A common mistake with forums

by Martin Reed on 26 March 2007 in Articles

I mentioned in an earlier post the importance of taking the time and effort to create content on a new forum yourself. If visitors arrive to see an empty forum, they will not feel inclined to join. Therefore it is down to you to stimulate interaction and encourage visitors to become members and stick around.

A common mistake I do see from time to time is when a forum administrator takes this advice a little too strongly to heart. All new forums need as much time and dedication as the owner can provide however when a forum starts to become established excessive posting can actually damage the community.

When I first took over Soap Forum, the community was pretty much dead. The only person posting was a volunteer moderator. People who came to the site would perhaps read these posts, find no other content and move on.

As well as promoting the site, I took the time to undertake a full redesign, added more content and emailed all current members to encourage them to return. A few did just that, however it was important to keep this momentum going. Consequently I ensured I made at least five new threads each and every day.

The forum has now reached the stage where a good group of new and existing members are regularly visiting and posting. As a result, I have reduced the number of new threads I have been making.

The reason for this is simple – I want to encourage the site’s members to start new threads and converse amongst themselves. If people arrive every day and see content made only by me, they will be less inclined to generate new threads themselves.

I still ensure I visit the forum on a regular basis, and still post frequently however I certainly do not post five new threads per day any longer. Instead I now post new threads every two or three days. This encourages the members to interact without my guidance – which is very important if the community is to succeed.

A forum where the only person talking is the forum owner is not a real forum – it is more of a blog! It is essential when starting a new forum that you take the lead and generate the content, however be careful not to hold the hand of your forum for too long.

When your forum seems to have a nice group of members, give the community a chance to develop on its own for a couple of days. If things die down when you stop posting then you know your forum is not ready to ‘go it alone’; in this case simply start posting again.

As your forum grows and develops you can slowly take more of a back seat and allow your members to generate the majority of your content. After all, this is the foundation for a successful online community.

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Sara August 19, 2007 at 11:53 pm

These are really good points. In the beginning I was creating about 5 posts a day…after a few weeks, I have seen taht I can decrease the amount a little bit. Some days the members start alot of posts and I may not create a thread; but instead reply to them. I do keep a notepad with topics of discussion in it so I can make posts as soon as I need to. I find weekends I need to make a lot of posts as weekends are dead.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 20, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Sara – Thanks for your comment. It’s great that you are recognising there are times you do not need to create as much content yourself, but know that there are other periods when you do need to step to the plate and take the time to create new posts yourself.

Kevin Malone January 7, 2008 at 8:56 am

I remember when I read a related article at TAZ forum, and it was advised, as best as I can remember, that you submit at least 4 posts a day. I haven’t taken that rule fundamentally (actually posting at least 4 posts EVERY DAY), but the general idea really hit me, as if I had just discovered the meaning of life (OK, maybe I’m overreacting, but you get the point).

I decided, hey, I’ll post several new topics as often as I can. Maybe not every day, but every few days. Maybe sometimes just one or two. Just knowing that you keep posting content, it encourages the members, keeps them wanting to come back knowing you’ll post something new, and interesting.

I alluded to this method in another post I made on this blog: that of browsing the forum lists of forums that have good discussions, finding ones you like, and submitting similar ones at your own forum with YOUR OWN meaningful input, because, of course, you wouldn’t be able to come up with good new topic ideas yourself all the time.

And the members do keep coming back. They have good discussions. They even feel compelled to start their own topics every now and then, knowing the members there provide good input.

I do delete a topic I submitted if it has failed to accumulate any posts, and has gotten sufficiently old (weeks, maybe), though, so as to not discourage first-time visitors who may be browsing the forum list. They like seeing active topics, right?

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 10, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Kevin – A forum should always contain fresh content. In the early stages, this will often need to be posted by the forum owner. For the new community I am currently developing, I plan on posting about four new threads each day along with a few new posts in addition.

You’re right that first-time visitors love seeing active topics; one way of reducing the number of failed threads is by asking questions.

Mark F March 7, 2008 at 12:45 pm

As the creator of a new forum I’d say this is great advice. I’m currently creating most new topics myself, but am hoping it will change in time, before I get tired of talking to myself.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 15, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Mark – Keep at it! You are going through the most difficult period of developing a new online community. Keep posting, but make sure you take a couple of days off every now and then to see if your new baby is ready to walk on its own.

goundoulf January 13, 2009 at 10:01 am

I think the hardest part in a forum is to start from scratch, when you have only 1 account (yours), and 0 post.

Then you post a few messages. But as a visitor of the forum, I wouldn’t be interested in it if all the messages are from 1 person, and if there are not a few other members asking questions or answering them.

And do you divide the forum in several categories from the start? The problem is that they will be mostly empty. Or just have 1 or 2 categories, and then create more specific categories later as needed?

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm

goundoulf – Start small; just a few categories. Invite friends to join. Get them involved even before the community launches. That way, you’ll have content from day one.