6 Ways to Drive up Engagement in Your Forum
A forum is a great way to build your own community. We highlight a few best practices on how to bind users and boosting engagement in your forum.
Creating your own forum is a significant step, but only very few people have gained experience before. We want to share our experience of over 20 years and help you to create a successful forum. With our forum software WoltLab Suite we have already helped tens of thousands of people to turn their idea into a forum.
The first and arguably most important step in running a successful forum is strategically picking a topic. But why is that?
It has to do with how forums have evolved since the early days of the Internet. In the late 90s and early 2000s, operators who opened forums on a particular topic were usually the first to do so. This, in turn, meant that there was little to no competition and that visitors searching for that topic would find that forum immediately.
Today, there is a forum on almost every topic, both broad and specific. However, that doesn't mean you can't create a successful forum.
A promising strategy is to choose a very narrow niche topic around which to center the forum. A general forum about cars is not very promising, but a forum about a specific car make or model range is.
In addition, advertising revenue is often lower in a forum for very broadly covered topics. It is common knowledge that certain categories of websites receive higher ad rates and thus earn more money. This phenomenon also applies to forums.
A good place to start for finding interesting topics and evaluating demand is Google Trends.
Before you start a forum, you should check how your competition is positioned. It is advisable to use search engines to check to what extent there are competitors for the topic of your forum and how they position themselves.
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Ideally, you want to find a product or niche topic that people are passionate about, but that provides little or no good information when researched.
It's also a good idea to check Reddit. If there is a large and active subreddit for your product or topic, it's unlikely you'll be able to draw visitors away from Reddit.
Depending on the topic of your forum, it may be useful to extend the forum functionality using plugins. WoltLab Suite offers you a whole range of possibilities to enhance the site and provide added value to both visitors and members.
For example, if your forum is very image-heavy, it can benefit enormously from an image gallery. If more events or meetings are organized in the forum, it is recommended to use the calendar. The trade with items can be handled wonderfully with the help of a marketplace. In the Plugin-Store you can find many extensions for your forum.
But also remember not to overdo it. Too many features can overwhelm users and scare them away. Introduce plugins gradually and explain to your users how to use them wisely. Don't be afraid to remove plugins that your users haven't adopted.
It may sound trite, but you'd be surprised how many forums make registering a user account unnecessarily complicated.
If a potential user sees a long list of items they need to fill out in order to register, they may abort and leave. For this reason, you should make sure that the registration process is as simple as possible. More than the mandatory information (username, email address and password) should be asked only if absolutely necessary, less important information a user can fill in later in their user profile.
The option to sign up via a third-party provider such as Facebook also simplifies the registration process, as many potential users already have an account there.
Of course, an empty forum does not invite people to read and certainly not to register and participate. It is not enough to simply create a forum and wait for users to fill it with content. Therefore, especially for a newly created forum, it is important to provide interesting content that ensures that the forum is found via search engines and encourages users to participate.
This can be, for example, discussions or polls that actively ask for feedback from users. Or articles that provide content worth reading and are linked to a discussion in the forum - there are no limits to creativity.
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If you want to be successful with your forum in the long run, you have to keep developing your strategy. This can look very different from forum to forum. A forum is not a static platform, topics and people change and develop further. In the case of a forum about vehicles, this can be the rise of alternative engine types, which opens up completely new perspectives and subject areas.
Likewise, time itself can play a role, for example, with a focus on video games of the 80s: In the past there was most liekely a discussion about how to solve a game section, but today there may already be a need for a marketplace to trade or exchange games that are no longer available. If it was discussed previously which brick and mortar store offers a game for cheaper, the discussions could now be shifted towards the repair process of the old technology.
Creating your own forum is not a one-time event but a continuous process. You as the operator can contribute significantly to the success of your forum by actively developing it and getting a feel for what is important for your forum in the future.
Nowadays, it is much more challenging to create a successful forum. This is due in no small part to the fact that most established forums and online communities were created in the early days of the Internet. One factor is also the continued popularity of general discussion boards such as Reddit, which quickly fill popular topics.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to create a successful online community on your website. It is a good idea to gradually implement forums as a further development of your own website or blog in order to benefit from the already existing visitor numbers and at the same time offer your readers added value.
Do you already run a forum yourself and would like to tell others about your experiences? Do you have any good tips and recommendations yourself that others can learn from? Share it with us in the comments!