Managing Online Forums: Book review

by Martin Reed on 8 December 2008 in Articles

managing online forums

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book. However, this is an unsolicited and unsponsored book review that is completely of my own opinion.

I often receive emails from readers asking me if there are any books they can buy which offer advice on how to build online communities. My answer always used to be the same – I didn’t know of anything out there that was reasonably current or relevant; either in print or eBook form. I had always thought of writing an eBook myself, and may still do if I manage to find the time. Fortunately, thanks to Patrick O’Keefe there is now a book available to purchase that will help you successfully manage your online forum.

Patrick has been managing online communities since 2000. He is the founder and owner of the iFroggy Network, an Internet network featuring several communities, including and He has also written a guest article for this blog titled, ‘Why making all of your forums private is a bad idea‘ and I had the pleasure of interviewing him in July.

Managing Online Forums should be considered essential reading for both experienced community managers and those that are new to forum management.

The book is organised into the following chapters:

  • Laying the groundwork
  • Developing your community
  • Developing guidelines
  • Promoting your community
  • Managing your staff
  • Banning users and dealing with chaos
  • Creating a good environment
  • Keeping it interesting
  • Making money

Convincing arguments

Experienced community managers and developers may not agree with everything Patrick has to say in the book -myself included. For example, Patrick prefers lengthy, comprehensive community guidelines. I would always argue that the longer you make them, the less likely they are to be read – therefore I prefer them to be shorter and less detailed.

For every point Patrick makes though, he gives a reason. He justifies his point of view convincingly, which gives you confidence in what he has to say. He even won me over on a few points – for example, with his explanation as to why you don’t want a feedback and suggestions forum. When I saw the title I immediately frowned and shook my head. After reading the section, I was converted and the suggestions forum was removed from Just Chat.

Authoritative but not dictatorial

One of the things I love about the book is the way it doesn’t claim there is only ‘one right way’ of doing things. Patrick will tell you what he recommends, and then he will tell you why. Very often though, he will also give you advice even if you decide not to follow his recommendations. Although he says you shouldn’t have a feedback forum, he still gives advice on how to manage one if you decide to ignore his recommendation and include one anyway.

Even if you have years of experience behind you, I challenge you not to find value in the ‘Managing your staff’ chapter. This was one of my favourite chapters of the book – it explains how to communicate with your staff, how to lead, how to moderate a forum and includes a wealth of templates. It even includes a ‘Situations Guide’ to ensure your staff know how to respond to breaches of your rules or guidelines.

Another favourite chapter of the book for me was, ‘Banning users and dealing with chaos’. Sometimes it is great to be reminded that you are not alone when it comes to dealing with problematic members. The book gives solid advice on how to deal with these types of users – however, I would have liked to have seen some more ‘real life’ examples from Patrick’s years of experience.


The book does fall down in some areas. Whilst it can be extremely comprehensive, other areas are quite thin. For example, the book only describes phpBB and vBulletin; no names are given of other forum solutions – not even any links. The book’s focus is on managing online forums though, so perhaps it should be accepted that any areas outside of management will be a little thin on the ground.

The ‘Promoting your community’ chapter offered some good ideas, but the search engine optimisation advice suffered in terms of credibility for me as soon as I read, ‘I’ve never really spent a great deal of time optimizing my sites for search engine rankings…’ and I found myself disagreeing with a number of points made. Patrick just doesn’t sound as confident or convinced of his arguments in this area of the book compared to other sections.

I was also a little disappointed with the chapter ‘Keeping it interesting’, where the suggestions for keeping your members engaged are limited to adding new features, sending newsletters, running contests and installing games. I was hoping for some fresh thinking here, but was left wanting more.


Minor weaknesses aside, I would highly recommend this book to everyone involved in managing online forums. The chapters on managing staff and dealing with abusive users are worth the price of the book alone, and that’s before you even consider the value of all the included templates.

Whether you are simply toying with the idea of starting a forum or have been managing forums for years – I am confident you will find value in this book. It is full of solid, specific advice. There are no ‘wishy washy’ suggestions here – just solid advice and battle-tested solutions to the challenges that face managers of online forums. Buy it now.

Book information:

Share this community building advice


Similar Posts

Previous post:

Next post:


Patrick December 8, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Hey Martin,

Wow, thanks so much! :) I really appreciate you taking the time to read the book and to write a detailed review. I’m really happy that you liked it and your recommendation means a lot to me. Your criticisms, as well, are respected and taken to heart and will be kept in mind for future adjustments.

I did want to say that pretty much all of the book are my real life experiences and this is never more true than in the “Banning Users and Dealing with Chaos” chapter. Everything in there is my experience and things that I have dealt with. The people I talk about are people I know. Sure, I had to withhold their names, but beyond that, it’s the real stuff. The psycho staff member was mine, the lunatic who used his authority to try to bury me was real. :) At some point, the stories can get repetitive, so I tried not to include them too much so that they’d become redundant. But, it’s all happened to me. :)

You are correct that I purposely avoided specific software. As you noted, this is a management book and I didn’t want it to be a software book. I didn’t want it to become dated like that. So, I focused on that small section because I figured people would ask what I would recommend and it was just good to cover it and move on, but I didn’t want to get into an effort of listing a half a dozen or more different software options, so instead I just recommended that they do some research beyond the two I mentioned.

Thanks again, Martin. I appreciate your time and consideration in reading the book and writing this.


Michelle December 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Cool, I never realized I _could_ subscribe via email. That’s much handier than the hit or miss of whether I’ll see the RSS alert.

Signed up. :)


Tyler "Gunn3r" Conlee December 9, 2008 at 1:59 am

Hello Martin,
I run my own game design and art showcase forums and have only recently stumbled upon your website. The content here is great, and I’ve had every moderator of my forum read a good deal of your posts. I have already implemented a great deal of your advice into my forums, and have already started to see a slow turn around. Gunn3r Games is fairly small for it’s age, at 81 members and just over 4000 posts, but I feel that it will be growing with more content as time progresses. I’ve tried making my site unique, and I believe that I have, as I set up a community blog so that users can post a “live” update of their projects and accomplishments, as well as articles and viewpoints in the game development world. Out of the 12,000+ pageviews that I normally get per day, I only seem to get about 10-12 posts a day, usually out of the same 4 or 5 members. The members who are active, and even the ones that aren’t all say the Gunn3r Games is a great community. As a community, Gunn3r Games has a strong reputation for being very friendly and welcoming as well as knowledgeable about the game design process. Unfortunately, we don’t have the active member flow that we would like everyday. We have seemed to focus on a single game development engine, as the engine’s support forums is where Gunn3r Games originated. Is it possible that you can give some advice as to how to target people inside your general niche, but outside of your current realm of active members? I have some people who know a little bit about the product we’re trying to gain members from. Is that enough to market towards a group that is outside of our regular posts? I run a showcase and support site, so with more and more people from that group, more and more would post about that engine, making it popular (theoretically). Everything is setup for them from a design standpoint. It’s just a matter of getting them active and on Gunn3r Games.

I just signed up for the email subscription yesterday, so I am tuned in to every post that you make from now on. I will be linking to Community Spark from my website for sure. Do you happen to have a logo like the ones seen above for your forums for Community Spark that I am able to use on my site?

Nicole Price December 9, 2008 at 4:19 am

Will keep it in mind for if and when i do think about an online forum of my own :)

Amish December 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

This is a good review and the response from the author is so positive that I am left breathless. Thank you.

Patrick December 10, 2008 at 7:04 pm

Thanks Ms. Price and Amish. :) Much appreciated.


Thorb December 11, 2008 at 5:28 pm

I read the book and it gave me some new perspectives, and supported a lot of what I already am doing on my sites. I would definately recommend the book to those who is thinking about starting their own forums, besides communityspark, as it gives you an idea about how much work it takes to develop a good community. It’s pretty demanding work as most of the readers of this blog already know.

PS: I am the Norwegian with the pretty hefty photography equipment. (Patrick should know who I am.)

Patrick December 11, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Thorb. :) I really appreciate them!

Yes, I think I know who you are! ;)

John December 15, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Nice book. Thanks Ms. Price and Amish.

Eric Martindale December 31, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Great book, I’ll probably post a review soon, too.

Patrick December 31, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Thanks, Mr. Martindale. I really look forward to that!


Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:41 am

I actually had read some of this book and was coming into this topic to post about it, then I saw that it was the same one, haha.

Patrick July 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for picking up the book, Shawn, I really appreciate it.


Shawn July 3, 2009 at 10:31 am

No problem, I know that I’ve spent more money on reducing headaches in other manners and it, much like this blog have definitely made me think “Hey, why hadn’t I thought of that?!” or “Wow, maybe he’s right, let me further evaluate some of the things that I’m doing.” In the grand scheme of things you have to do what’s best for your site and its members, but it’s great to follow those who have been doing it for awhile as well.

Patrick July 3, 2009 at 10:54 am

Cool, Shawn, I’m happy to hear that you found it useful. In the end, you have to take all of the knowledge at your disposal and make the decision that’s best for your community, definitely!


feamor December 14, 2009 at 5:48 pm

This book seem very wonderful about community management and before i will start to publish a community, i want to read all the book carefully and i am sure i will learn a lot from Patrick.

Sometimes i prefer pdf versions but for some kind of books like Patrick’s, i wish to have it in my library. Unfortunately, i can’t find any solution for ordering a printed copy to Turkey :( I hope, i can find the book somewhere in Istanbul…

Patrick December 15, 2009 at 11:46 am

Hey feamor,

I appreciate your interest in the book and kind words.

It appears that you can get the book from for 18.73, including shipping. Is this feasible? I’m going to reach out to my publisher and ask them what they recommend for someone in Turkey, if anything.



Patrick December 16, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Hey feamor,

Thanks again for your interest in the book.

I contacted my publisher (AMACOM) as I mentioned and they referred me to McGraw-Hill UK/Europe, who handles the distribution of the book out there. The person I spoke with there said that you should contact Pandora, who is one of their Turkish distributors. They should be able to order the book for you. Their website is

I appreciate your time and consideration and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.



feamor December 22, 2009 at 8:05 am

Hello Patrick,

I have ordered your book from Pandora without any problem and they said i will receive the book in 20-50days. Hope to have the book in 20 :)



Patrick December 22, 2009 at 10:51 am

Hey feamor,

Excellent! Thanks so much. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.



{ 3 trackbacks }