How To Grow Your Forum Community
One of the toughest tasks facing community owners is consistently achieving large levels of growth. Both new and current owners fight this battle every day. Some are successful while others aren’t able to hit their desired goals. In most cases, community owners are either not doing enough to spur growth or doing too many of the wrong things. To grow your community successfully, you need to be diligent in these four areas: forum structure, member interaction, outreach, and forum performance.
Forum Structure is Part of the First Impression
As a community owner, you have the power to influence a person’s first impression. This starts with how you structure your forum. In most cases, the first page people are introduced to is the forum itself. However, you could benefit from creating a custom page that introduces new members to the things you want them to see first. This includes your community’s mission statement, rules, and a call-to-action to get them involved in your community.
Your community’s mission statement and rules should be front and center for new members. This documentation is key to properly informing prospective members about the purpose and vision of your community, how to participate, establishing a threshold for content that needs to be moderated, and reduces any blowback should moderation come into play. It will frustrate members if you penalize them for something that was not made clear beforehand. Transparency is important to keep people coming back because it is the foundation upon which you build trust with your members. If they don’t trust you, they will surely not contribute any of their ideas to your community. Keep in mind that you should not overload the landing page with too much text. Keep it as short and concise as possible or else people will probably skip over it.
Having some sort of call-to-action for new members is critical. After someone has landed on this page, they will have learned everything that they need to contribute. But they still might not know where to put their first post. Introducing themselves in a general discussion area of your forum is a great way for new members to break the ice. From there, you can either find a way to bring them into a current discussion or invite them to start a new one of their own.
Another way you can nudge new members to get engaged right away is to limit the number of boards you have running. Your forum should only be running with the boards that people are actively using to discuss the most popular topics. The only time you should add more is when your community has shown signs that it needs them. Nothing is more overwhelming than having tons of boards that are either going unused or are only being used by a few members. Really consider if adding a board is necessary. Ask yourself if this is a discussion that can happen elsewhere in the forum with your current configuration. And if you are unsure, ask your community. They want their content to be seen, rather than get buried in an overarching topic that could benefit from splintering into subtopics.
The Importance of Member Interaction
A large portion of your community’s growth comes from continuous engagement with your community. You can feature certain discussions in the landing page mentioned above so that new members are driven to those immediately. By promoting specific discussions that achieve the quality you desire, you can influence others to create more content of that same caliber. This can go hand-in-hand with gamification. Having certain achievements or badges available for members to earn gives them something they can show off. It makes their work feel valued and helps you steer the direction of the content your community is producing.
Along with gamification, you can determine what members are the most active and offer them a position on your forum team. At some point, managing a forum all on your own will become unwieldy. But you don’t want anyone helping you in this venture that isn’t already a committed member of your community. These individuals know everything about your community, and most importantly, are advocates for your community’s overall vision. These people will be your best teammates in fostering your community’s growth.
If you are struggling to figure out what your community wants, reach out to them. You can create a survey and have members provide feedback on what sort of content or events they would like to see in the future. This will help you guide your community more effectively without the headache of trying something new and having it go nowhere. It allows you to focus on creating positive initiatives for your community rather than experiments.
Reaching Out Beyond the Borders of your Community
It is too easy to get caught up in all of the daily activities within your community. Don’t forget that there is a whole world outside of your community that includes social media, blogs, and other forums that you can leverage to your advantage. You can use this network to acquire guest features. Having other experts in your given area of interest contribute to your community is beneficial for both parties. The featured content that these individuals write will increase the credibility of your forum, and provide additional quality content that will be supported by their credentials. In turn, this gives them an opportunity to plug their own content to an interested audience. And in most cases, these individuals will have their own sites. After publishing the content, you can then have them link to their post, increasing your forum’s backlinks. This will improve your rank with search engines, and help your forum appear when people search for your particular topic.
Stay On Top Of The Performance of Your Forum
After you have put in the work to drive your community’s growth, it is important to reassess everything you have done. You should always be keeping a close eye on how people are moving around the forum, and where all the action is taking place. If there are dead areas, it might be time to cut them from your community or find some method of archiving anything that you think is worth keeping. You always want the areas in your community to be active. There should be no ghost towns because a potential new member could mistake this as a sign that your community is becoming less active or is not as active.
As we have mentioned before, the goal is to find the things that lead to positive results and repeat them. You can do this by simply asking your community, or taking the time to revisit your successes. Either way, as you are cultivating growth, the work that you are doing should become more refined.
Finally, take a look at all of your key performance indicators and any other analytics you might have access to. Analyze the highs and lows, and draw conclusions from data to drive your changes. In doing so, you can proactively whittle away anything that is hindering the growth of your forum.
Reviewing The Points
You need to make sure you make a good first impression. This means creating a landing page with all of the things new members need to get started: your community’s mission statement, rules, and a call to action to get them posting. Internally, you need to be engaging with your members. Promote posts that you think are of the quality you desire. And keep an eye on the people creating this quality content. The most dedicated and active members are great candidates for your forum team as your community grows. Take some time to network outside of your community. And lastly, make sure to monitor your forum through analytics or other measuring methods to ensure that you are always repeating the most successful initiatives.