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“Smaller Forums Have A Better Community” is just an excuse

January 29th, 2009

I’ve heard this phrase a million times. To me, a forum owner saying such a phrase is just an excuse, shielding the fact that they don’t have a big forum.

Let me say first that a small forum is not a bad thing. It can be nice, but once these small forum owners start blurting out these phrases is when it crosses the line.

Because that’s simply not true.

In fact, I’ve seen quite the opposite. Bigger forums have members confess their deep dark sins and fly across the country to meet each other, while smaller forums struggle, using filler topics to try to keep alive, claiming that their “community” is real while the bigger forum’s community is not.

Extreme example but I’ve seen it happen. It’s not always the same for every forum, of course.

However, let’s define the word “community” first before I get into this topic. Dictionary.com defines it as:

a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.

Just the first definition, but I think this fits the definition of a forum community, does it not?

A bigger forum does have a community. There are a couple reasons why:

1) The chances of you finding someone you share a common interest with you is greater.

That’s the definition of a community. Granted, it’s a lot easier to find someone if it’s a niche forum, such as computers, but finding someone who’s into Ubuntu Linux may be a bit tougher. Or finding someone on a general forum who’s into underground hip-hop. It’s easier to find someone with a similar interest on a forum with 100,000 members than 100 members.

2) It’s easier to talk about “real” stuff.

Analogy time.

Imagine you walked into a convention of people with a similar interest to you. How comfortable would you feel, doing things such as checking out the stands, talking to other people, if there was only 5 people there? 10 people? How about 100? 100,000?

It could be a little awkward to you if you’re the only one doing things at the convention while everyone sits down and is silent. It’s a lot easier to do something when so many other people are doing the same thing. In a bigger community, the chance of that happening is a lot better. Leading by example plays a huge part in the community.

If there was a thread where people confessed their deepest darkest secret, would you feel more comfortable posting in it if it had 1 reply or 10,000? In fact, you may feel more compelled to post in a bigger thread than a smaller one because you could relate to a lot of the posts in there. A bigger thread is more likely to occur in a bigger forum.

However, this is not to say that a smaller forum does not have a community. But these forum owners sometimes get a cynical view on bigger forums, saying they’re too rules-based, strict, no community, or other false accusations. But you know, there’s a reason why they’re big…and that’s because they do have a community.

Of course it’ll be harder to “be known” in a bigger forum, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Each forum has some sort of “tolerance” for new members, and usually for smaller forums it’s lower because they need to be welcoming, otherwise their memberbase could dry up.

Anyways this may sound a bit jumbled but I’m just posting as I think.

Other

Constant Revamps is a Bad Sign

January 28th, 2009

If you find yourself having to revamp your forum every couple months or so to stimulate activity, you better take a hard look at your forum. You’re doing something wrong, and that problem can’t simply be solved by a revamp.

They’re living off the hype that brought the members to them in the first place. When they revamp, they want that same hype that they received when they first opened.

Not necessarily a good thing. First off, it’s tough to replicate those opening board stats and two, the constant revamps will eventually backfire. Revamps are supposed to be something cool for your members to experience, not a monthly ritual. Consistency is a good thing. Members like to see a consistent applications of the rules, the same moderating team consistently active, a consistent layout that doesn’t change up too often, and revamping too often can kill that idea of consistency. Imagine going to school or work and at random times, they moved the desks, chairs, and even rooms around randomly to “give it a new look.” You’d get annoyed by that of course. Maybe once every so often can be good to relieve the boredom of the workforce or students, but not all the time.

The biggest problem that causes a revamp is a lack of a true member base. A forum may brag that they have 200+ members and 10,000+ posts in a matter of days, but how often they revamp really shows how “successful” they are. Of course, such stats aren’t much to brag about if you just opened, because chances are you’re just riding the hype. When the hype dies down, it’s back to the revamp board…unfortunately. You can’t rely on your members to bring activity.

Revamps bring a new look, and because of the look, it seems to provide fresh new content that entices members to come back. It doesn’t always work that way.

But you don’t need to revamp to stimulate activity again. It’s tough to replicate your most active weeks, so first of all, don’t aim for that. Instead, aim for a member base that posts rather consistently. Maybe not 100 times a day, but maybe a couple times a day is something to shoot for.

There are several other things you could do in order to stimulate activity again. Remember though, don’t do these too often. Instead, these are meant to delay the revamp and try to get activity going so you don’t have to revamp to get activity.

1) Get a contest going

A contest is a great way to get your members going. However, make sure the contest is something simple, accessible, and most of all, related to your forum. For example, a posting contest. A posting contest can be done on any forum really, and members will be motivated to post. Watch out for spam though. The moderators need to step up. A more specific contest for say, a gaming forum, could be an online tournament.

Be sure you offer a good incentive too. Same rules as the contest - simple, accessible, and related to your forum. For example, with a gaming forum, you may offer in-game items as a price if the game is online. Or with a music forum, offer a CD or even an mp3 player as a prize. It costs a little money of course, but if your members and you have fun doing it, you didn’t really lose anything at all, did you?

2) Get Involved!

Nothing hurts a small forum more than the admin not interacting with the members. If you have a gaming forum, hold a weekly/bi-weekly gaming night where all of the members log onto a game and do something together, whether it be just chatting, playing against each other, or playing as a team against another team. Have a leaderboard where you can keep track of the best players and maybe award prizes.

When the event is over, your members will come back to the forum to discuss it, stimulating activity. Additionally, it’ll bring your community closer.

3) Add a new forum

Alright, this could almost fall into a revamp, but not always, especially when there’s a huge demand for a certain kind of forum. This should definitely not be done a lot, but adding a new forum can have a lot of benefits. It shows the member what  is allowed at the forum and can trigger something in their mind that they could post.

As an example, imagine a general discussion forum with three forums, “General Discussion” ,”Music & Movies”, and “Books.” If you wanted to post about sports, where would it go? The most logical place is General Discussion but it’s not really “General.” If a forum added was “Physical Activity.” It’s more specific and you know where sports should go.

So there are a couple tips if your forum needs activity. Remember to get your member base started so that way when you revamp, it’s because you need a new look, not because you need new members.

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