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6 Tips on Adding a Forum to Your Blog

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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Your link to the forum is a 404. You are missing a “p.”

  2. BoardTracker says:

    Tip #7: Submit your board to BoardTracker ;)

  3. Tyler Ingram says:

    Would a forum blog really be a good thing?

    Comment sections are similar to a fourm but the users themselves cannot create the topics.

    I would only see forums being really good on various topics. To me, forums are best for things like programming, where you can ask questions and have other users reply back. Hardware review sites are another good place. Gaming sites etc.

    But for a blog, I dont see the reason for a forum unless it is about blogging. If people have questions on how to blog or making money on their blog, get advice from other bloggers etc. Forums are a communitiy thing right? Blogs are more of a personal outlook that can spawn into communities but….maybe I’m just rambling here :)

  4. Having an established web site that enables you to refer ongoing traffic to your forums helps tremendously. My forums are two months old today, and we’re up to 2818 members and 27,553 posts. Plus there are tons of lurkers. There’s no way we’d be doing so well without the blog referring all those visitors.

    Perhaps the most challenging issue has been dealing with trolls. In the beginning the mods and I would be very lenient and give warnings and infractions, trying to be as fair as possible, but that turned out to be a big mistake, as the trolls would simply see it as weakness and continue trolling. I’ve since learned to be a real hardass when it comes to trolls and ban them immediately.

    There’s a key difference between people who post to share ideas, request advice, and genuinely help each other vs. those who post just to get a reaction for their own personal amusement. Trolls often try to make it look like they’re contributing, but in reality they just waste everyone’s time. I notice that whenever I banish a troll, it feels as if the energy of the forum community begins to rise again. Instead of falling for troll bait, members return to discussions that really benefit them.

  5. I actually came the reverse way around :) … the WinExtra forums started out 6+ yrs ago as NNTP newsgroups but due to some circumstances I had to moved them to a web based forum type setup. At first I was a little worried about losing folks that had been with us since day one. As it turns out we did lose a few due to them being NNTP snobs :) who just didn’t like web forums and weren’t willing at all to give the new format a try.

    I then tied the web forums in with the blog at which point I became serious about blogging as I looked at the both as a complete package.

  6. Small Potato says:

    Thanks for the tips Darren.

    I’m planning to install a forum for my blog. For me, the main issue is blog-forum user account integration. I want the forum system to use registered members info from my blog system.

    Right now, I’m leaning toward bbPress and Vanilla, which are capable of that. vBulletin would be more secure (or at least feel like so) and it definitely has more features. But, I haven’t found any article on stable WordPress + vBulletin integration.

  7. Small Potato:

    If I might suggest taking a look at SMF Forums (http://www.simplemachines.org/) as I think that it might be possible to use with WordPress the way you want. A quick question in their forums should confirm that or not and they are really good on quick replies to support questions.

  8. Rirath says:

    I’ve got a small forum that I’ll be the first to admit hasn’t found a usage yet, but I like having it. Though my site is a gaming / anime site where perhaps having a forum is easier, I think any blog could benefit from one. Every blog has a target, and forums provide a place for on going discussions on the key topics.

    My previous site I had barely a trickle of visitors for the entirety of the site… until I launched a forum. Together with my sister we invited a small group of friends and soon got up about 2500+ posts. All this content and activity really got Google’s attention, and from then on I had a surge of traffic that never stopped.

  9. Small Potato says:

    …I forgot to post my answer to Tyler’s comment:

    For bloggers with less time, but still would like to update their blogs frequently, a forum could serve as a content farm. Forums encourage your readers to post their own content. And, highlighting user-generated content on your blog makes people feel even more attached to your site.

  10. Jason Drohn says:

    Check out wp-forum at http://www.fahlstad.se/. Nice integration right into a site. The only downside is you need a pretty wide template to make it work well. Or you can dig into the CSS.

  11. Jason Drohn says:

    Sorry for the repost.. wp-forum is a plugin for wordpress.

  12. Some great points there Darren.

    I think this is where Drupal can really shine, as it can be used as a standalone blog, forum, CMS – or combination of all of the above. (Either on launch or down the track).

    Matt

  13. sagepowder says:

    I am new here, just saying hello :)

  14. John Wesley says:

    Is there any chance a ProBlogger forum is in the works? I think it would be a great addition to the community. Bloggers already come here to learn and share new ideas, a forum would really make communication easier, and let people ask questions you might not post about.

  15. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,
    The one thing no one mentioned is the number of spammers who sign up for a forum and try to post about everything from drugs to porn.

    I got so overwhelmed just in trying to weed them out, I finally closed my forum.

    Maybe I was just using the wrong platform, but all my time was being wasted and the REAL members stopped showing up.

    Joe

    And yes, I did try all the normal ways of weeding, but my inbox ended up with hundreds of “applicants” a day.
    J.

  16. Darren Rowse says:

    John – not at this point, although it’s something I’ve thought long and hard about.

    Joe – yeah – spammers could kill a forum, guess thats why I am hoping to recruit some good moderators to share the load.

  17. DE says:

    Excellent points we started a forum on one of our sites and the increase in traffic was and is great.Folks can discuss and answer questions,just make sure the forum has the same theme as your site.Actually you don’t have to have a site just a host to point to your forum.

  18. Robert Brown says:

    Having managed fourms professionally (for RTÉ no less), I have learnt two very important things…

    1 – Forums eat bandwidth like you would not believe. Optimise the layout ruthlessly.

    2 – Even if you can manage to moderate the forum 24/7, problems caused by forum members fighting and trolls will forever haunt you.

    I would also advise you to draft your own forum user agreement, don’t use the forum software default. For some reason people tend to adhere to a custom set of T&Cs more than a default one.

    Some people can go very odd when they use a web forum.

    Robert

  19. hillbilly says:

    Hello.

    Nice forum design. Okay, I need your help.
    So, I wanna make online-store, and I am looking for site template.
    Can you suggest some online store or other resource where I can find many site templates?

    It would be better if it will be free:)
    I think many of us have personal sites, do you design it yourself?

    Thx, Bill.

  20. Tyler Ingram says:

    I usde to run a forum for an Everquest Server (it was hosted here but was for the European community). It did well, and there were not many issues with trolls/spam etc.

    I would love to admin a forum again, but I would put to to something with a more centered topic than that I do with my blog anyway.

    Though alot of conversation I read on various blogs’ comments could easily be placed into a forum as well.

  21. Adeq says:

    Awesome, man

  22. Eskimosik says:

    Hail

    What do you think about this? When it happens?

  23. Tony Webster says:

    I’ve got a small forum that I’ll be the first to admit hasn’t found a usage yet, but I like having it. Though my site is a gaming / anime site where perhaps having a forum is easier, I think any blog could benefit from one. Every blog has a target, and forums provide a place for on going discussions on the key topics.

  24. adele says:

    Why don’t blogger have forum options intergrated?

  25. Knatchwa says:

    All of them good points and as I am just starting on this journey I am sure I will find the insight offered an invaluable resource.

  26. Knatchwa says:

    adele;

    Perhaps it is simply the fact that the comments of most blogs serve about the same objective. That is in my opinion at least.

  27. Hi Darren, thanks for this excellent post. In the past week I’ve been thinking about creating a forum. But I’ve seen too many forums being started only to see them be stranded after a few weeks due to inactivity – and this might even drag down the whole site down with it, since people will be put off by the “unpopularity”.
    I realize now that the preparation and the “grand opening” of the forum is crucial. And also to have reliable moderators once it’s up and running.
    Cheers,

    Oliver

  28. Hii Frend!,..

    I’m leaning toward bbPress and Vanilla, which are capable of that. vBulletin would be more secure (or at least feel like so) and it definitely has more features. But, I haven’t found any article on stable WordPress + vBulletin integration.

    Ioffersearch.com Blogs – Just another Ioffersearch.com weblog

    Thanks!,..

  29. TheogeFuh says:

    Good day!
    I found an awesome and resourceful Christian site at http://www.dayofsalvation.com which has a good community, and most importantly the message of Jesus!
    P.S. I found a Guide to Salvation.
    May the Lord be with you!

  30. adetsordela says:

    Hello,

    Like 2 days ago I was thinking about posting more often here so I decided to give it a try and
    leave my confort zone and start to listen like when I was younger so from now on I promise to be part of all this, I will try to do my best to give
    the best of me… I dont want to stop things here let’s carry on with what we were doing… Anyone else thinks like me? … too much wine

    :)

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