Greg is a Slovenian tech journalist, writing articles about social media, Linux and open source for the tech magazine Software Power. He also maintains his own Web productivity blog and is a big fan of CommunitySpark, whose author quite curiously got his first computer in the same year as Greg.
It seems like it was just yesterday. I still remember what a newbie I was, asking myself questions like what is PHP? Why do I need it to run a forum? Where do I get my hosting? 4 hours and 6 cups of tea later, my first phpBB forum was up and running on a lycos.co.uk account (yes, that’s the one with ads).
Like all websites, the first year was just horrible. A few members here and there, but altogether the traffic almost made me cry. See, my forum was in my local language, Slovenian.
Besides this, it was a rap battle forum. Now try and calculate how many 13 to 20 year-old battle-rap fans who have an Internet connection you can find in a country with two million inhabitants.
After 4 years of struggling, my forum has become the largest rap forum in my country, with a thousand unique visitors daily and around 3,000 members (minus the bots). Yes, I managed to get almost everyone on the Slovenian Internet battle rap scene to register.
The forum is still growing, and I have no intention of closing it whatsoever. It works now almost by itself.
This is a small article about what I learnt in the process of being an administrator struggling to find members for a forum thought to have no market. I hope that many people new to forum administration and promotion will find this very useful.
Find loyal members and get them to help you
I was very lucky in the beginning, because another very similar forum broke down just before I created mine. It was time for me to collect the ‘spoils of war’. I had 5 active members. Yes, five. One of them was my cousin! Not knowing what I should do, I simply asked the new members to help me. They entered the page URL into different directories, got friends to register, advertised the forum on other web boards etc.
I then thought to myself “It’s been 5 months and we’ve been heavily promoting the forum – and we only have 47 members. This will never work!” Boy, how wrong I was.
Create a moderator team as soon as possible
I handled every aspect of site administration and moderation myself. That cost me a lot of time, which I could have used for other projects. After forming a team of moderators when the forum was one year old, I could go on vacation and not worry about the forum so much.
Everything was being taken care of by the mods, even forum event organization. We discussed staff matters in a special locked section of the forum, visible only to admins and mods.
Forum events boost traffic
At our rap forum, we have rap tournaments. They’re pretty simple, and the prize is just a “200X battle rap champ”-style badge. Nevertheless, it gets free word-of-mouth advertising and people who sign on for the tournament almost never leave the forum. I let my members organize events by themselves now. It’s much faster, but you must make sure they follow through!
Community revolts and ‘wise guys’ come and go
I’ve had about 3 revolts by now. With a heavily visited forum, you will sometimes be forced to ban a member. If your community revolts, don’t panic. You must understand only a few of them understand how you work with your forum. Let them say what they want, but stay civilized. Arguments never work. If you don’t have the nerves, don’t respond. The fire will die out, eventually.
Also, even though revolts are deemed as bad, they actually boost your post count for a few days – and that poor sap thinks he’s hurting you!
Just one more thing:
Remember – You are the administrator
You are the boss of the forum. You are running a bulletin board, not a country. Sometimes it’s very useful to ask your members or staff if they want a certain modification or change implemented, but if you don’t agree, don’t do it. If you feel that monetizing your site would be a good idea, do it yourself. You built this house, so you get to furnish it.
Good luck to all forum admins out there!