Avoid standardised forum rank titles

by Martin Reed on 26 June 2007 in Articles

Back in April, I wrote about how to use forum ranks to make members feel valued. In the article, I detailed how you can strengthen your community and give your site personal appeal through the use of custom forum title ranks.

In this article, I want to talk about the potential dangers of forum ranks and why you should keep their use personalised and customised in order to get back the maximum benefit from this forum feature.

What are forum rank titles?

Use custom forum rank titlesIn this screenshot I have placed a box around the rank title of a user. All the popular forum software programs include the option of assigning forum ranks to users – you can automate the process, or keep it completely customised.

Forum ranks are just another way you can encourage visitor interaction and strengthen the sense of community in your forum.

Common ways of utilising the forum rank facility

Forum rank titles in phpbb

Many forum administrators will setup forum ranks and have them appear automatically once a user makes a certain number of posts.

In the screenshot of the phpBB rank administration section above, you can see the header column entitled ‘Minimum Posts’ – this is where you can determine the number of posts a user needs to make before they are assigned a specific forum rank.

The disadvantage of standardisation

Although the use of forum ranks can encourage interaction and an increased number of posts as users strive to reach the higher ranks, you need to consider the value these posts will hold.

I feel that the idea of standardised forum rank titles can be flawed in many of the same ways that forum competitions are a bad idea. You are basically encouraging post counts rather than post quality – this can be a mistake.

Many users will want to attain the prestige associated with the higher forum rank titles. Consequently they may end up posting comments with just smileys or ‘lols’ – such useless content can damage the quality of your community, but still reward the poster with an extra notch on their post count.

The benefits of customisation

By customising forum rank titles, you will still be engaging with your members and personalising your community. By doing this manually, you will avoid the potential for low quality posts as users will know they are recognised and rewarded based on their overall contribution to the community rather than their post count.

Those with the highest post counts are not necessarily the most valuable members of your community. The ones you should value the most are the ones that add the highest amount of value.


Custom forum ranks reward the users that you feel deserve to be rewarded. When other members see the potential for being awarded a rank title for their contributions, you will often see them strive to achieve similar recognition.

If your community members know they are likely to be rewarded for specific contributions (such as most welcoming member, most helpful member, etc) others will follow these traits, benefiting your entire community.

Have you used forum tank titles? Do you stick with the standard ‘rank based on minimum posts’ or do you employ a customised approach? Do you feel forum rank titles benefit and strengthen a community? Whatever your thoughts, share them by leaving a comment below.

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Richard Knox June 26, 2007 at 8:14 pm

I really enjoyed this post. You guys are helping me so much when it comes to setting up a forum.

I think that forum ranks are a good thing, but you should give out ‘specialised’ ones to the most helpful members, the smartest, the most creative etc. As said.

Thanks again

Martin Reed June 26, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Hi Richard – thanks for your comment. It is really rewarding to know that these articles are helping people develop their own online communities.

Specialised and custom rank titles are definitely the way to go, in my opinion.

Tim June 27, 2007 at 12:26 pm

I completely agree with you aswell, one of the bad things about forums is that certain actions to increase activity have a rather negative effect… (spam, displeased members, …,)

I think it’s pretty good to have a warning on this, though I wouldn’t have minded having this a few years ago :-p

Chicago 2016 June 27, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Here’s a question for you, Martin:

I have a personal blog site on Vox that’s actually about to crack Technorati’s Top 5k. How can I use this to my advantage? Is it possible to monetize a personal blog for which – and this holds true for Vox, at least – no changes can be made to the template? Perhaps this can be a future post for you.


Martin Reed June 27, 2007 at 8:51 pm

Hey Tim, thanks for your comment. Ah, if only I had started this blog a few years ago and shared my views on this subject earlier, eh?? :)

Martin Reed June 27, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Daniel – I think that all blogs can be monetised, just as all websites can be.

I understand that Review Me set the price for reviews you undertake on your blog based on factors that include your Technorati rank.

At the very least you could setup a private page on your blog for advertisers detailing your stats and rates.

Chicago 2016 June 27, 2007 at 9:49 pm

See, Vox doesn’t allow that. Take a look.

Chicago 2016 June 28, 2007 at 12:41 am

Sorry, I realized I’m totally monopolizing this forum! My bad.

Smiley June 29, 2007 at 8:43 am

I also go with customized titles. I used to have the standard per post count ones, but 3 weeks ago I’ve changed a lot of my policies based on things I’ve learnt, both on my own and through this blog!

People don’t post half as much as they did on my old forums because they are no longer posting just to up their post count.

The quality of posts have risen though I think, they are longer and actually have a point to them!



Smiley June 29, 2007 at 8:46 am

Whoops. The above ranks link is too small.


I do have a “VIP” rank as you can see above, for 5,000 posts. But, that stays a secret from users. They don’t know about that.

Martin Reed June 29, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Daniel – Don’t apologise for leaving comments; they are invaluable to the blog and really help to generate new ideas.

Do you mean Vox doesn’t allow you to advertise on your blog, or that you can’t set up your own page for advertisers?

Smiley – It doesn’t surprise me that you are seeing a short-term dip in the number of new posts.

Users will soon forget about the lack of standardised ranks though, and will strive to attain the level required for a more prestigious, custom one.

It is great to hear you have noticed the quality of the posts improve since doing away with standardised ranks.

Oh, and let’s hope none of your members stumble across this blog and read about your ‘VIP’ secret!

Smiley June 30, 2007 at 6:55 am

LOL. True!

Chicago 2016 June 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Both. I can’t even add widgets! Here are my latest Technorati numbers on that blog.

Martin Reed June 30, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Hey Daniel – they sure are some impressive numbers! I am completely unfamiliar with Vox, so don’t want to offer you any specific advice.

If you are locked into their way of doing things, there really is little you can do! Have you considered monetising through text links? I can’t see how Vox could possibly block these!

Chicago 2016 June 30, 2007 at 6:16 pm

I haven’t. How does one do this?

Martin Reed June 30, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Daniel – I will write a separate article about affiliate text links in the next few days; otherwise these comments will go way off topic from the original article about forum rank titles!

Chicago 2016 July 1, 2007 at 1:35 am

Haha, sounds good. You still in the states, by the way?

Martin Reed July 1, 2007 at 6:37 pm

Yup, here for another couple of weeks. Was going to get out to Chicago but I’ve decided to hit the old section of Route 66 in Arizona instead!

Chicago 2016 July 2, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Enjoy it, man! If you decide to swing back out this way, drop me a line.

Martin Reed July 2, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Will do :)

Sara August 19, 2007 at 11:36 pm

Couldn’t you use a mix fo standardized user titles as well as custom titles?

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 20, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Sara – Yes, you could do that. I prefer to avoid the standardised rank titles altogether though as I feel they tend to attract low quality posts – members may end up posting just for the sake of getting their post count up so they can reach the next rank title.

Sara August 20, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Thanks Martin. I just don’t like the standard junior member, member, senior member that is default in vB. Plus the users have been requesting them. I guess i can try it out and see how it goes. I really did like your idea about assigning them randomly and I did so for the first time yesterday. I don’t think anyone has noticed yet but in time I am sure they will!

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 22, 2007 at 12:17 pm

Sara – I didn’t announce the custom rank titles; it was far more fun when members began to notice them appearing just by chance! It keeps the intrigue and curiosity up as members wonder what will happen next!

Kevin Malone January 7, 2008 at 10:34 am

If you have a niche, you can search the thesaurus using terms related to that niche, and you can check out, say, the forum names and the rank titles on related forums for ideas.

Mine doesn’t have a niche (it’s general discussion), so I thought of some odd and fanciful terms that probably make no sense, while some are also odd an fanciful, while having decent relevance to the members, nonetheless. And I made good use of the thesaurus in this venture. For instance, the very first rank assigned to a member is “SD Pathogen”. What’s it mean? Who knows. Someone inquired, another member responded guessing “SD” means “sexual disease”, heh.

Somewhere higher up on the rank chain lies “Resident Lightbearer”. OK, so he posts a lot, and has been active, for to get that rank you have about at least 500 posts. So the terms make sense, resident referring to his membership to the forum, and lightbearer being a reference to his activity, as if he holds the torch for the continuance of the forum’s activity. Highest rank so far is “Fossilized Denizen”. That one probably makes the most sense of all.

Oh, and if you reach the rank of at least “Resident Lightbearer”, you can choose a custom rank in your profile. That’s possible thanks to the user groups permissions in vBulletin.

I’ve listed all my ranks and the posts required to received them in “FAQ/NSFAQ”, a sticky topic I placed in my required reading forum (first forum on the forum index, titled “Requisite Reading”) that is my customized FAQ topic for my forum. I added a message to the top of the vBulletin FAQ page linked on the main menu, with a link to that custom FAQ.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 10, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Kevin – Using other forums for inspiration can be useful, but I would always avoid copying them too closely – after all, you want your forum to be unique!

I love your forum ranks – they are really original and are encouraging additional forum interaction (the ultimate goal of any forum developer).

I would also recommend you throw out some custom rank titles every now and again (as discussed in this article) to make your forum really unique.

Alvina March 17, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Unfortunately, in my experience, these forum rank things haven’t worked quite well. I made an usergroup for regular members, for example, to award the most active and contributing members along with giving them access to their own section for discussion. This has caused a lot of drama, discord and tension, fights for popularity, etc. that made them turn the community into a junior high thing for a while. My mistake, I think, was letting them to apply for regular status and letting the already existing regulars to vote them in or out. As soon as I got rid of this joining system, the dramas ceased.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 17, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Alvina – I imagine the friction started because these members were granted special access to new areas of the site. This is bound to lead to resentment from those not included. Having other members vote in or out others only turns into a popularity contest and creates problems, as you have experienced.

It is also worth remembering that what works for one community may not work for another – the beauty of online communities is that each and every one is different.