Do you make these community building mistakes?

by Martin Reed on 12 December 2007 in Articles

Forum building mistakes

Building an online community is hard work. For a forum to be successful it needs content, members and interaction. Without content, you will get no members. Without members, you will not attract members. It’s a viscous cycle and one that is hard to break out of. With hard work though, it is possible to make a new online community succeed.

As a follow-on article to my post entitled ‘5 early warning signs that your forum is failing‘ I want to ask all of you whether you’re making the following mistakes with your online community:

Failing to create new content

A community cannot be successful without content. When you begin a new project, it is only natural that you will be enthusiastic and highly motivated. When they start off, most bloggers post numerous times each day, then they lose motivation and quit after a few weeks or months. The same thing often happens with forums. Set yourself targets and stick to them; make sure you have a good amount of content prior to the launch of your site and make sure you follow this through with a regular flow of additional fresh, quality, unique content.

A new community cannot stand on its own two feet – it needs care and attention. You need to ensure that there is a good amount of fresh content on your site to keep visitors and members interested. If you abandon your community before it is ready, it will fail within days. Do not let this happen.

Failing to get involved in your community

One advantage of setting yourself targets to create fresh content on a regular basis is that it keeps you in touch with your community. By visiting the site and getting involved, you have the opportunity to really get to know your members. It is essential for any community owner to be involved in their community and to lead by example. If you want your members to be friendly and chatty, you need to take the lead.

Not only will your community come across as far more friendly and welcoming if the administrator is getting involved, you will also better understand your members and be able to cater to their needs before they feel the need to jump ship and move to a competitor’s site.

Failing to integrate your forum

Many community sites develop over time. Many websites that have become community focussed didn’t start out with this as their intention, and very often this shows. Your forum should be integrated within your site. It shouldn’t appear to be separate from the rest of your site, and should carry a navigation structure and design that is consistent with the rest of your site.

At the end of the day, a visitor that clicks on the link to your forum is not expecting to end up at another site, so don’t make your forum look like it is a separate entity.

Failing to explain the purpose of your forum

It is easy to forget that every visitor to your website will literally give you only a few seconds before they decide whether to even look at another page on your site. Don’t make things hard for your visitor – make sure the purpose of your forum is explained clearly and prominently.

A visitor should be able to understand what your forum is about as soon as they arrive on your site. If they don’t, the chances are they will leave before giving your site a chance.

Failing to be different

If your online community is the same as all the others out there, you will not attract new members. Why should someone make the effort of joining your community if there are hundreds out there that do the exact same thing? You need to be able to lure new members into your site – you want new visitors to your site to find it impossible to leave without registering and getting involved.

You need to be different. Give your forum a personality. Create unique content. Have a unique design. Do whatever it takes; just be different!

Your ideas

Of course, these are only my opinions – are there any community building mistakes that I have failed to mention? Share them and the rest of your ideas by leaving a comment below.

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Agnes December 13, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Thank you for this really good and informative article. I have no ideas, but it is really true that a community builder has to be different like others, and thatīs not easy.


Smiley December 13, 2007 at 9:29 pm

I’ve come to believe that “thinking your site is done” is a mistake, too. NEVER think your site is done. My site is 4 months old in 2 days, you’d think after 4 months a site would be finished, no? No!

I still find something to tweak each day, something to improve. The individual tweaks aren’t that noticeable by themselves, but overtime lots of small tweaks become the over-all look & feel of the site.

Believing your site is ‘done’ will make you lazy, and discourage you from further editing the site — thus a big mistake!

I don’t believe I make any of the above mistakes you mentioned — apart from getting involved lately. This past few weeks I’ve been a bit too busy to spend a lot of time on the net so my members have noticed me disappearing for days, but in a way this has been a good thing. It’s given my co-management chance to shine, and he’s sort of become their favourite now.

The newer regs see me more as mr developer that pops in every now and again and aren’t that fussed, it’s only the older regulars that have been there from the beginning that miss my presence.

Trying to spend more time in it now though, the chat especially, as a popular chat site that has been around for 10 years has closed down, and a lot of their old regs have found my site, so I’m trying my best to impress them and make them feel comfortable.. as then they may tell their other old reg friends, who will tell their friends from the site also, and so on and so on.

I’ve even used your other article information as advice as I contacted this other chat site and offered to buy the domain since they’re closing it anyway. If I buy the domain, forward it to my site.. two tumbs up!

Hirsutism December 14, 2007 at 5:03 am

Very nice post. I think the main key to sucess of any blog or forums is it’s content. If the content is strong, fresh and good then visitors will come back. No one wants to read the same old stuff which is there on many websites of the same type. Everybody is in search of new changes. After all the only thing that is constant is CHANGE.

Daniel December 14, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Amen, brother. Your points are so intuitive, but nobody has common sense anymore.

I think you may be the community-building version of Seth Godin, perhaps… (kidding.)

Now, write a book and call it “Green Goat” or something.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 15, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Agnes – Thanks for your comment. Being different is really important. Just as important is dedication and perseverance!

Smiley – I completely agree; a site is never finished. It’s always a good idea to leave your community alone for the odd day or so to see how it fares without you. It also gives your moderators a chance to shine, as you found for yourself.

You also provide a great example of why it is essential to keep an eye on the competition – you know that a large chat site has recently closed down and are now positioned to take advantage of that.

Perhaps once you have concluded the domain name deal, you could share the name of the site you are referring to as I don’t have a clue!

Hirsutism – You’re right; content is king, but with a community you also need interaction!

Daniel – Long time, no see! How have you been? Thanks for your kind comment – I actually have an ebook planned for the future but am too busy to find the time to sit down and write it at the moment!

Vumpost December 15, 2007 at 8:57 pm

I am having a degree of success with 2 of my forums, but I am not really happy and I think I can do better. I think the reason is that I am not doing anything different from others.
Even though I have original content and the forum skin was custom made by me I still can’t really differentiate my forum from the others.

Besides original content and a custom made design, what are other things that can put your forum in a different light? The only thing I can think of is installing different add-ons or whatever you would like to call them. Anything else?

Smiley December 16, 2007 at 12:59 am

I’ll happily share the name once the deal is done, if the deal ever gets done, I haven’t heard back from them yet!

I don’t want to say publically incase others reading this go and offer them a higher amount LOL. But if they let me buy it, it’ll get me hundreds of new visitors a day.

So yes, good point. Keeping an eye on the competition is always great.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 18, 2007 at 10:00 pm

Vumpost – If you provide me with the name of your forum I can take a look at it and offer you some advice. The most effective way of making your forum different from all the others out there is to have your own unique content. Once you have this (and continue to create it), you can work on developing a unique personality for your forum.

Smiley – Well good luck, let us know how you get on.

Alvina March 17, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Failing to get involved in your community –

I became so involved in my community that when I was absent for a while, my members made me a “miss you” thread. That was nice, but I think too much involvement isn’t good either because the members and especially moderators should learn to manage without the administrator too. Some expect not only the administrator, but the moderators and other staff to be there at all times, they expect them to answer their inquiries/requests immediately and seem to forget that they, as anyone, have their personal, off-line lives as well.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 17, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Alvina – You make a good point; it is important that your community is able to stand on its own feet without you at some point in its development. That’s why it is important to step away from your community every now and then to see how it copes without you. Try weaning your members away from you slowly over time – a developing online community is just like a child. They need to cope with independence sooner or later!

Dan May 10, 2008 at 12:21 am

Total agreement about the admin having to be not just present or visible, but active.

I’m not sure this is applicable in all stages of life of the community, too.. When it grows big, you can’t be seen everywhere.. and most of the energy can be needed on leading/motivating/checking the moderator team.. who then need to become the “vice-admin” to do the very same job… but yes, always someone from the “higher powers” has to be the lead-by-example type of energy on the forum..

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:29 pm

Dan – Being present, visible and active are all the same thing as far as I am concerned. If you aren’t active, then you aren’t present and you certainly aren’t visible!

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