5 early warning signs that your forum is failing

by Martin Reed on 22 November 2007 in Articles

Is your forum failing?

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.

Your thoughts

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.

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Mathew November 22, 2007 at 9:31 pm

About the “failing threads” point : How do you combat the situation where you have to keep making new threads to get new content, but also get members interested in posting in the current threads?

Jeff November 22, 2007 at 9:54 pm

This all becomes void if it’s a personal forum for a group of friends.

poker blog November 23, 2007 at 12:43 am

One gold tip is to put downloadble thigns only to registered members, and spread the link in other forums

djahna November 23, 2007 at 1:36 am

I definitely agree with the signs you’ve identified. Especially with the part about new members. They are the type who are basically testing the waters. So make sure it will make them want to stay longer,,

Online furniture store November 23, 2007 at 4:16 am

All the points you made above would point to disinterest on part of the blog-owner and that is something that will easily be communicated to the forum members. Then you’re on the slippery slope downhill i guess.

Smiley November 23, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Been playing on my new motorbike all this week so not had time for the internet, I logged on today to, happily, find that my forum has finally grown enough to stand on its own two legs. Posts have still fallen, but it’s still guaranteed to get 300+ posts per day, and everyday there is a new member now.

inchirieri masini November 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm

I always wanted to start and run a forum but I got scared of the huge task ahead of me. Reading your article reminded me how hard and frustrating can be developing a forum.

Andrew November 23, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Some pretty good points.

satellite tv November 24, 2007 at 12:42 am

U can also give like points to members, and add a shop. In some forum that works

pentarch_paladin November 24, 2007 at 6:59 am

I agree with this, although it should be said that for all of these, it only applies if each of these items can be seen in excess. e.g. a large number of one-post threads.

Yogesh November 24, 2007 at 9:04 am

Totally agree with you, I see so many forum admins complaining in webmaster forums that no one is joining their forum and yet when you go to their forums, you find that there isnít even a single thread in some of the sections! And when you mention this to them, they reply that they donít have enough time to start a thread!

If forum admin him/herself canít post then why would any one else?

In my view it is the apathy of the forum admins toward their forums which kills them.

Houston Alexander November 24, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Fresh topics must be there and spam must be removed immediately. I have had forums die due to spammers. thanks Ted

NewLifeFromHeaven November 25, 2007 at 12:50 am

Your post has encouraged me to redouble my efforts at infusing energy into my forum. Thank you.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 25, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Mathew – Quite simply, you need to make sure that your threads become engaging and interesting enough to retain the interest of your members. Don’t forget that it is quite natural for threads to run their natural course and end – after all, a forum would be completely unmanageable if every thread stayed alive indefinitely!

Just be sure that every thread has a chance at success – make sure you encourage posts (and write posts yourself) that ask questions and encourage continued interaction.

Jeff – I have to disagree. Whether your forum is for the entire online community, or just for a small group of personal friends you still want it to be a success. Put simply, you can’t have a successful forum for the long term if you ignore the warning signs I have identified in this article.

poker blog – It depends what you are offering for download. If this is your sole strategy for attracting new members, you are likely to see people register for the downloads then leave and never contribute to the community. Hardly a winning formula!

djahna – I like the way you describe new members as visitors who are ‘testing the waters’. That is precisely what they are doing and if you don’t work to reassure them they have made the right decision in joining your community, they will soon leave.

Reena – You are right that many of the signs I have identified are symptomatic of a lack of interest by the community owner. This isn’t always the case though – it is all too easy to fail to recognise the early warning signs of a dying community; particularly if you are busy creating content, content and more content!

Smiley – 300 new posts a day is a fantastic achievement for such a young community. Congratulations, and be safe on that motorbike!

inchirieri masini – Building a successful forum is a huge challenge, but don’t let that put you off. If you are determined to succeed and have the motivation and commitment needed, then go for it. Developing a successful online community is hugely rewarding.

Andrew – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the article.

satellite tv – I have seen the ‘points’ system used on many forums but have not used it on any of my own communities. I think this very much depends on your audience – for example, if your community is gaming related you could adopt a points system whereby people can win and lose points based on their performance in online games.

Have you used this system?

pentarch_paladin – You’re right; a few short threads does not necessarily indicate the inevitable failure of a forum, however the signs I have identified should be checked regularly. It is far easier to turn around a failing forum than one that has already failed.

Yogesh – I couldn’t agree more. I regularly read Webmaster forums and see the same threads time and time again. Put simply, if your forum has no content then it will fail. If you don’t have the time to create content for your forum, then don’t set one up in the first place!

Houston Alexander – Keeping on top of spammers is essential. It not only gives a bad impression of your community: it can also completely destroy your reputation.

NewLifeFromHeaven – I am flattered to read that this article has inspired you to redouble your community building efforts! Good luck, and keep me updated with your progress.

Shopping malls and Wedding ideas November 25, 2007 at 1:49 pm

The best thing is to create relationships with other forums, in my opinion friends are THE supoport on internet proyects

Mad November 25, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Really I need more members

Anchor Life Quotes and Sayings November 25, 2007 at 10:20 pm

What about paying for posts? is not the best way but It works in the first days of a forum.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 25, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Shopping malls – There are many benefits to creating relationships with other forums; as long as you aren’t getting involved in those ridiculous ‘post exchanges‘.

Mad – Well get to work creating content and marketing your site, and those visitors will come! Good luck!

Anchor – I still haven’t made up my mind about paid forum posting yet. I feel that if you are unable to create enough content yourself, perhaps developing an online community is not right for you.

Smiley November 26, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Thank you, I shall stay safe.

I haven’t been on since yesterday morning. Logged on today to find 6 new members and over a 1,000 posts. It seems my community doesn’t need me as much as it used to. It’s kinda sad in a way, I feel a little left out of my own community. Is this normal? I wish I had time to be on all day again, but I just don’t.

But, the point was, I believe mine is suddenly growing out of the blue because I took notice of the very 5 points you gave in this article. So I would recommend that everyone who is planning to become a success to take notice of your advice in this article, and of course, all your articles!

Mathew November 27, 2007 at 12:09 am

You could take a more relaxed approach to your community, but keep a close eye on what’s going on and make sure you listen to your members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 27, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Smiley – I think it is only natural to experience a pang of sadness that your community is beginning to stand on its own two feet; it must be just like when your child grows up and leaves home! That’s not to say you no longer need to be involved – your community will still love to have you involved, so make sure you keep interacting with your members.

Mathew – I couldn’t agree more; you should always listen to your members; they are the most important part of your online community.

Smiley November 27, 2007 at 3:01 pm

I will. I’ve tried making time today to sit in the chat room and greet new visitors. But yes, you’re right. It’s kind of sad when you login, to find you have new REGULAR members that you don’t even know !!

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Smiley – Don’t be sad about such a thing; it’s a sign of success!

Scambio Link December 1, 2007 at 1:48 pm

I’ve tryed many time to start a forum .. with huge posts but i never had success. forum fail because nobody register to it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 1, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Scambio Link – If you are creating content on a daily basis but not attracting new members, then your content is probably not good enough. You also need to undertake promotional activities – if all you do is build it, people will not automatically come!

laser tv March 24, 2008 at 7:23 am

Number 4 is the big one to me. I know within 5 seconds of looking at a forum if it is failing or not by the lack of recent threads. Most forums, sadly, die out. When you don’t see any new threads in a week, it’s dead.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 24, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Laser – It is essential for forums to be kept up-to-date. A drop in activity means a drop in the forum’s perceived value by members and visitors alike.

A continued drop in activity will put a forum into a decline. The good news is, it is possible to turn around a failing forum but it is best you don’t reach that point in the first place!

Wohin June 27, 2008 at 10:14 am

And you need members who want to write something. I guess thet 99% will read a thread but only 1% writes something down..

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:41 am

Wohin – A community full of non-posting members isn’t a community. You need to work hard to encourage interaction – a great way of doing this is by asking questions.

chris July 21, 2008 at 6:27 am

This was a great read! Thank you very much for sharing.

The biggest one that sticks out to me is #4. When I go to a forum and see no new threads, or very few, I just don’t hang around. I’m sure that most people do the same. Having new threads every day/ hour/ minute is just huge, and it really can’t be understated.

#2 is crucial as well. It also makes me wonder when I join a forum and introduce myself, and no one greets me. That’s not a good thing at all. A good community goes out of its way to greet new people, just like in real life.

AA++!! Great post. I will certainly keep these points in mind in my new adventures (trying to create a community as we speak). Thanks.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 23, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Chris – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found the article useful :)

Kel August 13, 2008 at 4:18 am

I’ve only recently started a forum although it’s my second attempt at one. It’s hard not become discouraged but I’m a stubborn Taurus so I’m not going to give up that easily.

If your planning on running a forum you need to have the motivation to keep at it. That’s why so many people fail, because they expect it to build itself.

Smiley August 14, 2008 at 12:27 am

Agreed, Kel.

What I have witnessed with new sites is, when they are launched they do get a sudden influx of new users. Friends, acquaintances of friends, regulars from other sites — they all come and sign up, join in, suck up, hoping to get staff status, come to be nosey, check out the site etc — this lasts, in my experience, for around 3 months.

Around the 3 month mark, the site dies down and goes quiet and you’re left with only 3 or 4 regular users as the site’s novelty ‘newness’ has worn off and everyone goes back to their usual digs.

This is the point where most people shut their site down, or leave it to crash and burn on its own. They think “oh, the site’s died. Give up” – I went through this site myself. I suddenly went from 15 regular chatters simultaneously to.. 4! But I kept at it, I kept my very few members happy, kept encouraging them, kept getting them involved.. and eventually we started getting found through Yahoo and Google.. so we got genuine new users — which is what you want, really.

Around the 8 month mark is where you’ll see proper progress. It’s a long wait, but a worthwhile one. All my current regulars are genuine newbies that have found me through search engines. All the original ‘regulars’ I used to have when I first started came from other sites, either from Chatagogo or Just Chat they came from.. they’ve gone back to their original digs and I now have my own regulars, with its own atmosphere, its own banter, its own feeling.

…Because I simply kept it chugging along after that initial, inevitable ‘dip’ that all communities will suffer after a few months.

Jon August 29, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Been digging through a lot of your posts here on communityspark and just wanted to say thanks for all of the great articles. Hopefully I won’t have to experience a failing forum, but it’s still too early to tell for my new project.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Kel – That’s what I like to hear. Don’t give up, remain focussed and committed, and work hard. You’ll get there.

Smiley – Some great advice there. Thanks for sharing your experience; it’s truly inspirational.

Jon – You are more than welcome, Jon. I am glad you are enjoying the blog :)

Jason May 7, 2009 at 8:48 pm


My forum has always been slow but it seems to be getting better.. I’m hoping a Post Bomb for the month of June (With the winner winning money) will perk it up for now.

But the future is blank.. :(

Edward August 14, 2009 at 10:31 am

#2 is the most important sign IMHO because it almost always comes before the others (losing members, etc). It’s a failing of the sense of community, which is really all that a (good) forum is.

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