Give me 5 minutes and I’ll show you innovation

by Martin Reed on 12 November 2007 in Articles

Innovation is crucial to the success of your online community

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.

Conclusion

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.

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{ 15 comments }

Nicu November 12, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Hey Martin,

Thanks for mentioning my software.

Yes, the software DOES NOT generates original content for your forum. You’ll actually need to modify the topics and posts to achieve this.

One of the reasons I’ve created this software was to encourage users to participate in discussions on a forum that has few or no posts at all. I think this is the main problem that most forum owners face when launching a new forum.

Nicu

Smiley November 13, 2007 at 7:21 am

I agree, standing out is the key! I’m still a learner, but I’m trying my best to match the forums to the site. They certainly don’t look standardized, that’s for sure.

This is my new header I’ve been working on tonight, matching it to the site.

Logged in member:
http://img266.imageshack.us/img266/9615/loggedinpl4.jpg

Guest/logged out member:
http://img117.imageshack.us/img117/4927/loggedoutyk9.jpg

As for that software you mentioned above….. definitely not for me. As we know, members mimic their community leaders. If a community leader can’t be bothered to create content for themselves…. then how can he expect his members to be bothered?!

As I said in the other article, my members only seem to create new threads at the moment IF I’m logged in and they see me creating them. They tend to ‘join in’ on a new thread spree!

The only way to get members to post is.. to post yourself! None of this software malarkey or paid posters.

Amish Handcrafted Furniture November 13, 2007 at 4:13 pm

I would still like to receive some clarification on the very important point raised on IPR issues. Would Nicu be kind enough to address this please?

Online furniture store November 14, 2007 at 3:20 am

I so agree that a forum needs personality. I am personally attracted to a forum that feels friendly, personal and inviting; if the interaction is intelligent and humorous, that’s icing on the cake!

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 14, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Nicu – You’re welcome; I am always interested to hear about new software and innovations in the community building arena.

Smiley – “The only way to get members to post is.. to post yourself!” – I couldn’t agree more.

Ramana – I too, would be interested to hear more about the copyright/intellectual property rights issues. Over to you, Nicu.

Reena – A forum without a personality is like a party without any atmosphere. People will get bored, and they won’t come back!

Nicu November 14, 2007 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for the question Amish.

Here’s an excerpt from Yahoo:

“To comply with the Yahoo! Web Services Terms of Use, you must display a Web Badge or text attribution on your web site or client application if Yahoo! content and data are served from your website or client application.”

You can read more about it here: http://developer.yahoo.com/attribution/

So you’re fine as long as you add a “Powered by Yahoo” statement at the end of each post (the script is setup by default to do this).

Hope this answers your question.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 15, 2007 at 1:27 am

Nicu – Thanks for answering the question that both Ramana and I were wondering about; it’s good to see you researched this area and your software complies with the current regulations.

Hirsutism November 20, 2007 at 8:45 am

Once again a very nice and informative post. I feel there must be contest in the blogs and forums. This makes it more lively and initiates a lot of participation from members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 22, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Hirsutism – Contests can make things lively in the short term, but do you think they can be effective for the long term?

Todd November 28, 2007 at 5:31 am

Looks like a clone of JetConvo. And Since the owner registered at JetConvo before VumPost went live, I’m guessing it is.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Todd – You’re right, it does look a lot like JetConvo. Their website also offers an interesting video showing how the system works.

Eric Martindale February 12, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that we saw a MASSIVE increase in activity as a result of our contest. And, yes – the momentum continues. Take a look at our activity graph.

The first huge spike is November 20th, right when the contest started. You’ll see that even after the contest was over, the activity level continued. (Each point represents approximately 17.2 days)

It really paid off, for us!

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 15, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Eric – I am glad to hear your contest was a success. You had a touch of originality in your competition and it was always bound to be more successful than the ‘highest post count’ or other such contests that seem to be be running all over the place these days.

There is a definite drop in those graphs though – I’m assuming that marks the end of the contest?

Stair Lift Guy June 27, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I think ICO-Content was out even before Jetconvo…

ICO isa bit pricy thought so I am glad to see some competition.

I am hunting for a product like this myself after wasting a bunch of money on useless forumstarter companies, they filled my travel forum with crap about Britney Spears etc…

The Stairlift Guy

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:40 am

Stair – Let me know how you get on. I would always avoid paid forum posting services – they can’t match the passion or quality that you can contribute to your forum yourself.