Post dammit, or else!

by Martin Reed on 17 October 2008 in Articles

Force forum members to introduce themselves

I recently received an interesting email from Greg of Absolute Spain Forum, who wrote:

What do you think about “forcing” members to first introduce themselves before being able to post in other sections of the forum? I feel like after the “biggest hurdle” of getting them to come to your site and then register, the next “biggest hurdle” is to stop them from going crazy! A huge amount just blatantly promote and abuse the site. Would forcing them to introduce themselves regulate this?

It’s certainly an interesting issue, and one I want to address in this article.

Breaking the ice

Think about when you arrive at a party full of people you don’t know – you want to get involved, but are a little hesitant, a little unsure of yourself. This is perfectly normal – after all, you don’t really know the culture of the group. You want to be liked, you want to be popular. New members of online communities are no different. They need an ice-breaker. They need to be introduced, or they need to feel comfortable introducing themselves.

An introductions forum

I think it is important for new online communities to have a place where members can introduce themselves, or be introduced. There are two ways of doing this:

1) Keep an eye on the member list and introduce new members

Whenever a new member joins, create a thread for them in the introductions section of your community. Welcome them, and invite them to introduce or share some information about themselves. Just make sure that your new member gets to see this introduction thread – it may be a good idea to send them a private message welcoming them to the community that includes a link to the thread you have started for them.

The potential problem with this is that you (or your staff) need to keep a very close eye on the new members that join – you don’t want to leave anyone out. You also need to put in more of a time investment as you need to manually watch the member list, manually create a thread for them, and manually PM the member welcoming them and bringing their attention to the thread.

2) Have an introductions forum

Having an introductions forum allows new members to introduce themselves should they so choose. No thread is created for them – rather, they start their own thread in order to introduce themselves to the community. I favour this approach because:

  • The member goes through the process of creating a new thread
  • The member posts under their own terms, if they so choose

Before I continue with this article, let me say this – there is no point in having any kind of introductions forum if you and your members do not welcome new members. Of course, not all your members will have a whole lot of interest in welcoming every single new addition to your community. However, some will and some should. At the very least, you need to be publicly welcoming those new members that have taken the time and effort to post. This is your member’s reward for introducing themselves: acceptance.

Introduce yourself or be gone!

Now, Greg is wondering whether he should force members to introduce themselves before they post in other areas of the site. In response, I would say that no community manager or developer should limit the opportunities their members have to post, create content and encourage interaction. By preventing members from posting because they haven’t introduced themselves, you are cutting your nose off to spite your face.

Your latest member may not feel comfortable introducing themselves just yet – they may want to make a few posts in the off-topic areas of your forum first. They may want to post their solution to a viable alternative to oil as a fuel. Who knows what they may want to contribute? You’ll never know if you stop them from posting!

I see many members in my communities get involved long before they ‘formally’ introduce themselves. If I had forced these members to introduce themselves before they could post in other areas, I would have lost their content and perhaps lost them as a member.

I would even doubt the effectiveness of forcing a member to introduce themselves as a way of reducing abuse. It doesn’t take much effort to write a few words of spam in the introductions forum in order to gain access to the rest of the site.

A pro-active alternative

Encourage members to introduce themselves, but don’t force them to. If you want to increase the number of members that introduce themselves, do the following:

  • Edit the system-generated welcome email to include a link to the introductions thread, and invite them to introduce themselves
  • Send a private message to new members welcoming them to the forum and invite them to introduce themselves
  • Ensure that those who introduce themselves are welcomed at the very least by the community managers and moderators. Ideally, other members should also welcome your newest members

Your thoughts

Do you think members should be forced to introduce themselves before being able to access or post in other areas of the community? Have you tried this approach yourself? How did it work? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Michelle October 17, 2008 at 6:08 pm

I definitely disagree with forcing. I’m one that likes to start off just responding to existing posts. I don’t like talking about myself all that much and feel kind of wierd if my first post is all about me. Unless I really wanted into a community that forced introductions, I’d probably just move on.


Greg October 17, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Martin, once again this has been an excellent read! I have been quite aware that forcing them is not a solution to the problem at hand but have often felt lost trying to deal with “certain” members. With your insight in this article, I have definitely been enlightened about viable options and once again reminded of the value of “still inactive members”. As things get going they will join in all by themselves… Or so I hope :)

Amish October 18, 2008 at 11:08 am

Inviting them to provide profile details and making the profile details partly public is one sure way of retaining the serious vistors.

Welcoming them and encouraging them to contribute either by starting new threads or commenting cements that relationship.

If the contents of the posted articles are of good quality, comments will start coming.

Tertius October 18, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Very good post.

I’ve been really trying to wrap my head around retention, obviously getting someone ‘hooked’ or ‘involved’ is the ideal way.

I don’t know how manageable this is, but included in a weclome email would be an invitation to introduce themselves and maybe a link or 2 to currently new threads that would interest them. I’m sure it wont be hard to write a quick module to look at their user data and compare it with “hot” topics.

Just an idea. Get them talking!

kouji October 18, 2008 at 5:42 pm

true. i would rather respond to existing threads as well, get a feel for the culture of that particular board. being forced to introduce myself sometimes feels like having to face, what could potentially be a firing line (some forums i’ve seen are mean!).

Smiley October 19, 2008 at 1:32 am

I see a similar pattern to Martin, many new members jump right in and post.. and then if they like the community they go to the “Welcome Wagon” section of the forum and formally introduce themselves.

I always create new threads for every new signup I see on the front page. But more than anything they tend to post an official introduction by themselves after a day or two.. which I like, because it means they’ve seen the community, they’ve read posts, they have in turn posted, and they have decided to stay.

Never force your members to do anything. A lot of people like to get a ‘feel’ of the atmosphere, if you force your members to post an introduction before posting and getting a ‘feel’ of your forum, I fear you’re going to scare off your new members.

Think of it from their perspective. “Oh my, I’m not allowed to participate unless I immediately post an introduction.. what other heavy handed rules do they have, I don’t like this, let’s click the back button and do another search”

I’d just have a welcome section, Greg, and have a team of regulars be the “welcome wagon” – this works wonders at my site. I have a core dedicated team of regular members who feel ‘important’ because it’s their ‘job’ to welcome new members, ask them questions, converse with them and offer them help.

This is how I went from one member (myself) to what it is now. Not by forcing.

Loky October 19, 2008 at 11:09 am

An introduction section is always good, but for that you have to have a pretty big forum imo.
If your forum have only a few categories you can also use the “general chat” for that kind of intros. This will allow new users, after they introduce themselves, to participate to that forum also.

Anyhow, this is a great article. Thanks.

Nicole Price October 20, 2008 at 3:44 am

“By preventing members from posting because they havenít introduced themselves, you are cutting your nose off to spite your face.” That hits the nail on the head I think, the introduction thing should be optional simply because a lot of people need time to open up and start talking about themselves; they cannot do it right away.

Smiley October 20, 2008 at 7:20 am

[i]An introduction section is always good, but for that you have to have a pretty big forum imo.[/i]

I disagree. I had an introduction forum from [b]day one[/b]. I really can’t emphasize enough that there was seriously, for weeks, only one member on my site. Myself. I had left two other sites as a rather unpopular person. Let’s say unpopular is an understatement, I had no, and still even now have no online friends (unfortunately being a community owner is a lonely business. You can’t get too friendly with people because it jeopardizes your policy of neutrality and unbiasedness,,ness? You know what I mean!). So nobody to help me with the site, and nobody I knew wanted anything to do with it since it was mine. I had to do it from scratch all alone and wait for completely new people.

So the site, for months, was tiny. It has grown because of it’s reputation as being one of the friendliest sites anyone has ever visited. Partly thanks to the introduction forum. The introductions forum comes in handy for small communities, because people who sign up have their own ‘special’ little thread, where conversation starters break the ice and they are then more likely to stay at your community.

People online have a yearn to feel special for some reason, and I hope to God nobody from my site reads this blog :D

Mr Woc October 20, 2008 at 11:01 am

Hi there

You cant force people to participate and join in im afraid, lots of people will register and decide the sites not for them and move on.

Its a good idea to have an introduction section as it gives people the chance to post and test what your sites like, although they dont often provoke much conversation.

The best way to get people to join in, is by making your site as simple as possible to use !


Randy Brown October 21, 2008 at 4:37 am

“forcing” members to do anything is never a good idea IMHO. We direct all new members to our introductions forum, and the community always gives a very warm welcome to those that do choose to post. Some members (the majority of our new members) are shy and may not make a post for a long time.. We even have many members that have been active (logging in) for over a year, and have still yet to make a post..
In a large community like ours though, the active (and overly active) members make up for the shy ones..

Ice Rabia October 23, 2008 at 3:11 am

Every time I join a forum, there is a page for introducing yourself. I do come there before I try to post anywhere else. But there is this one certain forum I have recently joined with. After activating your account, you are immediately directed to the introduce yourself post. You should post there first before you can post anywhere else. I was just surprised because mostly the forums lets you roam around other topics first and lets you decide if you want to post on the introduce yourself part…

Mark October 26, 2008 at 2:42 pm

I would say that I normally lurk around for a bit before posting. I find it good to get a feeling for the community and its members before “baring my soul”, so to speak. Forcing people to post would not be in your best interests.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Michelle – Exactly. A lot of people don’t like to immediately start talking about themselves; if you force them to introduce themselves you are only increasing the possibility of visitors being discouraged from getting involved.

Greg – Thanks for your kind comment, I am glad you found the article useful.

Amish – I don’t think there is a correlation between profile information and ‘serious visitors’ – some people prefer to share more information than others, but that doesn’t determine how ‘serious’ they are about the community.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to ‘force’ your members to do anything. As you say, if you have quality content, members will naturally want to get involved.

Tertius – Thanks for your kind comment. If you include a link in the welcome email for a member to write an introduction, they will be more likely to use the introductions forum. Linking to a couple of thought-provoking posts is also a great idea.

Kouji – The fact is, starting a new thread is intimidating for many members; not only the new ones. If they feel ‘forced’ to get involved they may resent it and you will immediately lose that member. What’s better? A member that eventually gets involved but didn’t introduce themselves, or a member that left as soon as they found they had to introduce themselves before posting?

Smiley – I completely agree with your comment; members should be allowed to post in their own time and in the category of their choice.

Loky – I disagree. An introductions section can work well on forums of all sizes. Sure, members can introduce themselves in a ‘general’ forum if a specific introductions category doesn’t exist but you will find far less members introducing themselves if there isn’t a specific forum for this purpose.

Nicole – I am glad you agree :)

Mr Woc – I agree. An introductions thread should be seen as an offer for members to share something about themselves and not as anything else.

Randy – I agree. Sure, you can give ‘direction’ to members, but you should allow them to post where they like when they are good and ready.

Ice – How did that forum’s policy make you feel? Did it bother you that you were obligated to introduce yourself before posting?

Mark – I think your behaviour is pretty typical. A lot of new members like to keep an eye on the community before getting involved. The last thing you want to do is effectively give new members an ultimatum of ‘introduce yourself or leave’.

Neil Bergh October 29, 2008 at 4:01 am

I think it’s important to have something like an introduction to welcome new members and make them feel like a part in the community. A happy visitor is more likely to come back.

John Walters November 5, 2008 at 3:26 am

How exactly do you get communities started. Imagine starting with a blank slate. A forum with 0 members. How would you go about getting that forum full up. I know you can market it well but a member would never join if they know there is noone else in the forum!

Would you agree with paying for people to post?


Smiley November 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm

John, I started a forum with 1 member – myself. For weeks I was just talking to myself. I made thread after thread after thread, then under two or three other usernames I replied, and replied, and replied. Once I’d finished replying and talking to myself, I’d create more threads upon threads upon threads.

Then I got my first member. I posted like mad as my alter ego’s to keep them busy. They invited a couple of their friends. Who in turn invited more of their friends, then more people started signing up.

If you have the will and determination, your community will get started.

I guess what I’m saying is…. create content! Don’t be ashamed of signing up as fake people. Once you get a few loyal regs hooked, it’s all uphill after that.

As for paying people to post, not a good idea. What if, down the line, your members find out that you’ve paid people to post? Your community will go bye bye.

Hope you don’t mind me offering bits of advice, Martin. I find it helps to give a perspective of someone who has recently made a successful forum from scratch. Not only someone, but the most unpopular and unlikely someone :D

Michelle November 5, 2008 at 5:19 pm

@Smiley: What did you post about? That’s where I get stuck. I just can’t seem to be able to keep up a conversation all by myself. I’m trying to get my site going but I just keep running out of steam. Talking to myself is boring. LOL! How do you think of things to discuss?


Smiley November 6, 2008 at 2:26 pm

I browsed other forums for thread ideas, and then after posting the thread I looked at everyone’s replies on the other forum. So I’d type similar replies, and then for good measure add my own opinion in there. Sounds a bit insane really but I’d even debate with myself on news items lmao.

But yes, if you have a bit of ‘writers block’ – Google is a powerful tool. I found sex & relationship threads were the most popular to start with.

But hey, it worked. A year after – 500 members and growing. 600+ posts per day.

Michelle November 6, 2008 at 4:32 pm


I’ve looked at other forums for ideas and then went and wrote my own post on the topic. Never occured to me to copy the replies as well. LOL

I haven’t, yet, made fake users for anything other than robot accounts for things that are obviously not a person. My fear is that people will become friends with such an account and feel betrayed to find out they aren’t real people. I’ve been thinking more about this lately, though, and I think I will take advantage of the fact that my forums allow anonymous posting. Posting anonymously, I can spark conversation without becoming an actual fake user with a fake profile and all that. I think that will be a good compromise.

Thanks for the ideas. My site is struggling badly. After nearly 2 years, I have 13 users that have posted at least a couple times and I’m currently the only one posting. I’ve come very close to just giving up but I just can’t let it go. So I’m going to renew my efforts and give it a big push and see what I can do.

Sorry for taking over your comments, Martin. :)


jennifer November 7, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Ice, interesting that you had to write an intro before gaining access to the board. Like you, I’d prefer to have at least some idea as to whether or not I want to post or just lurk. Even if a community has certain “public” pages, it gives you an idea as to whether or not you (or your posting style) would fit in. And then having access to the “private” areas upon writing your intro, or something like that, I’d be fine with.

B Martin November 9, 2008 at 6:57 am

I like the idea of having a forum for new member introductions to make people feel more comfortable posting. Has anyone else found this to work well in helping encourage participation or do people just post their introduction and continue lurking?

Mark D. November 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm

NO, I think members should be allowed to get comfortable. Plus a lot of people are there to learn, they’ll start posting when the time is right.


Smiley November 12, 2008 at 3:02 am

Michelle, go for it. What I did is, when there was enough members I just ‘fizzled’ out the fake accounts. Made them post less and less gradually. Never any questions asked.

B Martin, I’ve found the introductions section helps. That’s where they get “wowed” by the friendly welcomes and that’s where you chuck in a couple of ice breaker questions and then give them ideas of what to post.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Neil – I am glad you agree. If people don’t feel welcome, then you don’t have a community.

John – I am not a big believer of paid forum posts, although I don’t particularly have anything against people using these services. Personally I prefer to create the content myself so I can ensure the quality of posts is where I want it to be, that the posts promote member interaction and help develop the right personality for the community. You might want to start off reading my article series on building a new online community.

Smiley – Thanks for offering your advice; of course I don’t mind: it is welcome and actively encouraged!

Michelle – Just make sure you don’t copy other forum posts too closely; you still want to have something unique and you don’t want to be seen as a content thief! Please don’t apologise for making comments – they all add value to this blog and foster a stronger sense of community.

Jennifer – Thanks for your comment; it’s always interesting to hear the perspective of other readers :)

B Martin – You’ll get some people introducing themselves then continuing to lurk, but most will continue to post. Don’t just see an introductions forum as a way for members to create content for your community – by going through the process of creating a new thread, they are building their confidence and becoming familiar with how they can interact in the community. There are many more benefits than the actual introduction post on its own.

Mark – I agree :)

Michelle November 17, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Oh, I’d never literally copy the posts. I meant copy as in imitate, not as in photocopy. I’ll look to other forums for ideas for things to post and then write my own text on the same subject. I’m also careful to not just sit on one forum and use every post there because that’s really rude, too.


Armen Shirvanian November 20, 2008 at 9:22 am

The optimal way to have members introduced into the community would probably be through having to meet certain criteria to take part. Having new members that have to go through certain steps before they can take part, or have to post in certain sections before they can post in others, or other barriers of this kind, might do well to bring people together before their first direct communications.

Mike November 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm


Forcing anyone to do anything has never been a good idea and never will be. If you nevertheless “force” the members of a community to write and participate, the content will be very poor and “thin”.

The forum or cimmunity should very much run by it self – if it does not, it is not interesting enough!

Just my five cent….

Smiley November 21, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Good luck on your searches, Michelle :) what kind of forum is it? Is it a general forum? Does it have a relationships category etc? If you’re weary about ‘stealing’ ideas from other forums, you’re welcome to browse my categories I have a fair few dozen different categories (they’re open to guest viewing) and take your pick at ideas. Especially the earlier posts, as most of them would have been made by me :D

Getting a forum off the ground was a really hard task for me, so I put a lot of time and effort into creating threads upon threads. When you get those first few loyal regs posting, and then you login the next day to see 200 new posts.. oh what a feeling, I’ve never felt that feeling of self accomplishment in my life before. Then a few months afterwards when I logged into my chat room and saw 10 people in there chatting.

So feel free to take any ideas you like if you think it’ll help.

Sounds like really silly low numbers, but when you’re just starting out and didn’t expect to go anywhere, oh the feeling is amazing.

Michelle November 22, 2008 at 4:25 am

Low?! I was offline all day (travelling) and logged on to see 6 new posts and was excited. If there were 200 I think I would faint dead away. LOL

My site is a local community site, but most of the talk is in general chatter. It’s more local people talking than people talking about local stuff.

Thanks for the ideas offer. I’ll take a look there. I’ve spent a bit of time on some of the bigger forums (scary places most of them) and compiled a list of thread ideas but I can always use more. I’m trying to do at least one new thread a day and only have enough for a few weeks that way.


Smiley November 22, 2008 at 11:52 am

I set myself a target. My target was

Create 5 new threads everyday
Make 20 replies every day.

So all in all, just 25 posts per day. Doesn’t take long, and you’d be surprised at the benefits.

Say you have 4 loyal regulars. You make 5 new threads. That’s 20 new posts right there from those 4 loyal regulars, 1 each on 5 threads.

Then of course, they’ll reply to each other. 4 posts to 5 replies. That’s another 20 new posts. Then you reply to THEIR replies on your threads, say you reply to everything all 4 have said, soon enough you’ve got yourself over 100 new posts in just a day.

Once there’s a momentum going, you can start posting less and instead encourage your users to post new threads, reply to every single thread posted by every single person – it makes them feel more valued if the owner replies to their own personal thread. Soon enough you’ll login to see hundreds of new posts.

You just have to keep that interaction going, that’s what I did, my little fingers were non-stop typing for the first 6 months I started the forum! But now I log into the forum in the morning to see 600+ new posts without fail, with barely any threads started by me. Well it’s gone back down to 2-300 posts now since a few regs are in a huff (I removed a porno video one of the more popular regs posted so they’re all in a bit of a huff about it :D)

Michelle November 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm

25 posts a day?! Yikes… I hope I can make this work with less than that because I can’t devote a few hours a day to posting. :(

I can’t believe your regs left over a porno video?! You’re not running a porn site. Sheesh!


Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:16 am

Michelle – I didn’t think you would copy posts word for word; I just gave the warning as a general recommendation for all readers to take note of. 25 posts per day really needn’t take all that long; and you may decide to just make 10 posts per day. Either way, you should ensure that there is new content on your site every day.

Armen – That can be a good strategy to have; as long as your community is extremely desirable to join. If not, you risk new members simply being lazy and going to a competitor’s site where there are no fences for them to jump over in order to enjoy full access.

Mike – I agree with you that members should never be ‘forced’ to do anything, and if you do you will more often than not see poor quality posts in return. On your second point, yes – after a time, online communities can be self sustainable in terms of content. However, it will never run entirely by itself – you still need moderators, you still need to keep the community on the right track, and you will still need to keep the peace from time to time.

Smiley -Thanks for your input; I am sure that both Michelle and other readers will find your advice useful.

Michelle November 29, 2008 at 2:17 am

I guess it depends how wordy you are. I generally spend at least 10 minutes on a post so 25 would be a huge chunk of time. I’ve been trying, lately, to put a bit more emphasis on quantity of quality. Not so much that I’m just posting crap, but rather not shying away from the one liners so much if that one liner can keep things moving along. It does seem to be working with keeping activity going. Still very slow by most peoples’ standards but there’s at least one new post by someone besides me every day whereas before I could go weeks without a post. So progress. :)


Martin Reed - Blog Author December 5, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Michelle – Very true. I agree that 10 minutes per post would take up a lot of your time – but don’t you think it would be a worthwhile investment?

Michelle December 6, 2008 at 4:10 am

Sure, would be if the time was mine to invest. But if I spent over 4 hours a day just on typing posts, I would have no computer time left for anything else, including reading the other posts on the site. ;)

I’ve come to a point where I’ve decided I’m just going to do my best, plugging away at it and posting as much as I can. But I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t post as much as I want or dont’ get the response that I want. This is a hobby, not a business, so I’m giving myself permission to not worry about it so much. :)


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