Add depth to your online community for success

by Martin Reed on 29 August 2008 in Articles

Add depth to online communities

What does your online community consist of? If you have a forum and nothing else, you may struggle – particularly if your site is brand new. Competition amongst online communities is fierce, and the vast majority of new sites will fail. You can give yourself a far better chance of success by adding depth and substance to your online community.

What do you do differently?

There is nothing wrong with a community site consisting solely of a forum – after all, a community is merely a medium in which people can communicate. If your site is new though, your site needs to offer something unique in order to attract new members. You need to create content, develop a personality for your community and make it look different.

Established sites already have a huge bundle of content which will attract new members and retain older ones. How can you compete against these sites?

Online communities can be much more than just forums

My largest online community, Just Chat, is more than a forum. It has live chat rooms, an email postcards facility and an email penpals section. This helps make my site more unique, and makes it more engaging for new visitors and existing members. You want to add as much value as possible to your online community in order to make it appealing. Don’t add sections to your site just for the sake of adding them – make sure that you only add content and additional functionality that your visitors and members will find useful.

Adding an article section to your community, or publishing articles within your forum is an approach I highly recommend. Not only are you creating content for your visitors and members, you are also creating content that the search engines will crawl and index. Once in a while you may find that an article you wrote ends up ranking highly for a specific search term, which brings you a sudden surge of traffic – just make sure your site is ready and optimised to ensure the highest conversion rate of visitors to members as possible.

Traffic isn’t the most important factor

You can receive thousands of visitors per day but have hardly any members. Visitors to your site will not register unless you have high quality, compelling content. As your community becomes more established your visitors will create this for you (at least, they should). Until then, you are on your own.

Don’t think that because you aren’t attracting a high number of visitors on a daily basis you have no chance of success. Work on optimising your community – make it unique, and never stop adding value. Write articles and post content yourself. The more your community offers to visitors, the higher your conversion rate will be and the more your members will give back.

Your thoughts

Does your online community offer anything in addition to forums? Do you publish articles or create content yourself? Has this helped your community be more successful? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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{ 19 comments }

Michelle August 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Yes, this is definitely a chicken / egg problem that I’ve been struggling with for some time. It’s really hard to get people to talk on an empty forum and I get tired of talking to myself. I don’t have a lot of time to add other content myself so I paid one of my members to fill in the event calendar that had been languishing. That brought a bunch of visitors. Not much in the way of conversions, though. I still need to work on that. :)

Michelle

Smiley August 30, 2008 at 4:27 am

I agree, you need much more than simply a forum.

I’ve got the live chat rooms which have different features that people like, notably; picture sharing.

The forums have blogs, music sharing, arcade games and people can keep their own lil forum pet… it adds a couple of extra features and people like them.

The forum has ‘tokens’ of course, the more someone posts the more tokens they get, and they use these tokens to download MP3 files or compete against other members in the arcade so it encourages interaction.

You know my ambition right now is to add profiles to the site. Once I’ve done that I can then use my next revenue to pay someone to slap it all up together in one neat little package.. the forum SQL is huge so I can’t figure out how to restore it elsewhere.

Amish August 30, 2008 at 10:56 am

The more I think about it and the more I read about how much time it takes to get a forum or community off and running, the more disheartened that I am getting and also acquiring cold feet!

Mr Woc August 31, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Hi there

Many sites do fail, the main reason they fail is because the owners give up on them when the going gets hard, also there is a kind of feeling among people that their site is going to be the next facebook or myspace, and they are going to be millionairs over night.

This of course hardly ever happens so once people realise its going to take hard work they give up trying, many sites have to work really hard to succeed, also you have to work long hard says, talking to youself for the most part when u first start your community.

You have to try to make ur site unique, with plenty of things for people to do that complment each part of the site, many people just add loads of different things for people to do willy nilly, thinking the more you have the better, this is quite wrong and confusing to people !

I agree that traffic isnt alway the most important factor, its about gettiing quality traffic, still hte more hits you get the more chance you got to succeed.

Woc

Amish September 1, 2008 at 2:54 pm

A friend of mine and I together are struggling to launch a community for sharing car rides. One would imagine that this will be a fairly simple community with people willing and wanting to participate. The big problems we have been facing is not funny. We are trying to keep it going but very often, it is quite frustrating and we feel like throwing the towel in.

Nicole Price September 2, 2008 at 8:51 am

It can be very daunting indeed, which is why i am just sticking right now with just writing a blog. :)

Wakas Mir September 3, 2008 at 10:23 am

I have managed a fairly large community on crazefm.com .. I am always tested turning off and on some features and see the spike go up and down of new users registering. Have online pets, youtube video collections, 3d chat, forum etc etc.. so yes too much is too much but have kept a line on some things that keeps users coming. :)

Ray September 5, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Over the last few years I have been concentrating on domaining (buying/ selling domain names) but I have always wanted to set up my own discussion forum. I have probably read every single post on this site at least once – I suggest everyone who wants to build a popular forum does the same.

Community Spark has give me the confidence I need to start developing a successful city visitor site for Manchester, a city of around 450,000 people in the north of England. It has not been launched yet but it will have 20 html pages as well as a discussion forum. This weekend I plan to add content to the forum itself and start promoting it properly over the next few months. I am also writing articles (with a link back to my site) for inclusion in article directories as I think this will help generate traffic, as well.

Obviously, success is never guaranteed but I think that, by applying what I’ve learned here, I will have a good chance of building a popular, successful forum.

Thanks,

Ray

Ryan Clark September 6, 2008 at 7:37 pm

I know many communities who only have forums and they are most successful on this planet( I shall like to mention DP). On the other hand there are very unique services which costs high but still they are very successful communities around. I like all your services on site justchat but to be very frank, it is not an easy task to keep your forum clean and secure. Perhaps we need moderators and a very strict criteria to handle all this.

Mobius September 6, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Its all about determination and passion then someday you will succeed. Most things don’t come overnight. Just have to be patient. And yes having just visitors isn’t enough, although initially you want to have alot just for exposure sake. Having QUALITY visitors that will become members is for the long term success of online community

Smiley September 8, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Yes but they were established before there was fierce competition, Ryan. In this last few years the internet has grown to massive proportions. There’s just so much competition out there now that you need to offer something different, to the already “most successful communities”. Since you have admitted these have ONLY forums, that something different is……………….. well the point of this article, really.

John Walters September 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm

I agree with you when you say a lot of traffic isn’t the important thing. It’s similar to everything else you do on the internet. Say I had a website with a million visitors a day. These visitors load up my page for 2 seconds then leave. Anyone would much rather have 5 visitors a day who visit for 10 minutes or more.

Traffic is just a number and does not give you the full details as to how your site is doing. Do not judge a site by how much traffic it gets!

John

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 9, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Michelle – You need to figure out how much your event calender is actually used. Who knows, you may be paying someone to update a part of the site that nobody uses or accesses. If you don’t have time or motivation to add content, you really need to get someone else to do it.

If you are having a problem with conversion rates, perhaps you need to do some site testing. Get people you don’t know (or ones you do who will be honest) to look at the site. Ask them if they would register, if so why and if not, then why.

If there is something holding back visitors from registering, you need to address it sooner rather than later.

Smiley – It certainly sounds like you have a lot of depth in your community, just make sure you aren’t inundating your members with features they aren’t interested in. I am a little concerned to hear the words ‘download MP3′ in your comment – I hope you aren’t referring to copyrighted music.

Amish – Don’t get disheartened; that is certainly not my intention. Instead, I want people to recognise and understand the challenges involved in developing successful online communities so that readers of this blog will have a greater chance of success.

How are you promoting your car pool community? I would imagine it is a local site? If so, this sounds like the kind of site that would do extremely will with offline advertising as well as highly targeted online promotion.

Mr Woc – I completely agree. You don’t need a huge number of flashy features that people don’t want, and you don’t need thousands upon thousands of daily visitors. Instead you need useful features, and quality traffic (of course these are only two elements that help make a successful community). Determination to succeed is also a very helpful attribute to have!

Nicole – Ah, but a blog is an online community too, remember?!? ;)

Wakas – Continuous testing and monitoring is always a good idea. Turning off a feature completely is a bit extreme, but I guess it worked out for you!

Ray – Thank you for your kind words, it is very rewarding to know that this blog has affected you in such a positive way. It sounds like you are off to a great start with your new online community. Good luck with it, and don’t forget to keep us updated with its progress and development.

Ryan – Communities can be successful solely as forums, but it is a far more difficult task! Why make things harder for yourself? By adding depth you become more unique and can offer more value. Online community moderation is most definitely needed, and you will find quite a few articles about that subject on this blog.

Mobius – Determination and passion; perhaps the two most important requirements an individual needs to be successful in developing online communities!

John – I completely agree. So many people judge whether a site is successful by arbitrary measurements like traffic levels. Quality is more important than quantity.

Smiley September 10, 2008 at 1:24 pm

“Please avoid uploading copyrighted material

FC management cannot & will not take responsibility for any tracks uploaded to this feature. If a track needs to be removed from this music feature due to legal reasons then please contact us and we will be happy to comply.”

Angela Connor September 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I contribute a ton of content to my online community. GOLO. I agree with you that it’s important and the more involved you are with the community, the better off it will be. As the manager, your presence is felt and most times it’s appreciated. On days that I feel we don’t have enough quality content, I go into overdrive. But it isn’t unexpected because I contribute even when there is an abundance of posts. Our users can blog, create and join groups and upload image galleries. Our conversations take place in the blog comments areas as opposed to forums, though we may add that feature. Once we do that, people will appreciate a different format and I think they will drive different discussions.

Mark September 24, 2008 at 2:55 pm

I just created my online forum 18 days ago with 26 registered member but only two members has posted messages once,i dont know what to do to make most of my members to post,but i have already registered four users name with am using to post.I will like to know what to do to stimulate my members to post.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 28, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Smiley – Ha, well as long as you are comfortable with it! The last thing I want to do is lecture!

Angela – You make some good points. It is important for the staff members of a community to be visible, and willing to contribute to the community. I love the fact that you step to the plate and create quality content yourself if you feel that your members are ‘slacking’ ;)

Blog comments are a great way of developing a sense of community before going all out and launching forums. I think you are definitely taking the right approach by developing that area of your community first.

Mark – I just took a quick look at your site, and can tell you immediately why nobody is posting. You have no content!

FunkyBug October 1, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Nice content Martin. Keep it up, but just one question.

I was just wondering, wouldn’t the addition of chatrooms etc refocus the members attention away from the forum, which causes the lack of activity on the board?

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Funkybug – Sure, chat rooms may refocus attention away from your forum, but would that necessarily be a bad thing? As long as they are on your site and not the sites of your competitors then what is the problem? Of course, if the forums were your main focus and goal for success then you wouldn’t want to add a different community feature – but saying that, surely it doesn’t matter what section of your site visitors and members are interacting on, as long as it is on your site?!