Need some help getting your forum active or want to know how to get a new site to succeed? Well wonder no more, here are my next round of tips for how to manage a successful community.
And these are actual community tips. Not vague crap like 'use what forum software you're comfortable with', 'have as minimal an amount of forums as possible' or 'work on your site's SEO'. That sort of advice doesn't teach people anything they don't already know.
1, Community is as important as content (maybe even more so)
Or to rephrase what was said on that community management site I linked to, 'don't hide your community behind a link on the menu', draw attention to it.
Don't make the mistake so many admins do and act like the community or forum is some lesser aspect of the site to be kept hidden away from guests or newer visitors, or that the blog/site content is the most important thing.
No, the community is at least as important, and from my personal experience maybe even more so. It's easier to build a successful site once you have a successful and popular community than to build a community after the website. Integrate the community into the site, bring community matters to everyone's attention, talk about what's popular on your forums on the site and link to the forums in every way possible.
The community matters at least as much as the content.
2. Don't seperate on topic and off topic discussion
Because no one joins a website or community purely to discuss a single topic. Are there more posts in off topic or more conversations about everyday life? That's not a terrible thing, that's just communities work in general.
Not to mention that a significant amount of your members may well have joined for the community and then only later become more interested in the site's topic. Remove the community, you basically kick out these people.
If you want to see this in action, see Mario Fan Games Galaxy. At one time, it had a massive forum with well over half a million posts and thousands upon thousands of members. Here's how it used to look:
Then you know what they did? They literally split the forum in two. The on topic bit became their new main forum, the off topic bit became Minus World.
All that happened was that the forums both basically died down significantly. People wanted to discuss their everyday life. People didn't like the idea of registering and being active on two different sites, and it eventually got to the point they just added the general discussion forum back.
Don't make that mistake. Don't try to minimise off topic discussion or remove it altogether otherwise the only result will be a dead site.
3. No content in 24 hours = bad news
I think this quote from FeverBee sums it up perfectly:
If your community goes an entire day (except Christmas) without a single interaction you’re on the brink of failure.Don't let this happen. Post regularly every single day, preferrably three to five new topics or articles. Make sure every section on your site has an update from within the last 24 hours. And (also advised by FeverBee), make sure every time a member asks a question or posts a topic, that someone replies to it within a day.
Make sure your community always has daily content and posts. I'd even say that the quote is too generous, if your community has gone a whole day without any 'interactions', it's already failed.
4. Never give up on your forum or community
This is the one reason I'd say 90% of forums die out... the admins just stop bothering to do anything. Seriously, go look at a completely dead forum sometimes.
You know what the general pattern is? The admin not having visited for weeks or months and not having posted for even longer. Why should members care to keep the site active if the staff don't? Why is it worth a member's time to keep a forum active if apparently it isn't worth the admin's?
If you're staying active on your own site, others will likely follow. If you give up and just leave it, prepare for a dead forum that's totally infested with spam.
5. Hammer down on fluff
The biggest problem with webmaster, seo and marketing forums in history, fluff content is meaningless posts and content added purely for a signature link. You know, like this example:
Some of these forums are not related niche forum sites where we can not backlinks.That's a real example of what a meaningless fluff post is like. What does it have to do with anything? Nothing at all. It's completely useless to a human reader.
[insert signature with spammy links here]
Get rid of this type of content. It's meaningless, it generally adds nothing to the discussion and has flooded way, way too many webmaster and admin sites.
No one needs members who are only there to show off the links in their signature and profile.
6. Be Controversial
Okay, I'm not saying you should go out and be a complete jerk to everyone for the hell of it or that you should do things that are actually illegal, but come on, you must have some controversial views about your topic, right?
Heck, look at some of the people and sites who became popular in the gaming sphere/industry a few years or so ago and some of the content that was a massive hit. You know what they did differently?
They attacked things seen as 'common knowledge', they attacked the consensus view of what was working and what wasn't, and it brought out an audience who wouldn't otherwise comment and were being ignored by the larger community.
One example Sean Malstrom's gaming blog. It was incredibly controversial a few years ago because it outright attacked the views that the industry and gaming fandom had about the Wii, 'casual gamers' and what good games were. People may have absolutely hated what he said, but it sure brought in the readers and stirred up hundreds of interesting discussions.
Another example is Kotaku's infamous 'Saving Zelda' article. It was all about how the Legend of Zelda series has lost its direction and is in decline, and become one of the most popular articles of the last few years as a result. People came out and admitted they'd lost interest in the series recently. Fan sites began to question whether th direction of the series was the right one and it made people a lot more critical of something they'd otherwise never think about.
No one cares for a community without controversy, where the owner and staff just agree with the majority view and don't add anything interesting. Be interesting, say things that people actually want to comment on. It's better to say something people will criticise than ignore.
7. Don't convert forum software
Because quite honestly, doing so is nearly guaranteed to kill your forum stone dead.
I'm not lying here, almost every site I've seen which has converted forum software has ended up less active than they were before, with the exceptions of those who weren't particularly active before the conversion.
People don't like change, don't force it on them by changing your site's forum software while it's still going.
8. Don't sell a forum unless you really have to
And by have to, I mean you physically don't have the money to keep it going. The type of people and companies who buy forums generally don't care much about the whole community aspect, it's only about the ads and profits for them. As a result, most forums they touch tend to die off quickly.
If you want your forum to still be active or even around a few years from now, don't sell it, especially not to the likes of Internet Brands.
9. Community success isn't guaranteed regardless of who runs it
If you're not interested in putting in the effort, don't set up a community. I've seen popular people on Youtube set up forums for their subscribers, and they've mostly all died. I've seen popular blogs add forums. Those have generally died too. I've seen large companies and celebrities set them up, and those often fail as well.
You might have some advantages over forum only admins if you've got a following elsewhere, but you will never be guaranteed a successful community regardless. You will have to put the same amount of effort in, you will have to post daily topics and content. You won't be successful by merely reposting press releases and hoping others reply to them.
An existing following or successful site doesn't guarantee you community or forum success.
10. Interact with your community and be a part of it
It's been mentioned before in some of the above points. A successful admin needs to post daily, they need to remove spam and fluff posts, they need to drum up interest and they need an extraordinary level of determination.
But I'll say it anyway. As a forum or community admin, you are not an anonymous tech guy behind the scenes who doesn't do anything. You are not some kind of God the members should worship but generally avoid and you're not merely some sort of one man police force sent out only to take care of trouble.
No, you're a member of the community first and foremost. People who fit the descriptions above tend to end up with inactive or completely dead communities. Instead, use your forum like a member. Post your thoughts on subjects, post interesting content and topics on a regular basis. Use your own forum's features and show the members that these things can be useful.
And if someone asks you to be a friend or take part in a community event or game or competition, or sends you PMs, don't just ignore them and act like you're so important that you don't need to care about anyone else. That's the key to a successful community.
Did this advice help people? I hope people actually learnt something interesting from this article rather than just the usual cliched advice found in every other admin site editorial.