Forums don’t have to be popular to be good

by Martin Reed on 18 October 2007 in Articles

Popularity is not everything

When developing your forum it is easy to have only one target – to get as many members as you can. A successful forums needs to have a huge number of members, right? Not necessarily.

What makes a good forum?

It is easy to surf the Web and come across a forum with a huge number of members. Quite often you may be jealous of that site’s achievements. How often do you spend digging a little deeper, though? Just because a forum has hundreds or even thousands of members, it doesn’t necessarily make it a good forum.

Firstly, the majority of that forum’s members may be automated spam registrations. They may even be fake members, designed to encourage people to join the community. None of the listed members may actually visit the forum anymore. All these reasons are evidence that a forum that appears popular or of a high quality, may not necessarily be so.

The reason I am telling you all this is because I know how easy it is to be disheartened when you feel your forum is making little progress in attracting new members. Of course an online community needs members, but it is far better to have a small number of active members than to have thousands of members who never actually visit or contribute.

A good forum doesn’t need a huge number of members. It simply needs members who are passionate about the community, enjoy contributing, and write posts of a good quality. If your community has these qualities, your member count will naturally grow as new visitors recognise your forum as a great place to be.

Work to your own goals, not everyone else’s

The pressure for a forum developer to attract members is huge – everyone else seems to measure the success of a forum based on its member count, so surely you must do the same, right? Wrong! You should always work to your own goals. Your forum is a success if you meet your own goals – not anybody else’s.

Your goal may be to have a friendly, approachable community where everyone gets along with minimal conflict. Your goal may be to get to the point where most member posts are at least 250 words in length. Whatever your goals are, they should never focus solely on membership numbers.

Post counts and post quality are more important than member count

There is no point in having 50,000 members if only 200 of those members actually contribute. In this case, your real member count isn’t 50,000 – it is 200, and you are deceiving your visitors if you tell them otherwise. I am not a believer in measuring a forum’s success by its member count. At the Just Chat message boards, we have less than 1,500 members but have a post count of almost 300,000 – in my eyes, these are good figures for a general subject community.

What makes a forum good is the number of posts each member makes, the quality of the posts within your community, and your forum’s atmosphere or personality. Sure, a member count may be an initial attraction for a first time visitor to your community, but it is the factors I just mentioned that will determine whether they actually stick around.

Next time you are feeling dejected about a low member count, just remember – it is a statistic that hardly matters. Focus on the quality of your community, rather than its numbers. You will then be more motivated and end up with a community that is far more attractive to visitors.

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Education blogger October 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

I needed to read this article! I need to do a better job of improving the existing interaction within my forum…

Matthew Anton October 18, 2007 at 11:15 pm

I agree on most points. Member count isn’t as important but a huge amount of members will usually equate to more posts, but like you said, its all about quality. My forum doesn’t get many posts, but the ones posted are usually high quality.

Hirsutism October 19, 2007 at 5:17 am

Very nice post. I totally agree with you. I have come across such crap forums which have so many members registered in them. It’s only when I joined and started posting queries that I realized that it’s not so informative and helpful to me. I have searched extensively for forums and now after all my trial and error have I got a good list of good quality forums. These forums have good members who are there to help me out with my queries.

Smiley October 19, 2007 at 7:35 am


Member counts certainly do not = a good forum. I do a lot of research and digging, I like to search Google for sites with similar keywords to mine and then I see if they have anything I don’t and see what they’re doing wrong that I can do right.

Most of the forums I come across with loads and loads of members are.. strangely.. rather dead. I can’t figure that one out.

There’s loads of members online, loads of members posting…………….. but there’s nothing intersting going on. All they’re doing is posting in the 2 years old “what are you drinking today?” kind of threads.

There’s no topical discussions going on whatsoever. I’d rather keep my small handful of regulars who are online just about all day everyday posting in real threads, creating new threads of interest rather than having loads and loads of members just spamming the forum with “oh today I am feeling good.”, “today I had cereal.”

Plus it’s much harder to keep a community feeling when you get too big, I never want to be so big that I just don’t enjoy visiting the community myself anymore.

draven October 22, 2007 at 10:18 pm

definitely true.

ofcourse it is in the way you write such topics that you can rate it as good or not good.

and sometimes it’s in the reader’s interest to rate it from 1-10. though you write about the world’s famous topic… if the reader doesn’t have interest in that… he’ll surely rate it as not good.

panama condo October 23, 2007 at 7:14 am

i moderated 3 forums daily and non of them are popular but members are constant steady and love them.. it may the topics are interesting. and yes income is stable too

Online furniture store October 23, 2007 at 11:44 am

I agree with a lot of you; sometimes what a blog seems to lack is just personality!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

Education Blogger – I am glad you recognise the need to be constantly striving to increase the level of interaction in your forum. I hope this article was useful for you.

Matthew Anton – You’re right; visitors to your site are a fickle bunch and will often draw conclusions about the quality of your community based on member count alone. If your member count is low, you need to draw more attention to your forum’s assets – namely its quality content.

Hirsutism – It’s good to hear that you have personal experience of what I spoke about in the article, and is further proof that a high member count does not necessarily make a good forum!

Smiley – I am glad to hear that you are still watching the competition! You’re right when you say that as a community grows, it can actually loose its community feeling. This isn’t inevitable, though.

Draven – Of course, only an individual reader can determine if a forum is ‘good’ – it depends on what they are looking for. Of course, you can determine this by studying your traffic logs – if people are sticking around, then you must be doing something right!

Panama Condo – As long as your members love your forum, you are well on your way to success.

Online furniture store – A forum simply has to have a personality, otherwise it has no character and doesn’t stand out from the competition.

Smiley October 24, 2007 at 3:08 pm

No, certainly not inevitable. Luckily, I’m far, far away from worrying about that. It’s a small, tight-knit community at the moment, un-cliquey, loves new members. Just right.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 26, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Smiley – That sounds great, just keep working at it and keep that community feeling!

Kevin Malone January 7, 2008 at 8:48 am

My goal has long been to promote MEANINGFUL DISCUSSION and a real sense of community or MEANINGFUL INTERACTION. For this reason, I (1) get to know and invite to become members people who I know are contributive, (2) Regularly think of are search for topics elsewhere that have promoted discussion, and to add my own meaningful input, (3) avoid one-time post, one-liner generating polls such as “What color are your eyes?”, and (4) have a detailed rule against spamming and no forum games or spam forum.

And I never understood the desire to inflate the member list. Why show 4000 members being responsible for 50000 posts if you only have 500 members who have been doing the posting? Wouldn’t you WANT to show your guests that, “Look, 500 members have generated this much content! They’re dedicated, they care, they have contributed a lot for their number!” It is my policy to regularly delete spam bots, and any account that has, since the very day of registration to about (for I sometimes give more time) 1 to 2 months later, failed to accumulate a single meaningful post.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 10, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Kevin – You have the right goals; all too often people aim for quantity over quality and that is a big mistake. I prune inactive accounts based on the following rules:

1) Members must activate their account within 7 days
2) Members must make at least one post within 90 days

SocialBang Chat rooms June 16, 2008 at 3:02 pm

As a chat room we’re just trying to get to a critical mass so that when other users go there is someone to chat to

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:40 pm

SocialBang – Ah, you are at the most challenging stage of developing a new community. Good luck!

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