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Use Forums to Boost Your Blog’s Value

This guest post is by Michael Silverman of Duo Consulting.

As bloggers, we’re constantly obsessing over ways to extend our reach to more people. We hover over every scrap of information about promoting our blogs and expanding our audience. And we use social media channels to get the word out and go viral.

There’s no doubt that these are important parts of maintaining a successful blog. Still, what role do you assign to your existing audience? Most bloggers are appreciative of their readership, but many rarely consider that their existing audience can do more than promote content and keep the comments active.

Why don’t we spend more time inflating the potential of our existing audience?

Tapping the hidden potential

I’ll answer that question with another one: do you think of your blog as a publishing platform with occasional interaction, or a full-blown community?

For successful bloggers, it’s quite probable that your readers have more to say than they post in the comments. Raise the value of your blog by giving audience members the means to connect.

Consider the potential of integrating forums into your website.

It worked for Dooce. Heather Armstrong’s success promoting her unique brand of perspective came over ten years of blogging. Site analytics concluded more than a quarter of Dooce’s traffic was made up of repeat visitors, some of whom visited hundreds of times per new post. They were begging for a home. They craved an identity.

Working with an online community development expert, Heather integrated a Q&A forum into her website. Within the first day, nearly 16,000 loyal readers signed up for the Dooce community—a clear indicator that the community was already present, almost supernaturally, and was hungry for the interaction in which it subsequently engaged.

How forums add value

You can do more with your audience, too.

Maximizing that potential requires a transition in perspective. In addition to positioning your blog as an editorial content machine, consider five ways more user-generated content can strengthen your site’s value.

1. Empower your readers with ownership

Everyone wants to be a part of the experience. When you offer your readers a place to interact, they become a catalyst for content. Elevating your audience from readers to contributors implies a newfound sense of ownership that can greatly increase loyalty to your brand.

2. Keep your audience on your site longer

You’re only one person, and you can only generate so much content. Bloggers with strong followings have found that readers visit multiple times per post. Without new content, you lose a golden opportunity to keep visitors on your site longer. Yet with forums, you gain a source of new content that won’t require much day-to-day commitment on your end.

3. Improve search visibility

In addition to all of the backbreaking promotional labor you perform, consider the continuous stream of new content that a forum can produce. Your site gets constant attention from search engines while gaining traction for new keywords.

4. Simplify how readers connect with each other

Your blog is a valuable source of networking opportunity, but it’s difficult to tap into if you’re only employing the comments for reader interaction.

Forums, on the other hand, create a channel for direct interaction between readers. You already provide your audience with valuable information; expand that value by offering them the means to connect.

5. Find new ways to empathize with readers

Your content is successful because you understand the motivations of your audience and empathize with them. Forums open the conversation up, offering you valuable insights into your audience that you can turn into writing inspiration. You can also leverage these conversations to connect with your audience on a more personal level, in an appropriate venue separate from your blog’s editorial feed.

The right tools for the job

How easy or difficult it is to plug forums in depends on your blogging platform. If you’re on WordPress, you can integrate popular forum software like bbPress. Singletrack Magazine, for instance, couples article content with popular mountain biking forums (powered by bbPress).

Singletrack

If you have a large content library powered by Drupal, you have options. Dooce’s Q&A section was built in Drupal. Among the most popular of the modules available for Drupal websites is the Advanced Forum module.

Sometimes, a strong blog or publication builds itself up on the power of user-generated content. AbsolutePunk, a popular online community for pop-punk enthusiasts, leverages vBulletin to get the job done. The software comes with a strong CMS to help power site and editorial content. Or, like some blogs and sites, you may decide to host the forum on another platform.

AbsolutePunk

No matter what CMS you use, you can build forums that mimic the theme of the website and link back and forth between the website content and forums.

You have an opportunity in front of you to raise the value of your website. If you take advantage of it effectively, the rewards can be great.

Do you have a forum on your blog? Are you a forum member on another blog? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

In addition to founding and leading Chicago-based Duo Consulting, Michael Silverman has headed up a number of online community development projects for 15 years. He just launched the book on online communities, Capturing Community: How to Build, Manage and Market Your Online Community.

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Comments

  1. Remember to monitor the forum closely in the beginning and bring in a few moderators who can help you. New forums tend to attract people who, consciously or unconsciously, spread incorrect information and it’s important to correct it as soon as possible. E.g. in a fitness forum there’s a major chance new member will spread myths.

    • Great tips, Stefan! It’s important to moderate where you can (to an extent). Once you have a strong community of contributors, you may even find the community will start policing itself for this kind of misinformation. Seed members may make even stronger advocates for community self-moderation.

    • If you have 16,000 people willing to sign up, a forum will probably take off well, but it’s tough to start a forum from scratch in a niche where forum/forums already exist.

  2. Ehsan Ullah says:

    Hey Michael, Thanks for sharing the great tips. Using forums to boost blog’s value is good, but bringing those traffic from forums to your blog and networking with them in your blog (Blog) is great thing to do.

  3. I love forums, but the number one problem that I encounter with them is the fact that, most of the time, they’re not active enough. Maybe it’s because the TV Tropes fora spoiled me by having its writer’s orientated sub-forum have plenty of activity, but many forums have many sub-categories that don’t have enough activity to sustain a sub-community.

    In any case though, I’m aiming for more forum-like activity in my comments. The problem is how to encourage it.

    • Have you thought about recruiting from other forums? If you’re active and members recognize you, you can always get in touch with them directly and enlist their help in kick-starting your forums.

      I encourage our clients working on community projects to seed their forums with “starter” members and conversations. Obviously, you can’t always promise pay to those seeds, but you can get creative with some sort of service exchange.

  4. Zach says:

    I have had a forum up for several months. I occasionly post things there but no one else does. I have 40+ users most have never posted before. I feel that one day it will add value, but you should wait til you have a loyal readership before taking the plunge.

    Jumping too soon like I did has hurt me in my opinion. An inactive forum looks bad and makes my site look bad. One day it will take off. But until then I will try to build a community.

    • Yeah I feel the same way too. While you do not have a loyal following yet just be content with the comments form. Make an active interaction with your readers. If you get a very high number of comments on a regular basis or possibly on every posts then consider adding a forum.

      Thanks for the tip anyway which goes as a reminder for us blog site owners for future use.

      • Thanks for the input, guys. Have you considered seeding your community with users and content? If you can find a few friends or online contacts to help you out, that’s a good way to get started.

        True, forums are much more active when you already have a big audience—but isn’t everything easier with tons of readers? It’ll take some hard work, but it’s worth it if you decide it makes sense for your blogging goals.

  5. I think that building forums after a blog creation directly is a waste of time. However, keep up the good work.

    Regards,
    Ahmed Safwan
    ToStartBlogging.Com

  6. James says:

    If you have 16,000 people willing to sign up, a forum will probably take off well, but it’s tough to start a forum from scratch in a niche where forum/forums already exist.

    • True, well-established forums can be daunting to compete with. But they also give you some advantages. For instance, you know there’s an audience willing to talk about your topic online. You can find major influencers in those forums and try to lure them over to yours through incentives.

      Try giving your forum a twist that competing forums don’t have. Or, narrow the topic a bit to offer a more focused premise.

  7. I agree with what Zach says, I wouldn’t dream of starting a Forum until I had a massively followed website, and that’s light years away for me.

    I’ve just started looking into using high page rank Forums that allow you to include links to build my back links up, anybody have any suggestions?

    Have started with Warrior Forum so far.

    Thanks in advance.

  8. Hi Michael,

    Establish your authority. Connect with like-minded bloggers. Prosper. Smart tips here.

    Forums help you grow your online presence. A virtual meet up spot. Meet more blogging leaders, strengthen your support system, give and receive inspirational ideas.

    Join niche specific forums to hyper target your lead generation campaign. As people see your knowledge increasing numbers of folks will go to you for advice, support, and eventually will buy what you have to offer.

    Thanks Michael!

    Ryan

  9. Andrew L says:

    Some really good ideas. They way you use blogging as a platform to jump from makes sense. You really need a great feel for your audience though

  10. I bought a vBulletin forum license few months ago to create internet marketing forum. But I didn’t have much time to handle it at all. I think the license never expires so I can use same license to create forum for my blog.

    Thanks for the idea Michael :)

  11. Hello World! For bloggers that want to make money, all options come with “monetizing woes”. As a blogger in the 21st century, there are countless methods or frameworks to further enhance and embed a blogger within his demographic. It really boils down to who you are and what you can sell to your market. And whatever you sell, you have to maintain it.

    Forums are supernatural. They are one of those internet anomalies that are equally loved by search engines as they are by the people who frequent them. As a blogger that wants to monetize (I only like referring to people who do not waste talents :-P), the more you learn to sell the technologies available to you, the better off you will be.

    In a nutshell, prove the efficiency of the technology . . . then glue the Nike check on your forehead and just “sell” it. Oh . . . and you better make sure your customer’s sneakers do not bust open in the first mile and a half. “Buyers remorse” is blogger kryptonite.

    Donatello Bae
    CMO of practicalhire.com

  12. Ayaz says:

    Hi Micheal,

    Great post and excellent and concisely mentioned the tools. I love reading the article and feel worthy to read it and I am looking for the forum posting best strategy and I wonder is that would be work great for me.

    Thanks for sharing excellent post!

  13. Well! This fact is true…Forums can help a lot.

  14. view4ia.com says:

    Whats up are using WordPress for your blog platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own.
    Do you require any html coding expertise to make your own blog?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  15. Kashish says:

    Forums can be the source for maximum referral traffic if you know how to use it properly. Always posts your thoughts in the forums with the same niche as your blog and you will see a rapid increase in your blogs traffic.

  16. Building forums along with the blog’s doesn’t work for all as I seen many. But if you get succeeded then its really good. First we need to check whether forum is really need in the blog. Thanks Michael.

  17. Hi, I’m just a newbie in the field of IM and I’m trying to find ways how to improve my rank and also my site. Your TIPS are really helpful and I will try to implement it.

    Cheers to us!

  18. Forums are all about bringing your community together and sharing knowledge.

    They are a fantastic source of inspiration for content. I love seeing content that collates the best members comments into a post.

    There are some blogs that do this fantastically well and are always reacting to what their forums are telling them.

    I think if they’re neglected however, they can do more harm than good as they become extremely ‘spammy’.

  19. Hi, very interesting post, thank you. Can I add a forum to my Blogger blog? Thanks for any input or advice…

  20. Jerry says:

    One main goal with my blog was to build a community. I must say you don’t NEED a forum to build a community around your blog, it does help.

    Remember, not everyone who reads a blog is a blogger or like to comment. There are many in my niche who are used to forums.

    I built my community around a firearm (the m1a/m14 rifle). We are a small, tight knit community and a lot of the guys there prefer to use the forum rather than commenting on my blog.

    Forums help build community around the core blog and add authority. Not only that, they help with SEO by user generated content (if your forum is SEO’ed).

    I even integrated the forum on the home blog page so new users can see the active community.

    Check it out http://www.m1arifles.com/

    All in all, I’m happy I added a forum to my blog. it helped generate massive traffic from user generated content and also helped my blog become an authority within my firearm niche.

    Some tips to help spark a successful forum community.

    * Guest post and add the benefits of your forum in the author bio box.
    * Run a forum post contest (track ip’s to weed out the cheaters)
    * Incorporate your social media with your forum
    * Post forum topics on your facebook page

    Those are just some quick tips, good luck!

  21. Cheryl says:

    “Trying” to start a forum right now, but stuck on how to advertise with no advertising budget. I will start to promote it with my simple living coaching, hope that helps the idea catch on some.

    • Cheryl – have you tried posting in related forums? Perhaps building a presence elsewhere and reaching out to major influencers could help you drive some “seed” interaction.

  22. Why would someone want to start a forum in 2012 when people ask their questions on Twitter and Facebook ? Forums are so 2004.

    • You’d be surprised, Mihai. Facebook and Twitter are overloaded platforms. Personally, I’d rather discuss a specific topic with a group of people who are interested in the subject and know what they’re talking about. A lot of people share this sentiment, and I think that’s a major driver for why forums are still popular.

  23. Wade says:

    Forum posting is a great way to boost your sites backlinks plus boost you personally within social networking. I love forum posting! There is always a great forum for your niche somewhere!

  24. Take your time and choose the forums that fit your topic and your style. Although the large forums can send a lot of traffic to your blog you may get swallowed up by the competition. I like to find the forums somewhere in the middle where I can contribute but not disappear in the shuffle.

  25. Just installed bbPress based on this article! However, bbPress is not as straightforward as it would seem. You have to know the shortcodes and create a new page so people can log on. Also, you need to adjust your settings so people can register on your blog. (Settings -> General -> Anyone Can Register)

    I finally set that up, but no one has posted anything yet. I’m not doing any more “fancy” work with bbPress until I see some activity. So far, ghost town, but I only just started. I’ll give it another month or two to see if it’s actually adding value to my site.

  26. Great article, I been searching for ways to increase my traffic to my website. Thanks again.

  27. Kent says:

    Thanks for the tips! :)

  28. I am curious as to what people have found to be the most successful free forum software. I have tons of people registering per day, but then no one post. More than likely they are just spamming robots, but I want an interface that doesn’t require the user to fill out 15 Captcha’s before they can leave their thoughts.

    This is a good and inspirational post, now I must find how to make it work for me.

    Thank you!

    TJ

  29. Cory says:

    What’s up, after reading this amazing piece of writing i am also glad to share my experience here with colleagues.