I have written before about the importance of making your community different from the competition. If your community offers nothing new, how can you expect people to take the time to register and get involved? People will not submit comments to a blog that posts articles on subjects that everyone is else writing about. People will not join a forum if it offers nothing different to all the others out there.
How can you make your community different?
There are many ways to make your online community stand out. You can simply ensure your site has a unique design – standard forum installations are bland and only ensure your site fades into the background. You are competing against thousands of sites – if yours doesn’t grab the attention of every visitor within a few seconds, you are facing an uphill battle to make your community successful.
My absolute favourite way of differentiating a community is to give it personality. Not only does this make your site different to all the others out there, it is relatively easy to do – you simply lead by example. If you post sarcastic comments, you will find your members pick up on this behaviour and follow suit. If you post in a light-hearted manner, your community will follow. Decide what type of personality you want your community to have, and get posting!
A forum without content cannot have a personality
Of course, without members your community can’t have a personality! To attract members, you have to have fantastic content and generating this requires a lot of hard work. Hard work unless, of course, you populate your forum with content that is not unique.
I was recently contacted by Nicu Zara from vumpost.com who wanted to bring my attention to a piece of software he has developed that can populate forums with instant content. Basically, the software works by capturing content from Yahoo! Answers and then turning them into topics and posts for a forum.
Whilst this all sounds great in theory, I have a couple of problems with this approach. Firstly, I am not sure of the legal ramifications of this – after all, Yahoo! includes a copyright notice at the foot of all pages where this content appears. Secondly (and more importantly), if you install this software you are not creating unique content for your forum. Just as I wrote about using RSS feeds to generate content, such an approach can be beneficial as long as you are using it to complement content that you and your members are creating – not as something to replace it.
Innovative software perhaps, but not an innovative idea for your forum.
Forum contests can be unique, too
As regular readers will know, I do not believe in forum contests. I think they can be effective at generating short term activity, but can encourage low quality posts that may ultimately damage your community. Once prizes are awarded, you will almost certainly see activity drop back to pre-contest levels. Tyler Cruz’s recent contest announcement has further reinforced my opinion on the value and effectiveness of forum contests.
Even in this area though, I appreciate innovation. Eric Martindale recently got in touch to bring my attention to a forum contest he was running over at RolePlayGateway. Eric’s contest was completely different to any I have seen before. Instead of offering prizes solely for those who make the most posts, or who refer the most members (both of which are absolutely awful awarding criteria), he has based the contest on a unique ‘scoring algorithm’. In Eric’s own words:
The idea is to score each post based on an algorithm, so winners will not be determined solely by the number of their posts, but instead will also be calculated based on the degree of worth that they’ve actually contributed to the forum.
Could I soon be changing my mind about the effectiveness of forum contests? I am not yet convinced, but perhaps Eric’s innovation could change all that – it all depends on how the algorithm works, and if the proprietary nature of the algorithm is accepted by the community; after all, people may not be happy with their posts being rated on unknown criteria. More details on Eric’s competition can be found on his announcement thread at RolePlayingGateway.
The aim of this article was to demonstrate the importance of innovation. If your community offers nothing new – if, for example it simply pulls content from other sources, you are unlikely to succeed. Don’t get me wrong – I think that Nicu’s software is an interesting concept, but asides from the copyright question there is a lot of temptation for those who install it to use it as the basis of their community. This would be a mistake – your community quite simply has to offer something unique if it is to succeed.
Eric’s contest shows that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be innovative. Forum contests have been around for as long as the forum itself – however, Eric recognised the shortcomings of the ‘traditional’ awarding criteria and came up with something completely new. For that he should be commended.