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Setting Goals = Success

May 9th, 2009

So your forum just opened and you’re bustling with the first few members that have discovered your forum. What next?

Many forum owners stumble across this question, and as a result, their forum stumbles too. Activity dwindles down, members stop logging on daily, and ultimately the administrator gives up.

Setting goals can help prevent this roadblock. It provides you with a solid direction as to where to go with your forum so you won’t be wondering “what’s next?” as your forum begins to fail. Here are a couple of ways to set effective goals that will propel your forum to success.

1) Be Realistic

Nothing can ruin a goal more than an unrealistic one. You can’t hope for 100,000 posts within the first month of opening. Aim small. 1,000 posts is certainly an achievable goal for a month. Then decide how you’re going to approach it. 1000 posts a month equates to a little more than 30 posts a day. Doesn’t sound too bad now does it? You can do it. You yourself can make 10 posts a day, members can make about 15 a day, and even exchanges could account for that other 5 posts. When you set realistic, achievable goals, it’s a lot more motivating. Why bother attempting to get 3,000 posts a day to achieve that 100,000 posts within a month? 30 posts a day is a lot easier to achieve.

2) Be specific

Once you’ve set the goal, elaborate on it. “1000 posts a month” is not a good goal. A better goal is “I will achieve 1000 posts a month by posting at least 5 times a day, with at least one good topic. Then I’ll keep advertising so I can get more members to help me achieve that goal.”  That way you have some sort of idea what to do so when you log on for the day, you know exactly what to do.

3) Push yourself

Don’t set a goal that’s too low. If your board is averaging 1,000 posts a month, don’t set a goal to get 1,100 posts the next month. Aim for something a little more, like 1,500 posts or even 2,000 posts if you want to aim a little higher. This doesn’t mean you should make it unrealistic though - you have to find that balance. Set the goal a little higher than your expectations but not completely unrealistic.

4) Write down your goal

A goal is useless if you can’t see it. Write it down. Put it in a place that you see often. If you hide that goal somewhere, you’ll forget about it. Make sure that you’re aware of that goal often so that you’ll be motivated to reach it.

5) Reward yourself!

In psychology, reinforcement increases the probability of the rewarded behavior to happen again. Treat yourself out, take a break, and in general do something special when you hit that goal. If you announced that goal to your members, have a signature or avatar made that commends the goal. But sometimes, even just the satisfaction of reaching that goal can be good enough. You can’t beat that.

Forums

8 Ways to Bring Up A Community’s Activity

May 7th, 2009

A member (I’ll call member A)  recently asked on another forum on how to bring up activity. Another member (member B) replied to make a bunch of new topics to stimulate conversation. When member A replied that he tried that and it doesn’t work, member B said that sorry, but chances are that the forum won’t come back to life. Well, that’s absolutely not true.

There’s many different ways to bring up activity without you having to create a bunch of new topics, which can frankly be quite boring and repetitive.

So I present to you 8 ways to bring up your community’s activity without you having to create a bunch of new topics.

  • Do post exchanges.
  • Have a contest with a cool prize.
  • Revamp your forum, if it’s been awhile since your last revamp.
  • Make a survey to learn about your members and their view on your community.
  • Change or re-start your advertising strategy.
  • Encourage inactive staff to post again.
  • Send out an e-mail to everyone.
  • or, just WAIT. Sometimes there’s an external factor that’s keeping members away, such as real life. Sometimes it’s affecting more than one member at a time. For example, at this point in time, Advanced Placement Exams are happening which could explain the hiccup in forum activity. Waiting it out could solve it all.

There you go. Thoughts?

Forums

Advertising Forums: Yay or Nay?

May 5th, 2009

Sometimes when a forum owner is jumping from forum to forum, they may stumble across a forum whose sole purpose is to advertise other forums. Sometimes these are met with skepticism, but other forum owners eagerly take this easy opportunity to get their name out.

But the real question is, do they work?

The answer: Maybe.

Would I recommend them? No. Not as a primary method of advertising.

Advertising is most effective when the audience is related to the subject you are advertising. You wouldn’t advertise McDonalds to a Weight Watchers group, would you? Advertising  your new line of healthy foods to the same Weight Watchers group would be more effective.

So what does the audience have to do with advertising forums? Think about it. You, a forum owner, are at an advertising forum with the intention of advertising your own forum. The other members of that advertising forum are probably there for the same reason. So when you get someone to click on your forum ad there, their intention (most likely) is just to find another place to advertise. If you see an influx of members who join with an ad signature for another forum or website, it’s likely that those members aren’t there to actually be there, but instead to post enough so their ad signature gets recognized.

In my experience, I have rarely seen a successful community that developed with solely advertising forums. If these members who come from advertising forums don’t see results from your forum, they’re gonna leave. That’s what happens with communities who attempt to get big through advertising heavily on these forums. They’ll get members, but not necessarily members who are there to truly contribute and create content.

So why do people join and use advertising forums almost religiously? My theory has to do with reinforcement. These forum owners are seeing results from these forums, no matter how “empty” they may be (joining and not posting, or posting spam), and therefore they stay on these advertising forums hoping they’ll get the same results. And when their forum fails and they make a new forum, they do the same thing again.

Unfortunately posting your ad on there and seeing results immediately really does seem too good to be true, because it really is. The traffic you’re getting isn’t really the traffic you want for your forum. The statistics at the bottom of your forum are simply not just numbers. I think that most forum owners would agree that 10 quality posts that are relevant to your forum’s theme are better than 20 posts that generally consist of “yea i agree” “no, not for me” and other “empty” posts.

As hypocritical as this is going to sound, the only good way to use advertising forums is to use it to find forums that are related to your forum topic to advertise at. Also, advertising forums have other services that could be helpful such as reviews or exchanges.

So if you’re gonna join an advertising forum, consider with a grain of salt. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective.

Forums

Personalize your forum

April 28th, 2009

Think of all the forums you regularly visit. You know, the ones you open as soon as you get online. Why do you visit the forum?

Personally I visit the forums I do because I have a connection. I have developed a relationship with the members and the community and as a result I feel compelled to visit that forum day after day.

It’s more than having topics and posts. It’s more than having a contest and having participants. It’s about developing something that the whole community shares.

What that is for your forum, I couldn’t tell you. It could be different for every forum. However, one way that works for my forum and other forums is to introduce external forces to your forum. By that I mean making the forum about more than just the forum. Video game communities can do this really well because of the popularity of online gaming. If you can get members to interact outside of the forum then you’ve got a success.

It can work in more ways than just that too. Even introducing your personal life into your forum can work just as well. Once members learn about YOU, maybe you will begin to learn about them. In real life, would you feel more comfortable hanging out with a best friend or a complete stranger? Chances are you’d be more comfortable with your best friend. So turn your members into your best friends and then they’ll keep coming back for more.

Thoughts? Contact me (Ziveeman) on the community @ http://www.zantherus.com/community

Forums

Got Visitors but No Members? Convert them with these tips

April 23rd, 2009

So you have advertising and visitors are looking at your forum, but how do you convert them to active members? Here are some tips you can try out.

1) Hook your members in from the start

Don’t be like anyone else. Make sure your “above the fold” part of the page is interesting. The “above the fold” refers to the part of the page that the visitors see without scrolling. Most likely for a forum it’s a logo, then maybe the first forum. Pick an interesting graphic or theme to display there so that visitors will be compelled to scroll down and check the rest of the content.

2) Be friendly

Welcome all of your members warmly and encourage them to post. No one likes a place where they aren’t noticed. Notice your members.

3) Make sure your forum is active

This seems like a Catch-22 - to get activity, you need activity - but in reality, it’s not. Start out by doing post/registration exchanges to fill up your forum a little bit so members can interact and then begin to contribute their own threads to the forum. You can also get friends and maybe family members to start posting a little bit too.

4) Offer exclusive content

This doesn’t mean close off your whole forum and force guests to register before viewing the board - that just turns off activity. Instead, open up all of your forums for guests to view, then offer one forum that is only available when you register, and be sure they know that that forum exists! For example, offer downloads, free games, or whatever the genre of your forum is, offer something from that genre. You can even provide a little sample to guests that would make them wanting more. Why does Costco offer samples? Same reason.

5) Listen to your existing members

They say that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. In this case, the opposite applies to forums. You need to know how you got your active members in order to repeat it. Did you get it by advertising at a particular website? Try it again. Did you use a contest? Repeat the contest, albeit with a different prize. Knowing how you got your existing members can really help.

However, it’s more than that. If there’s a particular thing your members don’t like, consider removing it. If there’s something they like, consider adding more. After all, they see the forum differently then you do - You might like a feature just because you thought of it, but in reality the actual feature could be useless.

There you go. Some tips.

Thoughts? PM me on the Community - http://www.zantherus.com/community

-Ziveeman

Forums

Pros & Cons of Free Hosted & Self-Hosted Software

April 21st, 2009

One of the big debates for forum owners is whether or not to use a free forum host (like Zetaboards) or a self-hosted forum software (like Invision Power Board, vBulletin, or phpBB). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that make each one desirable. Each have communities with millions of posts and thousands of active members. So which one is right for you?

Free forum hosts store the forum on their own server and leave you to deal with only the administration and moderation of your community rather than the server upkeep and the technical details which can suck out a lot of time out of developing your community. Errors can occur when you simply install a self-hosted software if you miss one part of the instructions, forcing you to backtrack and find the problem. However, with a free forum host, just register the name of your board and you’re essentially good to go. Free forum hosts often have their own modifications and themes that are one-click install, or at least simple enough, so you don’t have to go around searching the Internet for a good one.

Of course, free hosted forums have problems. With a free host, you’re essentially stuck with what you’ve got. You have to rely on the developers in order for it to change. Modifying the actual layout (such as where a menu links appear) can be difficult, if not impossible. Also, a free community often come with ads, and depending on the ad service, can be inappropriate. Another disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get your own domain. So rather than a .com, you may get a freeforumhost.com/boardname URL. However, many hosts offer a way to change your URL, so if you’re willing to buy a domain, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Self-hosted forum software have the software available for download from their website (often for a price). You have to find your own host where you can upload the software to. However, with this comes the flexibility. Unlike free hosts, self-hosted forums have large databases of modifications around the Internet that allow you to modify your forum to your needs, much more than a free host can offer. Want an awards system so you can give members awards for achievements? You got it. An arcade? You got it.

The biggest problem that comes with self-hosted forum software is price. Invision Power Board and vBulletin both cost around $150 for a license. phpBB is free but regardless, you’ll probably have to pay for hosting and a domain. Modifications can take some time to install since many times you’ll have to go into the code and add or remove lines, and that requires a little of technical expertise.

It’s really all up to you which kind you want. If you’re looking for a professional look and you’re willing to spend a bit of money, go for a self-hosted software. If you just want a community fast, or just want a place for your friends to get together, go for a free host.

Some free hosts:

http://www.zetaboards.com

http://www.proboards.com

http://www.forumer.com

http://www.smfforfree.com

http://www.ipbfree.com

Some self-hosted software:

http://www.invisionboard.com

http://www.vbulletin.com

http://www.phpbb.com

http://www.mybboard.net

http://www.simplemachines.org

Anyways, sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been real busy lately. I’ll try to update more.

I’ve also created a Twitter for forum advice, be sure to follow me! http://www.twitter.com/forumtips

Forums

If you have a niche forum, ad forums are NOT for you

January 21st, 2009

I’ve been on a lot of advertising forums lately, and I’ve seen a rise of very specific forum (niche forums) admins pop up on these advertising forums and advertise with a futile effort. The “niche” forums I’m talking about are pretty specific forums like say, gardening forums, health and fitness forums, etc.

Let me put it out there that there is nothing wrong with these forums. If at all, it’s good as it’s a break of all of the generic “relaxed” general chat forums, gaming forums, and music forums that seem to pop up twice a day.

But what is wrong, is their advertising method. These owners go to advertising forums in order to show off their forum. The problem is, from what I’ve seen, it gets no results.

Why? Because ad forums aren’t the target audience they’re aiming for. However, the simple act of them advertising gives them a sense of work and accomplishment, so they do it, even though it gets them no results. Members on ad forums aren’t looking for a niche forum to post at. They’re looking for forums that are easy to post in so they can advertise their own forum.  Not exactly the best way to get members who are into cooking, car repair, or woodworking.

There’s better ways to accomplish the traffic niche forums want such as link exchanges, word of mouth, and simply getting your name out on things RELATED to the niche (stores, conferences, etc), which are exponentially better than posting at a forum where no one is really interested in that topic. I have never seen a successful niche forum in my time that has advertised on an ad forum. If they have, the forum had already been established so the extra advertising wasn’t really helping in the first place.

The only reason why I should see a niche forum owner on an advertising forum is to get post exchanges to build the forum up (which could be hard because the forum is pretty specific) or services that benefit the forum rather than advertise the forum (like reviews).

Once again, nothing wrong with niche forums but it’s just something I noticed.

Forums, IF/ZB , , ,

Forum Slowing Down? Don’t Close It!

January 19th, 2009

Many times I have seen a forum close down because it used to receive 200 posts a day but dropped to a “measly” 50 posts a day for a couple of days.  A sudden drop in activity doesn’t mean you should close your forum down, it means you should take a look at your forum from a visitor’s perspective, and your own. Here are a couple of tips when your forum activity begins to slow down.

1) Determine your community’s posting pattern

If you don’t know this already, find it. In your forum’s Admin CP, find the statistics and see when you receive the most posts, the least, etc. For example, Zantherus is most active on the weekdays (oddly enough). So when your activty slows down, determine if that’s when your forum is supposed to die down a little. Another example is during the holidays. Most likely you’ll see a drop in activity as most people are spending time with family. Don’t worry about it. Wait it out and it’ll pick up after the holidays.

2) Get a Review

Some people seem to think that reviews are pointless. They aren’t. Go to a bigger site with a good review section (aka not all forums are in the Great Forum section). Check out some of the reviews. If you like how they do it, apply for one. They’ll (hopefully) point out things you could improve on.

3) Revamp

Sometimes things could be stagnating because members could be getting bored. Add a new skin, a forum, a contest, new staff, etc. anything that could get your members to post again. However, keep your revamps to a minimum, say, once every six months at the most. Constant revamps make your members think “not again” rather than the “oh! a new skin!” response. A revamp loses special points every time you do one, so keep that in mind.

4) Post Exchanges

I’ve already covered this  in a previous blog post. I’m going to correct myself a little bit. Post exchanges can still be used in a bigger community if it’s stagnating, as an influx of newer members can introduce new content to the forum for veterans to see and post.

5) Advertise, advertise, advertise

Advertising never dies. You have to keep doing it over and over and over again. Maybe the reason why your forum is stagnating is because you’ve stopped advertising. It’s happened to me before. Find new forums to advertise at and get at it! If you must, have staff post on the forum while you advertise. The reason why I say not to have your staff advertise is that YOU know your forum best. You’ll have full control over your advertising if you do so.

So in short, just because your forum is slowing down doesn’t mean you need to close it. There’s a reason why it’s slowing down, and if you find that reason, fix it and you’ll see your forum thrive like it used to.

Forums , , , ,

Filler topics does not a community make

January 14th, 2009

I’ve seen this around a lot lately. What are filler topics in the first place though? Filler topics, also known as Q&A topics, generic topics, etc., is my term for the simple topics that elicit a single response that involves no discussion at all, such as “What is your favorite color?”, “Favorite day of the week?”, “Last movie you watched?”, or even the ever so famous “What song are you listening to?”

To start out, filler topics are not bad. They allow a smaller community, maybe less than 1,000 posts or even 10,000 posts to accumulate simple content that is easy to make and reply to. They’re there to “fill” up the forum so it doesn’t look so empty because something is better then nothing.

However, once you’ve gotten your memberbase established, stop with the filler topics. Why?

Well, what do you do when you get to know a friend? Take this analogy. When you first meet someone, you want to get to know them, so you ask questions that is like these filler topics. “Where do you live?” “Do you have any kids?” etc etc etc. However, once you start to actually know the person, you start to discuss more personal things. “Hey check out what happened to me today. I was going home and this homeless dude…” or “I just applied to be a journalist at…” The “filler” topics disappear. What has replaced the filler topics are actual discussion.

I’ve seen forums with over 50,000 posts have pages and pages of filler topics and when I post there, I have no sense of community. I just feel like I’m writing an essay or filling out a survey as the topics are so bland and boring.

When you establish your memberbase, it is essential that you start moving away from filler topics. Every now and then a filler topic is okay (”Oh hey Fred, what did you say your favorite TV show was again?”) but moving to actual discussion will be far more beneficial for your community in the long run. The better your community is, the harder it’ll be for your members to leave your forum, as they get attached the more and more they get to know your forum. But, if you keep with the filler topics, people won’t feel such an attachment and could quite possibly click X and never visit your forum again. I know I’ve done that more than once.

Forums, IF/ZB , , , , , ,

The Social Contract - It Applies to Forums Too

December 25th, 2008

The Social Contract developed by Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke in the 1600s and 1700s provided the people with a stable ground on which to base republican government on. The Social Contract stated that the leader and his people are obligated to serve each other’s needs. If the leader’s people were out of line, the leader had the right to make and enforce law. However, it works the other way too. If the leader abused his power, the people had the right to overthrow the leader and establish a leader that would allow them to live the life they wanted.

If you’ve read the title of this post, you already know where this is headed. The Social Contract is not just for government, it’s applicable to forums too.

What many forum owners don’t realize is that their members are not obligated to post on their forum. Clicking the “Log Out” link and never visiting that forum again is just as easy as clicking “Add Reply” and contributing content to the community.

The problem arises when the forum develops an issue that involves the administration, for example, a flame war or a criticism of the forum. When it comes to these issues, the administration may feel compelled to exercise their power, reprimanding “unruly” (notice that it’s in quotations) users, dishing out warnings, and ultimately clicking that ban button.

However, while it is in fact every right for the administration to enforce the rules of the forum, the member also has every right to leave the forum. Joining a forum is not a legally binding contract - the world of forums is a free market, and if the forum owner does not provide something compelling, the user will simply leave.

The trick with the Social Contract is to find the perfect spot on the spectrum. However, that perfect spot isn’t necessarily a balance. It depends on the forum itself. If a forum is heavily weighed on serious discussions and debate, then those members understand that in this Social Contract, the administration will in fact need to enforce the rules and that their freedoms are a little more restricted, but to them that’s okay, because an unruly member is a lot worse.

So there you have it. Just a little thought to have when you run your forum.

Forums , ,