are entirely my own opinion. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the signs I have identified? Have you noticed any of these signs appearing on your forum? Did you manage to fix the problem? How? Do you have any suggestions as to other warning signs of a failing forum?
Please share your thoughts and opinions by submitting a comment below.