Here is a method that is helping forums succeed

by Martin Reed on 29 October 2007 in Articles

Keep asking questions to encourage interaction

If you want your online community to be successful, you need to engage with your members and encourage interaction. During your community’s early development, this can be difficult to do – with a low member base you may find there is a lack of interaction. If this continues, you will not attract new members, and the members you already have will soon grow bored and leave.

Interaction is vital for any online community

You cannot call your website a community if there is no interaction. You may have a forum with 5,000 members, you may have a social network with 10,000 members, but if none of your members are talking to each other you do not have an online community.

A community is a coming together of people to share ideas, thoughts and opinions amongst one another. Even if you only have ten members, if they are talking to each other, you have a community. A successful community is not necessarily the one with a huge number of members – it is the one with a huge amount of interaction.

If your members aren’t interacting and creating content, you need to do something about it. It’s no good logging into your forum every day and getting depressed that nobody has posted any new content. Have you created any new content? If not, then why should you expect your members to?

The easy method for encouraging interaction

When your community grows, you are able to take more of a back seat when it comes to encouraging interaction and creating content. Until this happens though, you need to take action and work hard if you want your community to succeed.

The most effective way of encouraging interaction in a young or sparsely populated forum is to ask your members questions. I always recommend establishing an ‘Introductions’ section in a young forum – this gives your new members an easy way to make their first post and also gives you (and your other members) the opportunity to get to know everyone who joins your site.

When a member introduces themselves, make sure you respond – a new member will immediately feel valued if they receive a personal welcome from an administrator or other high ranking member of the community. Not only will your new member feel valued and welcome as you and others welcome them to your site, you will also have the opportunity to engage and interact with this new member.

Ensure that your welcome is personal to that specific member – if they leave any information in their profile (such as location or occupation), mention that in your welcome. Ask them questions, and when they answer, ask more!

Don’t take this too far, as your new member may end up feeling like they are being interrogated – however, by asking questions you are immediately encouraging your new member to continue posting. Not only are they responding to your questions, they are becoming familiar and more confident in the process of making new posts in your forum.

Of course, this method doesn’t apply solely to new members – you should be getting involved in as many threads as possible. In the early days of your forum, you should be getting involved in every single one – and in every post you make, you should be asking questions.

By asking questions you are preventing that thread from dying. All too often I have come across forums with threads that contain only one or two posts – these are what I call ‘failed threads’, and they have only failed because the developer of that community allowed them to fail.

Lead by example

You should always lead your community by example. If you are friendly and welcoming to all new members, the vast majority of your other members will follow your lead. If you show a sarcastic sense of humour and love to use irony, you will notice your other members mimic you. If you show an obvious interest in all your members and ask questions in every post you make, your other members will do the same.

Questions require interaction. You could write the best new content ever seen in an online community, but if you don’t ask questions you are not encouraging interaction. If you are not encouraging interaction, you are not going to attract success – are you?!?

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Vyoma October 30, 2007 at 2:44 am

I guess I have been doing this at unconsciously but not enough; and now that you mentioned it, I do see where the threads failed and where it flourished to become long multi-page threads.

Will need to put conscious effort into this. :)

Thanks. :)

Online furniture store October 30, 2007 at 5:58 am

I think i know what you mean, Martin. It was kind of nice that you ask people their real names and then address them by those.

Hirsutism October 30, 2007 at 9:10 am

Very very nice post. This site has been a great site. We must all work together for this community. And the suggestion of knowing the real names of every member is very good. I feel you must know the person to interact with him/her more.

Smiley October 30, 2007 at 12:59 pm

Yes, I have an introductions section, too. The forum only has just over a 100 members now, but 600+ posts guaranteed everyday.

The members love the “interrogation” forum, where they all ask each other questions.

And you are right about members mimicking. It still makes me giggle when I read some posts and see members picking up on my humour and banter… but they do pick the good things up, too !!

Whenever a new member signs up, I rather enjoy going to create their own welcome thread for them in the welcomes section.. but now when I click on that section a member has already beaten me to it!

The interrogate section is full of questions by members, I can’t get a question in edgeways.

I’ve even started noticing an increase in new threads made by members, every few weeks I stop creating new threads for a day or two and see if there’s a drop, and there always has been, but this past few days there’s only been a tiny drop.. but members are finally starting to stand on their own two legs.

So.. lead by example indeed !!

Most of the techniques I practice came from ideas I read here, but some are just the way I naturally am when I have my sensible-head on.

For instance, I like to encourage comments, and criticism. A new member posted a rather nice, heart-warming post in our suggestions section the other day, saying how glad they found the site and particularly enjoy the chat room, and she has some suggestions/comments to post at a later date, but said “feel free to ignore them”.. so I replied..


All comments & suggestions are encouraged & appreciated – it’s the only way I can improve the community Smile

Thanks for your kind words, though, they mean a lot after the hard work that has been put into the community, not just from myself, but from staff and regular members also.

We’re growing nicely for a new site, I am both surprised, and pleased. Anyway, it’s great to have you here; always feel free to speak your mind.”

I can see how important wording your posts in a community is now.

Amish Handcrafted Furniture October 30, 2007 at 3:55 pm

You did that to me and I was zapped. I agree to everything that you say about building a vibrant community. Thank you.

Cricket Videos October 31, 2007 at 1:07 am

Martin i totaly agree. I love your posts keep the good work up.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 1, 2007 at 1:04 am

Vyoma – Recognising and identifying failed threads is the first step towards combating them. It is relatively easy to intervene and ask questions to keep threads alive – I hope you give it a try and report back with the results.

Reena – I love to know the names of people I am talking to; it reminds me that they are real human beings and it helps develop a relationship.

Hirsutism – I am glad you have been enjoying the blog; I still don’t know what your real name is, though! Care to share?

Smiley – 600 posts a day is absolutely fantastic for a new forum with only 100 members; you should be very proud of your achievements.

I love the idea of an interrogation section – this has the potential of generating loads of content by keeping member interaction going.

Ramana – It’s nice when we are addressed by our real names, eh? Do you have an online community in which to practice the techniques I have mentioned in this article?

Cricket Videos – Thanks for your kind comment, what is your real name?!? I think I may have to change the comments form here so people can insert keywords for their sites but also declare their real names!

Wedding cake lady November 1, 2007 at 4:11 am

great tips..
I heard these days there are companies which you pay and they post hundreds of fake subjects in a forum.
Wonder if it actually helps to get things started.

Online furniture store November 3, 2007 at 3:19 am

That’s what spamming is all about i guess, wedding cake lady. I also wonder how much good it does anyone.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 5, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Wedding cake lady – I think you are referring to paid forum posters. I have already written about my thoughts on these services. In summary, I think if you need to pay others to post on your forum then you may not have the necessary passion for your community to make it succeed.

What is your real name, by the way?

Reena – I wouldn’t go so far as to say paid forum posting is tantamount to spamming, as long as it adds real value to the community it could actually be beneficial.