Interweb World posts a useful list that reflects upon some of the lessons that they learned in the recent re-launch of a forum that didn’t take off the first time but which did really well the second.
Their lessons include inviting an audience, promotion, creating content, responding and killing trolls.
It’s actually a list that resonates with my own lessons from the very recent launch of forums over at Digital Photography School.
As I mentioned in my case study on DPS yesterday – it’s still very early days for us there but I’m learning so much. I’ve not ‘arrived’ (or even come close to it) yet but here are a few random lessons I’ve been learning:
- Presell it – I’ve been talking about new purpose built forums at in the weekly DPS newsletter for months now. I’ve asked readers for suggestions, I’ve talked about the reasons why we need them and basically have been attempting to create desire in my current readers for the forum. I didn’t hype it up – but gently led readers to a point where they were used to the idea and wanting to participate.
- Start with Passionate Users - two weeks before I publicly launched the forums I called for ‘forum testers’ from my newsletter list. These testers got the benefit of a sneak peak (everyone likes to be first), helped me get some of the bugs out of the system and most importantly started using the forums so that when I launched there were already 40 members, 25 or so active threads and some interesting discussion going on. Those that volunteered to be testers were generally enthusiast photographers who had passion. In fact all of my moderators have come from this group.
- Find Leverage Points – I’ve seen many forums launch and fall flat on their faces because their owners had no real way of getting people to join. I was fortunate enough to have three leverage points including a blog with 2000 visitors a day, a Flickr Group with a fair number of active members and a newsletter list. I pre-promoted and launched the new forums in each of these spaces. Other leverage points that I’ve seen work for people include being well networked, being famous in a niche and/or advertising very widely. Basically you need some place to tap into that will bring you a burst of traffic to kick things off.
- Empower Key Users – From day one I started to build relationships with the most prolific and most knowledgeable members of the forum. Private messages, emails and eventually IM conversations have led me to a point where I have a good team of moderators already with others volunteering their time. Giving these key people a job is a great way to keep them involved and passionate (which has the flow on effect of drawing others in). I’ve also started areas of the forums where all users can take initiative and contribute their photos (assignments, critique area and how I took it forum). In a sense it’s a place to show off a little and for people to encourage each other. In this way I’m finding people really getting involved.
- Incentives – Advice that I’ve received from a number of other forum owners is to be willing to offer incentives for people to sign up and become active members of the forums. As a result I’m offering some great digital photography books to those who sign up and post at least 5 posts on the forums. Quite a few of those who’ve joined have told me that this is what got them in the door and starting to get involved – but now that they’re in they are hooked by the conversations we’re having there.
- Fun/Community – Rather than creating a forum that is all about sharing ideas and knowledge I’m trying to inject a fun vibe into the way it runs. Having assignments, games, introductions etc all seem to be attracting people in a way that is building community where people are starting to enjoy one another’s company. I know we’re in the honeymoon period on this and there’s sure to be some flame wars at some point (can’t wait til the Nikon/Canon wars break out) but I think at least in these early days we’ve managed to create a space that people want to keep coming back to.
As I say – it’s early days and I’m on a steep learning curve. By no means are my forums the biggest or most successful going around on my niche – but the signs are there that there is potential. I’ve recently had some good advice from other more experienced forum owners that I’ll be looking to implement in the coming weeks.