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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 , , ,

Lack of Innovation is Killing Forums

January 19th, 2009

For the past couple years while I’ve been looking to promote Zantherus, I’ve seen an influx of clone forums that seem to be riding on the trends that have been taking the Zathyus Network by storm - advertising and “no-rules” general chat forums are recent examples. When a forum is going to open up, the owner promises “unique” services or content that would make the forum different. However, when the forum opens, there’s nothing new, with the supposed “unique” content being the same as another forum’s except with a different name.

It’s unfortunate that people actually reward these admins by going to their forum, fooling themselves that this content is really different, and proceed to boost the admin’s ego by accumulating hundreds of posts per day. These forums offer nothing different, so why make them succeed?

Then there are forums who offer something truly unique…but there’s a reason why they’re unique: they don’t work. For example, an ad forum awhile back offered a YouTube Video Service for forums and they would make a YouTube video for them. First off, that’s not bad of an idea. Sites can get traffic off of YouTube. But, it was executed poorly. It was just a plain old advertisement. Nothing compelling for a YouTube viewer to watch. Was there any research done to see if this works? Given that most Zathyus Network admins aren’t marketing majors, probably not, but before you come up with a service, you should at least make sure it’s effective. Just because it’s easy/fun for you, doesn’t mean it’s good or effective for the customer.

I’ve mentioned before on forums that you don’t necessarily need innovation in order to succeed, just the perception that you are. While this is true (at least for Zathyus), it’s unfortunate as well. A real innovative forum that doesn’t stretch the boundaries (like the YouTube Video Service) is a big advantage over the clone forums that make way too many empty promises. Don’t make a forum simply because everyone else is making one. If you have a truly different idea, don’t be afraid to make one. And vice versa. If you just want to make one, don’t make it.

Short entry…eh. I’ll expand more later.

IF/ZB ,

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 , , , , , ,

Forum Packages - Do They Work?

December 25th, 2008

Since the start of the advertising era in the Zathyus Network (and to an extent, other forums too), one thing has always remained prominent - forum packages. Many forums offer these things that are apparently supposed to help boost your forum’s activity and help advertise.

Each forum tends to have the same set of packages, plus or minus a couple - basic advertising, signature advertising, banner advertising, pinned topic advertising, posting service, newsletter advertising, and maybe an odd service here and there.

Sometimes it can be a pain to apply for all these packages, keep track of which post count is needed for what (although Hireem somewhat removed these), guidelines, and whatnot that some of us get lazy and don’t apply for all of them (me included).

However, it may not be needed…because some of those services are useless anyways.

So which ones are the ones that really work? In theory, they should all work. But as the average Internet user becomes more ad-blind, and most forum users are above average, many of these become useless. Let’s see the two most useless packages then - signature and banner advertising.

They’re useless because no one really takes the time to look at the ads. The time it takes to make it effective is not worth the return. In order to get noticed, you have to have a really appealing ad - and given so many talent graphic designers out there, it’s tough to make the one ad that stands out. If you’re not a graphic designer, you have to get someone else to make it for you, which takes up time that you could be advertising effectively.

Pinned topics and newsletter advertising are a little different. Depending on how they’re done, they can be effective, but just like the banner and signature advertising, it’s very easy to skip over them.

That leaves two services left - the basic advertising service and the posting service. These two, in my opinion, are the most effective of the packages. The basic advertising is where a forum owner can post an ad that allows him to put the link to his forum, the genre, and a little bit of spice with the description. The basic advertising is one of the more versatile services, especially if the ad forum allows you to bump the topic, which is the strongest point. If a user browsing through the directory sees a topic with a couple of pages, chances are they’ll check it out because it’s different. Additionally, people can comment on it and give you feedback. And whilst not really concerning the casual Zathyus Network user, it can help build PageRank if you anchor the text correctly.

Now, the posting service. It’s an odd one, but it’s the only one that actually guarantees “traffic”. Of course, traffic has to be in quotations though, because it’s not really a real user…yet. However, if there’s good staff posting, the posting service is a powerful tool. One good topic (and perhaps controversial) can trigger 20 replies, making a 20-post service really a 40-post service. The problem occurs when the staff is lazy and makes only five word posts and generic, “filler” topics. That can make a forum look bad.

So there you go, a brief overview on some of the common forum packages out there. Use these packages at your own discretion.

IF/ZB , , , , , , , , , ,

Stop creating forums

December 23rd, 2008

I wish that there was a background check on creating forums. It would be easy; it would check to see how many forums you’ve created and then their shutdown date. Then depending on those stats, it would approve or deny your creation of a forum. If it denied it, it would give a small reason why, like “you suck” or “learn English” and singlehandedly ruin a person’s self-esteem, because then they would really know that they suck instead of living in denial.

Hold up. I just got a call on my cell phone from some random company that tells me that my car warranty is going to expire. My car is 18 years old so I think my warranty expired already. I’ve gotten calls from these people in the past and it’s obviously a scam. What’s even more odd is that someone who received the call on her cell phone is on the National Do Not Call list. And plus, it’’s illegal to solicit on cell phones.

Holy shit! I figured out why this happens… I’m referring to both the call I just received and why I think people should stop creating forums. The answer has been quite obvious but I think it’s coincidental that the call I received shares something similar to the blog I am writing. To make it simple, the reason why people do these things is because there is no consequence.

But, I’m sure you already knew that.

There is no consequence because we’re on a free host, and the company that called me hasn’t been caught yet; while there have been complaint about it, there is no lawsuit against them. But suddenly add in a small price, then quality of forums will increase; add in the lawsuit for the companies, and they will stop their service and lose revenue.

Well, they aren’t exactly alike. But I hope you know what I mean.

There’s no way Invisionfree or Zetaboards is going to charge for their services though. So, I propose a solution. It’s called the 150 hour rule.

There is a show called Heroes and the writers use this rule. It states that if you come up with a great idea, wait 150 hours. Then if it’s still as awesome as when you first thought of it, use it. If it’s lost its flair, then don’t use it.

The point of this rule is to filter the good ideas from the bad ones. When we think of something awesome, we tend to think too far ahead and idealize the concept — putting it on a pedestal, if you will. And since we tend to over think it, we act on a whim and spend too much time into the idea, then we realize that it’s not going to work. That’s the worst thing that can happen, because wasted time isn’t something you can get back.

Now, you don’t NEED to stick to 150 hours, of course. Most of the time all it will take is a good night’s sleep and several hours off of forums will be all it takes to make sure you realize that idea you thought up is absurd.

Quite often as an administrator of Zantherus, I come up with great ideas. If the ideas all worked out as I planned, then I’d be the ruler of the world. But they don’t. I followed what Mark Rosewater, a Magic: the Gathering developer, coined the Bullseye theory. It’s not the exact wording, but the idea still stands:

If a novice archer were to shoot enough arrows at a target, he would eventually hit a bullseye. Likewise, if an administrator were to come up with enough ideas, he would eventually hit upon a “key” idea and become successful.

Simple enough, isn’t it? I think a lot of forum owners use this theory far too much. And well, it’s not exactly a good thing.

I think that this issue stems from several problems; now of course, there is the inherent problem that these forums are free and the only investment in it is a little bit of time. The second problem is that the forum owners become too far engrossed in their idea that they fail to see the reality of it. And this is why the 150 hour rule is so helpful in this regard; the ideas that we put on a pedestal when we first thought of it will no longer be on that pedestal. Waiting awhile before implementing ideas allows you to see the idea as other people will see it — well, not exactly, but you will see it in a more pragmatic manner.

Forums, IF/ZB