Since there are quite a few conversations about starting a forum over at WesiteBabble.com, I thought I’d blog about it.
Owning a forum can be a great addition to your online business. You can monetize it, use it to promote your existing site or blog and build credibility for yourself as the owner.
A forum can also help keep your inbox manageable. I get quite a few emails so I encourage people to post their questions on my forum.
Many times people get an answer faster than they would from email, and the whole community can benefit from the discussion.
If you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to launch a forum. After all, how cool would it be to own a popular community website where people can interact, right?
On the other hand, if your forum has no activity, it can be more of a headache than a compliment to your cyberlife.
Build Traffic First
Any kind of online community needs a traffic base. Unless you already have a large group to market to, it’s not a good idea to begin with a forum.
I always tell people that it’s easier to launch a forum if you already have a website or blog getting steady traffic. Then you can use that site to promote it.
I waited until 2 Create a Website had at least 2,000 visitors per day before I launched WebsiteBabble.com. The first 3 times I tried to launch a forum, I didn’t have enough traffic and it was very difficult to build up enough activity.
People don’t want to participate in communities that look vacant. Not to mention, a vacant forum makes your site seem smallish and unimportant.
Once you do have enough traffic and you’re ready to launch your forum, start using your site or blog to begin building participation.
I helped WebsiteBabble.com grow by weaving links into my content on 2CreateAWebsite.com.
For example, at the very bottom of my Website Creation Options page where I talk about Site Build It!, I invite people to post questions about the product on my forum.
Instead of linking them to the main page of the forum, I send them right to the Site Build It! section. Sending people to relevant areas of your forum often encourages them to participate.
When you first launch a forum, don’t create a lot of sub categories. It takes a while for forum activity to pick-up, and if you have a lot of sub categories, it really emphasizes the low number of posts on your forum.
I started off with 4 categories, and when the activity picked up I added more.
Create Fake Conversations
You’re going to feel silly doing this, but it really works. When I first launched Website Babble I created some fake usernames and posted some starter questions and answers.
This will keep your forum from looking so bare and will encourage others to participate.
Tip: Just make sure you turn off the “View IP Address” option or your members might get suspicious when they see 10 people posting with the same IP address. 🙂
Use a Good Script
There are some decent free forum scripts out there (phpbb, mybb, etc.), but you get the best support and most flexibility with a paid solution like vBulletin.
I’ve tried many different forum scripts over the years and nothing beats vBulletin. The customization options are endless and the Admin panel is easy to use. If you can afford the $160 then it’s definitely worth the purchase.
Also, since many forums use vBulletin, people are often more familiar with the script and there’s less of a learning curve for the average user.
Are You Ready for a Forum?
A well-run, active forum can be a nice addition to your online portfolio. Just remember there’s work involved with maintaining it.
You can appoint moderators to help you, but ultimately you are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep.
Take your time with the launch. Build your traffic base first, then consider setting up your online community.