I have been seeing many blog owners of late publicly debating whether to add additional community features such as forums to boost their site’s popularity and value proposition. In this article I will write about the potential pitfalls of adding a forum to a blog and tell you why you should only take the plunge after much thought and consideration.
Why do you want a forum?
This is the fundamental question everyone needs to ask themselves before they install any kind of community software. Choose your answer from below:
- Everyone else is doing it so I need to do it, too
- I don’t have to do as much work on the site as users generate the content
- I want to make my site more popular in order to make more money
- I have a passion for the subject and want to share this passion with others
- I want to share my thoughts and opinions on my community’s subject with others
- I love to talk about the subject of my community, and can talk about it endlessly
If your answer was 1, 2, or 3 then do not set up a community – it will almost definitely fail. If you answered 4, 5 or 6 then your community may succeed, but only if you put in the huge amount of work required.
Are you prepared for the long slog ahead?
Building a community is hard work. I have said it before, and you know what? I’ll say it again – building a community is hard work. Are you ready for this? You may immediately say ‘yes’, but this is probably because you have no previous experience in building a successful online community.
It took over a year for Just Chat to reach critical mass – I had to put in hundreds of days worth of work before I could take a back seat and allow visitors and members to produce the majority of the content. It took around three years for me to earn any real money from the site. Are you ready to spend months, even years, developing your online community into a success?
Building a successful online community is often a lonely process – in the early days you will often be speaking to yourself, and this can be demotivating. Only a passion for the subject will get you through these periods.
Success with a blog does not mean success with a forum
A successful blog does not guarantee a successful forum – just look at John Cow dot com. This blog has been fantastically successful in a short amount of time, and on 28 September they announced the launch of MooForum.com. Unfortunately the forum was pretty much dead on arrival.
The John Cow blog has around 700 RSS readers, and claims a monthly average of around 50,000 unique visitors, yet their forum has only 114 registered members and a paltry 225 posts with many of these being pornographic spam posts.
The blog has no content, has too many categories, uses the default phpBB theme, has no personality (which is surprising because the blog itself oozes this quality) and seems to have been abandoned. Why should Moo Forum expect members to post when the owners can’t be bothered to do so themselves?
A poor community can damage your brand
John Cow has built up a fantastic brand name, but risks this with a forum that has failed. Not only that, but the forum is full of pornographic spam which negatively affects the credibility of the blog itself.
If you want to add additional community elements to your site, make sure you have the time and dedication needed to make them a success – otherwise you risk damaging your brand and reputation.
You can build a community without adding a forum
A community doesn’t need to be a forum. In my ‘About‘ page, I wrote:
Community Spark is a community building blog. I aim to keep this blog updated with advice on how to build successful online communities whether they are forums, blogs, chat sites or social networks.
I consider a blog to be an online community. Sure, the basis of the content comes from the author but encouraging comments and interaction can develop the blog into a community that can be just as valuable as any forum.
Michael from Freshome.com recently contacted me for advice on how to build a community around his blog. Michael is at a huge advantage for establishing a community as he already has a membership base of approximately 800 RSS readers and (I would assume), strong traffic figures.
Looking at the blog though, it is apparent that there are hardly any comments on any of the articles posted. Michael needs to address this issue – he will be unable to create a community around his blog if he is unable to get his readers to contribute.
In the past five articles, Freshome.com has seen two comments, both of which were pingbacks. In the past five articles, CommunitySpark.com has seen around 40 comments yet my RSS readership is less than half and I am sure my traffic is significantly less, too.
Community needs interaction
Without interaction, you have no community. Instead of adding a forum to a blog, you should focus on encouraging interaction through the commenting system. Actively encourage users to leave comments – ask questions in posts, make it obvious that feedback and opinions are always welcome, provide rewards for those that comment (for example, remove the ‘nofollow’ tag from links contributors include, add a ‘Top Contributors’ list, etc) and tell people you want to hear their thoughts!
Community begins at home!
Avoid branching out your community until both you and your community are ready. A great community at a blog (for example, John Cow) will not transfer to a forum unless you are ready to put the additional work in. A blog without comments is not a community – if you want to build a community around your blog, you need to encourage comments and contributions from your readers.
A forum can add real depth and value to your site, but only if you and your members are ready for that extra (huge) step.