An interview with Patrick O’Keefe

by Martin Reed on 28 July 2008 in Articles

Managing online forums

Today I interview Patrick O’Keefe, owner and founder of the iFroggy Network and author of the book, ‘Managing Online Forums‘.

You have been developing online communities since 2000. What was your first site, and what made you get involved in online community development?

My first website with it’s own domain name was iFroggy.com, which was a do everything (or, as much as I could) portal. I loved Yahoo! and was inspired by them to try to do my own (sort of) Yahoo! The first forums that I ever ran were the iFroggy.com forums which were on the free, remotely hosted Everyone.net service, way back in the day, where you could set up a domain name with them and could offer free e-mail, search and have forums and other features.

I don’t know if anything in particular made me want to get involved. It seemed like a natural progression and a good idea to me, at the time, I’m sure.

How many online communities do you currently manage, and how do you keep on top of all of them?

I run seven different forums – SportsForums.net, KarateForums.com, the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums, DeveloperCube, CommunityAdmins.com, PhotoshopForums.com and BadBoyForums.com. I also run other types of communities that aren’t forums, such as YanksBlog.com, phpBBHacks.com, ManagingCommunities.com, DrGregHouse.com, Bad Boy Blog, SodaRatings.com and my personal blog.

One of the main things that I do to ensure that they are all getting maintained is to have a daily routine where I take care of my e-mail, check all of my forums, go through my feedreader and post new items of interest on my blogs and visit the other sites that I do on a daily basis. Having a routine, every day, allows you to keep the pile from getting too big, which helps to keep things more manageable, I find.

What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to successfully developing an online community?

It’s hard for me to say. I don’t know that there is one biggest challenge. There are so many challenges that you face when you manage forums and communities. The more people you deal with, the more challenges you face.

When you first start managing forums, everything is a bit of a challenge. Learning how to tell people ‘no’ and kick people off of your site is a challenge. Learning to accept that people will hate you is a challenge. Managing your time and balancing your life is a challenge. Coming into your own as a manager is a challenge. But, through experience, hopefully you find your groove that allows you to even out the horizon so there aren’t as many peaks and valleys.

With the increasing dominance of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, do you think niche forums still have a future?

Yes, I do. MySpace and Facebook are great. I use both of them. They have their own forums on site, as well, as a part of their overall community. I use LinkedIn, Last.fm, Twitter and others. All great sites, all useful sites. New technologies, buzzwords and systems come, go, stay and grow and that’s cool. But, I agree with my friend Lee LeFever when he said, as part of advance praise for my book, that “Online forums make up the very foundation of the social web.” Forums have been around for a long time and, as far as I can tell, there will always be forums, whatever their form.

I can’t see a time coming where people do not want to discuss issues and topics, get help and support or share news and information. So, I can’t see a time where forums will no longer have a future. Forums have a place and are a great way to accomplish these objectives.

What do you find the most rewarding aspect of developing an online community to be?

When I can stop, read a topic on my forums that I am not participating in, and admire how well the members are discussing the issue, respectfully and with purpose, I enjoy that. I enjoy seeing healthy community interaction.

I enjoy the camaraderie with my staff and leading a team. I enjoy when members contact me and say how great the site is and how it helped them do something. I enjoy being able to give others opportunities through my work.

What methods do you use to monetise your forums? What do you find to be the most successful monetisation techniques?

Advertisements are the primary way that I go about generating revenue, at this time. For most forums, they are going to be the main component. It’s for good reason – they tend to be the best way, generally speaking, for a community to make money. After all, a community is just a website – how you can monetize a website, you can monetize your forums, in many ways.

Right now, we are actually in the process of an ad network reshuffling on the iFroggy Network. I’m planning to go for as much CPM as I can (as well as some CPC stuff) and we’re looking at using Tribal Fusion, Advertising.com, BurstMedia and Underdog Media. As well as, perhaps, Chitika and Google AdSense. Though, we are really trying to shift away from AdSense. I may also try some CPA, though I have not had a ton of luck with that in the past, myself.

I enjoy what SitePoint has done with their marketplace. People wanted a place to post ads and they offer it, with a fee, which is how it should be. SitePoint has a large audience that it should cost money to be able to reach. In doing so, they have created a very sizable income source for their business.

Is iFroggy Network your full time job, or do you supplement your income with employment elsewhere?

It’s my full time job (plus!).

How do you choose a subject for a new forum? Do you only establish communities based on subjects that interest you?

I choose subjects for my forums just as one has ideas, really – sometimes randomly, sometimes out of some kind of focus. I certainly have created forums that were based around my personal interests. I’ve also created communities that were based out of need (phpBBHacks.com) or that I knew nothing or very little about, but thought they were a good idea (KarateForums.com, PhotoshopForums.com). Sometimes, I’ll just get ideas randomly, while I am in the shower or about to go to sleep.

When developing a new forum, how do you attract members and encourage them to interact?

First and foremost, I try to attract people by creating something that it’s worth being attracted to. I want to develop quality websites. I take a very laid back approach to marketing, perhaps due to lack of time. But, I tend to just try to get some people together that are interested in the topic and then ask them to come and discuss it and it grows out of that. I participate where I can. I try to leverage the power of my existing websites to bring people to my new ones, as well.

Describe your typical day – do you visit every one of your communities? How involved do you get?

As I mentioned before, I do have a daily routine. Leaving out personal items, I check my e-mail and handle everything that doesn’t require me to visit a particular community (I take care of those as I visit the communities). I then head to my feedreader where I have folders for each site that I am responsible for posting blog entries or articles at and I go through those one by one, going blog by blog and writing as the opportunity presents itself.

After I have finished with the blogs, I visit each of my forums, one by one. I always first check my private messages, followed by the staff forums. If any posts have been removed, I check the documentation to make sure that everything is in line. If it isn’t, I correct it. But, most of the time, it is. I have great staff members. I then look at the new threads on the forums (looking at all of them or an assortment, depending on the site and activity level). I try to check out more controversial threads whenever I can. I post whenever the opportunity presents itself, as well.

After I get through my forums, I visit other forums that I don’t own (but may be on staff at). I have my e-mail open during this and tend to tackle stuff as it comes in. After that, outside of a few incidentals, that is my morning/early afternoon routine. I then tackle various to do/must do items as the day goes on, as I can, and I check my feedreader once more in the evening, to help keep things from piling up.

What are your plans for the future and what are your goals?

I want to continue to grow as I can and to generate more revenue, to ensure that I am able to continue to do this full time long into the future. I want to focus my network on sites that I enjoy and limit sites that I do not. Even if something is a great idea, if I don’t enjoy it, it’s not a good thing. I only have so much time in the day, so I have to make sure I spend it wisely and that I balance my life.

My book ‘Managing Online Forums‘ is also important to me. I have worked very hard on it, other people have worked very hard on it and I am driven to ensure that it is a successful project. It was a challenge to find a publisher who was willing to take a chance on a book about forums. But, everything happens for a reason. We have a terrific book and if it succeeds, I believe it could open more opportunities for people who manage forums.

Ah yes, your book. ‘Managing Online Forums’ was published in April. What gave you the idea to write a book about online community development, and what do you hope to gain from it?

Managing forums is a passion for me. That’s really where the idea came from – my passion and my experience. I’ve been doing it for eight years and I really felt that I could write a guide that would help people to manage their forums. Both experienced and inexperienced people.

What I hope to gain from it is hard to say. I enjoyed the idea of writing a book – parts of it were definitely fun. It took a lot of hours and a lot of persistence, patience and drive to get it to where it is. This book has been literally five years in the making. A lot of other people worked to get it to this point, as well, from editors to my agent to other people who have supported it. I want it to do well, for them, and for myself. Really, I want the book to help people and to be useful to people, long into the future. That will be the test. If the book helps people, then it will be successful.

Thanks for your time, Patrick and thank you for sending me a copy of your book to read and review. Patrick kindly sent me a few extra copies to give away to readers of this blog – so stay tuned for more details on upcoming book giveaways! If you can’t wait, you can find out more at the ‘Managing Online Forums‘ book website.

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{ 28 comments }

Patrick O'Keefe July 28, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for having me, Martin! :) I’m really looking forward to the giveaway and your thoughts.

Patrick

Mr Woc July 28, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Hi there

Interesting reading and i can relate to a lot of what you say in your intereview, i would be interested to know why you are moving away from google adsense mind !

Woc

Patrick O'Keefe July 28, 2008 at 9:18 pm

Hey Mr. Woc,

Thanks for the comment and comment. :) Mostly related to poor performance, but also some displeasure with some of the things Google has done.

Thanks,

Patrick

Andrew Flusche July 28, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Great interview! Thank you for sharing these interesting thoughts, especially about how Facebook isn’t making all other forums and communities obsolete.

Shai Coggins July 29, 2008 at 3:17 pm

I enjoyed the interview, so I Stumbled it for you. :-) Thanks for sharing this.

Amish July 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm

A very inspiring interview session. Good questions and great answers. I am a bit confused about your comments on adsense and your subsequent reply to a comment above. Surely this affects your revenue?

Patrick O'Keefe July 29, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Thanks Mr. Flusche, Shai and Amish. :)

Amish,

Thanks for the question. :) I didn’t stop searching ads, I’m just trying different ones. AdSense wasn’t doing that well for me, honestly. Not for awhile.

Thanks,

Patrick

Amish July 30, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Thank you for the response Patrick. I am now clear as to why you decided the way you did.

Patrick July 30, 2008 at 4:29 pm

No problem. :) In what I said above, I meant to say “stop serving ads,” not “stop searching ads”. :)

Thanks,

Patrick

Eric Martindale July 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Great interview, thanks a ton! Maybe Patrick would share his social media profiles so I can keep my watchful eye on him?

Patrick really is a solid example (in most cases, at least ;]) that deserves respect in the community management space, everyone can learn something from what he does.

Now if only I could manage to monetize my forums in the same way he does!

Patrick July 30, 2008 at 8:15 pm

I appreciate the kind words and I’m glad that you enjoyed the interview. My social profiles, of note:

Digg: http://digg.com/users/pokeefe
StumbleUpon: http://ifroggy.stumbleupon.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/iFroggy

Thanks,

Patrick

New Blogger August 1, 2008 at 4:37 am

Great interview, Patrick. Lots of good tips. I’m just starting up a forum on my website and was wondering if you had any suggestions for converting “lurkers” to participants? We get a good number of visitors but getting people to register and discuss is a challenge.

Patrick August 1, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Hey New Blogger,

Thanks for the kind words.

Regarding your question, here are a few general tips:

Make it easy for them to register. Perhaps have a “welcome message” at the top of the site that is shown only to those that are not logged in, imploring them to register.

Try keeping your registration form simple, asking for mainly the information that you need and allowing them to set profile options later. This is something I don’t do on my own sites because of how phpBB 2 is set up by default, but it is something I’d like to do in the future.

Always make new users feel welcome. Have an introductions forum and make sure that people are welcomed. Some people have reported success with a “welcome private message” sort of system where every new member is automatically sent a new PM from the administrator, welcoming them to the site and giving them some important links, like the introductions forum, your guidelines, etc.

Make sure that people with little or no knowledge in the subject your community is about are defended strongly from personal attacks. Don’t allow people that know things to push people, who don’t, around. This varies by topic and I doubt you’re allowing it, but it bares a mention.

I hope this helps!

Thanks,

Patrick

Flusche August 2, 2008 at 11:48 am

I am amazed to see that we still have someone who loves forums and has dedicated his life to forums. I still know that my internet career started with forums and I can’t deny their importance. it is difficult to manage them because I forums are always under attack of spam and they are difficult to SEO as well.

Patrick August 2, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Flusche.

I do love forums, but I also run a number of blogs and participate on various social sites, as well. In any case, you shouldn’t be so surprised! :)

In a recent survey, Forrester Research asked over 10,000 U.S consumers whether or not they participated in various online activities at least once a month. “Read online forums or discussion groups” was second at 28%, behind only “Watch video from other users” at 29%. This was higher than “Read blogs” (25%) or “Update/maintain a profile on a social networking site” (18%). Furthermore, 18% said they “Contribute to online forums or discussion groups”, compared to 11% that “Publish, maintain, or update a blog”.

http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/media.html

So, though they may not grab the headlines like MySpace, Facebook and similar to, they are still a huge part of the social space online. :) The “functionality” of forums is incorporated into other types of sites, as well – the major social networking sites have forum or forum-like components.

Thanks again,

Patrick

Schuppen August 3, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Patrick, Thanks for sharing stats about forums and videos. Should we have forums attached with all our site, including blogs? I am confused a bit because my first forum still can’t get any PR, however I have been noticing Google bots everyday there. Is it something normal? Moreover I shall like to ask about forum softwares. I am using SMF but am thinking about VBULLETIN. Someone told me that I should apply VBSEO with it because it is good to SEO.

Patrick August 3, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Schuppen,

Thanks for the comment. :)

That’s a tough question that depends on your situation and what you want to accomplish. Forums and blogs can complement each other nicely. :)

Regarding software, I don’t have a ton of experience with the nuts and bolts of vBulletin, but it’s good to have at least a level of search engine optimization and there are plenty of people using vBSEO, I believe, that are happy with it. I’d say it’s at least worth exploring. :)

Good luck!

Thanks,

Patrick

Nicole Price August 4, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Thanks Martin and Mr. O’Keefe, this interview made very interesting reading. It inspired me to believe that one day i shall be able to give up my day job too ;)

Patrick August 5, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Ms. Price, I’m glad that you enjoyed it. :)

Smiley August 9, 2008 at 5:20 am

Learning to accept that people will hate you is a challenge.

I’ll drink to that. I’ve sometimes sat and wondered “why the heck am I wasting money on these people?” after having nothing but abuse and hatred thrown at me, no matter what I do it’s wrong and they moan, moan, moan… but I’ve learnt to accept that, that’s just how people are!

Liza Ray August 21, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Highly impressive work, you work is great, keep it up buddy

Patrick August 21, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Thanks for the kind words!

Manny Hernandez September 11, 2008 at 8:25 am

VERY good interview. Lots of wisdom compressed in here. I particularly found useful to read about Patrick’s daily routine and his conscious decision to first “… handle everything that doesn’t require me to visit a particular community (I take care of those as I visit the communities).”

Thanks for sharing this!

Patrick September 11, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Thanks Mr. Fernandez. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

Joseph Bennett May 27, 2009 at 3:16 am

I will check out Patrick’s book “Managing Online Forums” This sounds like what I have been trying to find a book on. Patrick if you still read this post, I wanted to ask you was iFroggy.com a success to you? Thanks for your time.

Thanks also to Martin for conducting the interview.

Patrick May 27, 2009 at 9:57 am

Hello Mr. Bennett,

As luck has it, I am still subscribed. :) Thanks so much for picking up the book, I really appreciate it.

As far as the iFroggy Network, it depends on your metric, but we’ve accomplished a lot. :)

Thanks,

Patrick

Daryl Wilkes November 27, 2009 at 9:04 am

patrick,

what a great interview. You have answered a pressing quesion for a new Community Manager…..how to manage your time/make are routine up. I am very new and am just starting to run a Community & time management & routines have been on my mind!

I will be taking your advise & also purchasing your book!

Many thanks,

Daryl

Patrick November 27, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Thanks Daryl, I’m glad that I could help. I really appreciate you picking up the book, as well!

Thanks again,

Patrick

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