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 KarateForums.com and phpBBHacks.com. 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
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.
- Amazon: Managing Online Forums
- Author: Patrick O’Keefe
- Publisher: AMACOM
- ISBN-13: 9780814401972
- ISBN-10: 081440197X