Online forums offer an intriguing value for your website and your company. They can help you interact and share information with your audience and facilitate the building of a community around your website. However, it is not always easy to start and run an active forum.
Our forum software WoltLab Suite offers a wide range of functions as well as numerous possibilities to customize your own forum to match your vision. In addition to the official apps, the plugin store offers countless third-party plugins to further enhance your forum.
For almost twenty years now, we have been running our own forums and in parallel provided technical and operational support for many successful forums. Over the time we have learned a lot about running a successful forum. Here are 6 of the most important things we have learned that you should do to make your online community or forum more active:
1. Keep the Onboarding Process As Simple As Possible
The registration in the forum should be as simple as possible. Avoid long and complicated registration forms with additional input fields that can easily overwhelm and frustrate potential users. We highly recommended to enable the third-party logins, with which users can register quickly and easily in the forum via portals such as Facebook, Google, Twitter.
Overwhelming users with hundreds of forum sections is a common mistake. This is often very confusing and can lead to users losing the desire to search for the right area in the forum for their query. The best advice is always to start with as few areas in the forum as possible and only gradually increase the number of areas as the forum grows.
2. Spend Time in Your Own Forum
It may sound weird, but you'd be surprised how many people expect their forum to grow all by itself, without any additional work.
Especially in the beginning it is important to be an active part of your own forum. You cannot expect it to grow without your direct support and encouragement, especially in the initial phase of the forum.
For example, if someone writes posts in the forum and doesn't get an immediate response, they may become discouraged and post less often. They may even stop visiting the forum in the first place. Over time, this can have a really negative effect on your website and the forum.
To avoid this, you should be the one who replies to posts that might otherwise go unanswered. In fact, you should reply to as many posts as possible, because the more active you are in the forum, the more likely the community will grow. In addition, by offering valuable information, insights and advice, you can contribute as an expert in your field.
As the forum grows, other users should naturally become active leaders in the forum, and you may be able to take a step back. Then you can encourage these leaders and show them your appreciation to help strengthen your community.
3. Create an Area for Progress Logs
Progress logs are topics in which users report on projects they are working on and the progress they have made. Users return regularly to keep others informed about the progress of their projects, while other users can encourage and advise them.
Contributions like these are highly interactive and promote a positive atmosphere in your community. They encourage users to exchange ideas with each other and create more activity in the forum. They also help to build personal relationships between users.
For example, you can create a special area in your forum where users can continuously report on their projects in ongoing topics. Alternatively, you can use the blog function of the WoltLab Suite Blog to create such an area.
4. Award User Ranks and Trophies to Very Active Users
As we mentioned earlier, some of the most active users in your forum may stand out over time. Perhaps they are particularly well versed in the topic area of your forum or they are simply friendly and accommodating. Either way, you can reward these users by recognizing their contributions to the community as a whole.
In this way, you invite users to make the forum their own. They are encouraged to create new content and interact with other users. In this way, you can start creating a self-sustaining community that is no longer dependent on your constant interaction and is likely to be viable in the long run.
As a reward, you can give special user ranks to the most active users, and additional rights (e.g. as a moderator) could also be considered as a reward. Trophies can also be used to give rewards for certain individual activities (e.g. writing helpful answers).
5. Hold Community-Wide Events and Competitions
Another way to strengthen and bring your community together is through planned events. An event can be a week-long challenge, a competition or special content presented at a specific time.
These events give your community something to look forward to. Users may talk about them before they take place, about their personal challenges or how they would feel if they won the contest. Interactions like these can give a huge boost to overall activity.
Offering prizes for participating in events or winning competitions can drastically increase the amount of participation and thus lead to significantly more activity in your forum. For example, in a forum with a graphic reference, this could be a design competition, or in a game forum, a meeting organized through the forum or a contest in the game.
6. Make Sure Email Notifications Are Enabled
This is another simple thing that can easily be overlooked. Forum notifications are important to let users know when there is activity on any of their posts or comments. It is always annoying not to be notified about new comments in a forum because it is easy to forget something you have posted and never look for answers again.
Email notifications are an important part of a forum's success strategy. When users log in for the first time, visiting your forum is not part of their daily routine. An email reminder is a good tool to remind users that there is something new in the forum.
So make sure that email notifications are enabled in your forum and show users how to subscribe to individual topics or entire sub-forums if they wish.
What experience have you gained as an owner or user of forums? What are your recommendations for more activity on the forums? Share it with us in the comments!