What everyone ought to know about forums

by Martin Reed on 19 November 2007 in Articles

Your opinion and online communities

Ah, you own a successful forum – doesn’t that feel great? It does – and so it should. However, there is a problem with that great feeling – a successful forum isn’t really yours. Sure, you technically own the site but for a community to be successful its members need to enjoy a sense of shared ownership. You need to remember this and realise that your opinions count for far less than those of your members.

Your opinion doesn’t matter

It sounds brutal, but it’s true. If your members have one opinion but you have another, your members are always destined to win. If you stick to your guns over an unpopular decision, you risk alienating the community and sending them elsewhere. The last thing you want is a community revolt.

A community can only be successful if the will of the members is listened to, respected, and acted upon. Of course, there may be times when suggestions from your members are impossible to implement or you know they will not work. In this case, you need to address the concerns of your members and justify your reasoning. For example, if your members demand more forum categories but you know there is not enough demand for them, you can bow to the pressure by establishing the new categories on a trial basis.

If the members of your community share a common opinion on a certain subject, the fact you disagree will not matter one jot. Your community may have a different opinion on something you feel strongly about; in this case, you just need to suck it up and deal with it. Your community will not change their opinions to please you – if they do, you should rename your community to dullsville-online.

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with your members from time to time – indeed, disagreement can stir up controversy and generate a real buzz. Be careful with this though, as you don’t want to alienate your members.

Your job is merely to direct

As your community becomes established, your job is merely to point your community into the direction you wish it to take. As I have mentioned before, if you want to develop a personality for your community you will need to take the lead by establishing and reinforcing the message you wish to convey.

If you would rather members didn’t talk about certain subjects, you can gently guide them away from such topics by suggesting alternatives. If you want your members to be friendlier to each other, you can direct them into doing this by taking the lead yourself.

To develop a successful community, you need to adopt a laissez-faire approach – hard expressions of power such as deleting posts, closing topics and banning members should only be used as a very last resort. Repressing your community will result in the death of your community.

You need to listen and act upon the demands of your members

Your members are your number one priority – not your ego. Don’t be afraid to back down if your members demand you change plans you had for the community. Get to know and understand your members. Be aware of the fact that you are there to serve your members – not the other way around.

Members will only stay involved in a community that they have a sense of shared ownership over. They will only stay involved in a community that listens to their needs and respects their opinions.

Never forget that your opinions count for nothing against the combined thoughts of your community. Understand this fact, and you will be well on your way to success.

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{ 7 comments }

Online furniture store November 20, 2007 at 4:06 am

I agree that your member’s opinions matter more than yours. I thing the job of the blog owner is to initiate debate, steer the members towards a healthy argument and then contribute to the ensuing conversation. And also set the tone yourself, if you are friendly and approachable, your members will follow suit.

Hirsutism November 20, 2007 at 8:32 am

Very nice post. And very truly said that opinion of the members matter more than your own. I think to basic job of the forum owner is to initiate discussions that help and increase the knowledge of the other members and make them actively participate in the discussions.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 22, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Reena – It’s great that you recognise the importance of your members’ opinions; so many people fail to do so. I agree with your suggestion that a blog owner should merely initiate and steer debate rather than control it.

Hirsutism – I couldn’t agree more. A forum owner should always be looking to initiate and encourage discussion and interaction.

News Bandit November 28, 2007 at 2:31 am

I never really thought of it that way. I have never owned a forum so I guess I had not put much thought into it. You make a very good point though.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2007 at 1:43 pm

News Bandit – Thanks for your comment. It just goes to show that running a forum isn’t as easy as it can appear!

Heartworm November 30, 2007 at 9:32 am

I always try to concentrate on what my members saying. i think thats very important. thank you very much.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm

Heartworm – That’s encouraging to hear! Good luck with your community, and keep up the good work.