Starting a forum from scratch

by Martin Reed on 25 March 2007 in Snippets

I was browsing the SitePoint forums the other day when I came across someone who was about to launch a brand new online community.

The hardest part of developing an online community is just getting it started and established in the first place. The person in question had started the website but only as a way of gauging interest in his idea.

Basically, he set up a website explaining what the new community would be about. He also gave visitors the opportunity to join a mailing list to be notified when the site launches in full. Not only does this method provide the opportunity to determine the amount of potential interest there is in the subject area of the proposed community, it also provides a surge of well targeted visitors to the forum as soon as it opens.

When a forum is first established, it is completely void of content. Ideally the owner of the forum should start populating the forum with quality content in order to attract members.

In this instance the owner of the website can take his time creating content whilst at the same time collect the email addresses of highly targeted users. When he is ready to launch, he will have good content and a great boost of initial traffic which should contain a high number of visitors interested in becoming members.

This example just goes to show that it really does pay to think of the fundamentals before setting up a forum. How will you get traffic? Is there a demand for your proposed community? How will you create content for your new community? In this case one person has thought of a way of tackling all of these challenges – can you?!?

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Biddy April 8, 2007 at 4:04 pm

We’re using suspense to build our forum (not dissimilar to what you wrote in a previous post). It’s to go with an existing blog with a pretty well-defined target audience, several of whom have asked for a forum in the past. While I’m fiddling about setting it up and modding PHPBB, several select people have been given the “secret” news of where the forum will be.

The fact that I picked some of the biggest gossips to tell is by no means coincidence :-D I know they’ve told other people, and so when the forum goes live, we have a ready-made start up audience, who are gagging to be allowed to post. That’s my theory, anyway – I’ll let you know if it works next week!

Martin Reed April 8, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Hi Biddy – welcome to the forum, and thanks for your post. I like the idea of ‘leaking’ the forum to your more gossipy members; absolute genius!

For those looking for the post on using suspense to promote interaction in your forum, you will find it here:

Do let us know how your little ploy works out Biddy :)

Artem July 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

I think that some of Ideas of this guy are noteworthy. You are good in this, Martin.

Konstantin July 18, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Agree with Artem. Great work, Martin.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 19, 2007 at 12:48 am

Thanks for your kind comments, I am glad you are both enjoying the blog :)

KandyX September 19, 2007 at 10:16 pm

Kandyx writes:

I am reading this with interest because my forum is quiet right now and I am searching for new members. Any suggestions?

I think it may just be a cse of keep plugging it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 19, 2007 at 11:35 pm

KandyX – Thanks for your comment. I think if you dig around the archives you will find many articles of benefit. For a start you have too many forum categories – if you don’t have enough content for a certain category, then the category shouldn’t exist.

Secondly, I had no idea what your site was about – there is no explanation of your site’s purpose on the index page!

I hope this helps and gives you something to think about.

KandyX September 20, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Hey, thanks for the quick reply and much needed feedback. Some great points for me to look into, specially the not explaining what the site is about from the get-go, I though this was covered in the About us page but clearly visitors are not aware of that – this is a VERY important point I was not aware of, thank you.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 23, 2007 at 4:04 pm

KandyX – To be honest, I didn’t see an ‘About Us’ page. I went straight through the link you provided and ended up at the forum. I would definitely recommend making the purpose of your site more prominent on your forum index – not everyone will arrive at your site from your main homepage.

Bollywood October 1, 2007 at 11:33 pm

I don’t think it be really good thing starting a forum from scratch. i don’t know i never tried.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 3, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Bollywood – Starting a community from scratch is extremely exciting, but extremely hard work. If you dedicate yourself to making your forum a success, it can be extremely rewarding.

ethan October 8, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Hi, just found your blog via a google search. I recently started a forum for the company I work for and I’ve been trying to find ways to get it off the ground. Thanks for all the info on your site, it’s been very helpful.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 8, 2007 at 11:01 pm

ethan – I am glad you found us. Getting a new forum off the ground can be a huge challenge – I hope you stick around and share your experiences with us, along with your thoughts and comments on my articles.

segnala sito October 27, 2007 at 6:10 pm

You need really hard work to start a community from scracth.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 29, 2007 at 8:16 pm

segnala sito – You’re right; starting a community is hard work, and that’s the reason why most fail.

cp@speedvine November 26, 2007 at 1:02 am

As a forum developer I’m always looking for new ways of creating my communities. The simple idea of gathering e-mail addressed while I develop is genius. It’s the simple things that go a long way. Thanks.

JOY November 26, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Waoh.This is a great site,we just started a forum and are looking for ways to grow.Your tips will be very useful.

Kairu November 27, 2007 at 12:35 am

I’m actually working on starting my own community, too. Except I’m building the whole script from the ground, up.

I’ve seen a lot of forums and communities that have no purpose/nothing original. A lot of people seem to use a forum to fill a void in their website, and later on heavily modify it with Add-Ons the members might never use. I’ve noticed a lot of the forums look the same because they only seem to use the same sources as virtually all the other forums.

Differentiating yourself from other communities isn’t relatively hard. You just gotta put thought into it. You gotta plan it, give it character, come up with original content.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 27, 2007 at 1:23 pm

cp @ speedvine – It’s a great idea, isn’t it? I only wish I had come up with it!

Joy – Thanks for your comment. I took a quick look at your forum and there are many articles in the archives that should be useful for you.

Kairu – A brand new script, eh? Now that is a challenge! I completely agree with you – it is essential to ensure your community is different to all the others that are out there, and to only offer features that your members will find useful.

Macnerdzcare December 13, 2007 at 3:23 pm

i am also in the process of starting a new forum site. of course the biggest problem is getting people interested in becoming members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 15, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Macnerdzcare – Starting a new forum is a huge challenge, I hope you are ready for it! Make sure you fill your site with lots of high quality, unique content and keep adding more of the same.

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