Should you ‘fake’ your forum?

by Martin Reed on 12 March 2007 in Articles

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, one of the things a new visitor to your website will look at is the number of members and posts, and how recent those posts were. Some websites I have come across have attempted to edit these figures to portray a more active community. Some may see this as willful deception, others as a reasonable way to help build a community.

Methods of ‘faking it’ can include:

  • Editing the ‘total posts’ statistic
  • Editing the ‘total members’ statistic
  • Signing up multiple user accounts yourself, or encouraging others to do so

For me, the jury is out as to whether these are legitimate methods to help kick start a community. I have never used these methods on any of my own websites, but that is not to say I would not consider at least the last method.

I would always steer well clear of editing posts and membership statistics. Most users will be able to tell if these have been edited if they spend a few minutes surfing around your website. Once found out, the user may well feel deceived and is unlikely to consider you trustworthy enough to hand over the information needed for registration. Additionally the user may think your website is a little desperate if it is going to such lengths to attract members, rather than working hard to build the community through content and genuine interaction.

The method of signing up a small number of users yourself may be effective so long as you make the effort to create fresh content under each username. Common sense would be needed here though – if a thread appears with four people interacting with each other all with the same writing style, signature message, and all in the space of thirty seconds then your game is up!

I believe that if each username you are using is generating real, quality content for your website it may well be a good way of initiating interaction in your community. As your site develops, you can then retire these alter-egos.

Before deciding whether to ‘fake it’ with your website, put yourself in the shoes of the potential new visitor – how would you feel about joining a community and finding that everything is not as it seems? If you are going to edit statistics or create alter-egos to kick-start your community, think very carefully about the potential benefits and the potential pitfalls. The last thing you want to do is ruin your relationship with your members before it has really begun.

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{ 16 comments }

Yogesh June 6, 2007 at 5:32 pm

I am not a big fan of faking the stats, after all what you are doing is lying to your members. Some might say itís a way to generate more signups etc. but the end of the day, you know as well as I do, this is simply lying. Doing it for the sake of growing a forum or doing it online doesnít changes this fact.

Martin Reed June 6, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Hi Yogesh – thanks for your comment. As I stated in my article, I have never faked any member or activity stats on any of my sites, and am unlikely to ever do so.

I agree that if you undertake such actions, you are basically lying to your users. This can lead to irreparable damage as it is essential for your community’s members to trust you.

If you ever lose that trust, you lose the community. It’s as simple as that.

Melissa Odom July 6, 2007 at 1:14 am

Hello,

I started a new website and have been dealing with all the questions you are answering in regards to content.

My question continues to be how do you get the forums started. I don’t really want to “fake” content. However, if they know I am the one creating all the content, won’t they think no one else is using the site. I am getting traffic – nothing major obviously.

Also, what is your take on when setting up a forum, do you have a couple topics to get people started or is it okay to have multiple topics?

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 6, 2007 at 1:24 am

Hi Melissa – Welcome to the blog, and thank you for your comment. I don’t think there is anything wrong with signing up under a few different account names yourself – as long as you are adding valuable content to your community with each of them.

I would always steer clear from faking statistics though – it is pretty easy to tell when information such as membership numbers and post counts are faked. When you are caught, you will have lost all trust and credibility. This really isn’t worth the risk.

When starting out a forum, start as many topics as possible, and add more every day. Keep the number of forum categories down though – nothing says ‘dead community’ more than a whole list of categories that are void of content!

Kem September 21, 2007 at 2:47 pm

Hi Martin,

This is an interesting topic for me as I’m only just starting out a forum on my site. You’re right – faking stats is plain deception. Then again, that’s how I feel about setting up different user names and posing as different people. It just doesn’t sit well with me, and seems dishonest, so I’m relying on attracting members to the site and its forum.

Thanks for the (very useful) information you share on this blog. Well done and keep up the good work.

Blessings to ya.

Kem

Smiley September 22, 2007 at 1:04 pm

I only do the last one, but only through use of comical characters to brighten things up; the regular members aren’t daft, they know which characters are me – but they love it.

Especially ‘Mr Gay’.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 23, 2007 at 3:53 pm

Kem – I can understand your opinion. I have never registered separate user names to make a forum appear more popular than it is, however I do not see the harm in doing so as long as you are adding valuable content to your website.

Smiley – Examples like you mention are the reason why I don’t frown upon an administrator setting up more than one user name. As long as it benefits the community, why not?

Bollywood October 1, 2007 at 11:25 pm

I thing it could be a bad idea and very useless thing!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 3, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Bollywood – I agree with you. Have you ever tried it?!?

abbigliamento October 27, 2007 at 5:33 pm

faking forum, is not good thing but it usefull for starting your community.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 29, 2007 at 9:31 pm

abbigliamento – Perhaps; have you tried it?

Sean November 5, 2007 at 9:48 pm

I think to get a forum kick started it might be necessary but not ethical to inflate the members’ numbers ans posts. This is nothing more likely to turn vistors than an empty forum.

Kem November 6, 2007 at 6:44 am

I don’t think good ethics/integrity and business success (in this case, building up a forum) are mutually exclusive. Surely there is an ethical way to build up a forum?

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 7, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Sean – Maybe, I don’t like the idea of altering statistics though. If you get found out (which is very possible), your members will instantly lose trust in you. Not a good thing when you are attempting to build a community.

Kem – I completely agree with you. I don’t have a problem with people setting up additional usernames as long as those usernames are used to create content and add value to the community. Faking hard figures and statistics though is a little unethical, and something I would never recommend.

nucky April 19, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Faking it in any of the above ways is absolutely unacceptable to me, especially if you’re in it for the long run like I am. If I caught a forum I visited doing this, I’d be outta there faster than you can say “artificial community.” You might get away with it for a month, maybe for a year, maybe for a few years. But my experience from visiting other forums tells me that these things almost always leak out eventually. And when that happens, you’re community’s trust in you is finished. What if you have a falling out with one of your co-admins, and they end up exposing you? What if a private section of your forum that discusses this ploy is accidentally exposed through some technical glitch? The later this happens, the more it hurts to lose your community.

Brian March 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I think ĎFaking ití is done by a lot of now successful websites and blogs. During the initial phases of a website, it is sometimes necessary to create your own comments or blog posts to get people interested in your site and show them that the site is well maintained. I didnít realize until recently that a lot of sites used fake posts. I agree that most users will know if you continue to fake it over a long period of time and this may turn away a number of potential long term users.