Everything you need to know about forum software, including the benefits of setting up your very own forum.
Whether you run a business or a personal website, one of the main reasons for having a website is to reach other people. Creating a community based on a forum can help you get more people to visit your website regularly.
For example, companies use forums to get in touch with their own customers and answer questions. Users can freely exchange ideas, help each other and provide valuable feedback on products or services.
In this article we describe in detail how you can create your own forum for your website and what specifics you need to consider.
The first and most important step is to choose the ideal forum software. This software is used to create the forum and you can use it to design and categorize the content according to your ideas. The right software makes all the difference. So make sure to choose a software that meets your requirements and fits your current website.
After you have decided on a forum software, the next step is to choose the right hosting for your forum. Cloud hosting is the easiest way to run a forum and takes a lot of work off your shoulders, as you don't have to worry about installation, updates and regular backups. If you prefer to run the forum yourself on your own web hosting, you should check if your web hosting provider is suitable for this task and meets the system requirements of the forum software.
The next step is to map the topics you have decided on into a clear forum structure. Decide on the main categories and subcategories into which your forum will be divided. Keep in mind that your forum structure should be as intuitive as possible. If you divide your topics into a few categories only, it will usually be easier for your users to find the information they are looking for.
The structure you use to create your forum doesn't have to be set in stone, either. Over time, users will interact with the forum and you may find that it is better to add new categories or reorganize the structure. You should be aware that the structure of your forum may evolve as needed. But especially in the beginning, it is important to make sure that the forum structure is intuitive and simple.
Forums live not only on words, but also on their look and feel. Make sure your forum's overall design matches your website, because members feel more comfortable in a visually appealing and user-friendly forum. By customizing the layout, fonts, colors and more, you can make your forum reflect your project or brand and attract new members.
Tip: You'll find plenty of ready-made designs in the Plugin-Store that you can use or use as the basis for your own design.
Plugins can extend the functionality of your forum and thus create added value for your users or simply make your work easier. WoltLab Suite provides several options to extend your forum in a useful way.
For example, image-heavy forums can benefit from an image gallery as an extension. Events or meetings can be ideally organized with the calendar. Trading items can be handled wonderfully with the help of a marketplace. In the Plugin-Store you can find many extensions for your forum.
But keep in mind that your forum should be intuitive and user-friendly. If the functionality of the forum becomes too extensive through plugins, it can overwhelm users and scare them away. It is important to find a healthy balance in terms of the amount of plugins.
Your forum should create a pleasant space for discussions between users. To achieve this, all users must abide by set rules to ensure a friendly and respectful environment. Clear rules will ensure that discussions do not stray from the topic at hand, and that your users feel comfortable in your forum and happy to return.
Rules you could include are for example:
Make sure that the rules are easily accessible in your forum. For example, you can include them in the text that your users have to confirm before registering.
The best rules are of little use if you don't enforce them. So be ready to point out users who have broken rules and to take consequences in case of repeated misbehavior.
Before the forum is published, you should start some discussions that encourage conversation. This will make the forum seem less empty and get it all started. Keep in mind that it is usually much easier for users to reply to an existing topic than to create their own.
For example, some forums have regular discussion topics that bring participants together at a specific time to engage in conversation. Depending on the topic of the forum and your audience, this could be discussions about industry news or certain sporting events, for example.
The next logical step is to publish your forum and embed it on your existing website. Users should be able to easily find the forum when they visit your website.
Now that the technical steps to create your forum are clear, the next step is to make your forum an active community. In order for discussions to take place, people need to become aware of your forum. The days when you can just put a forum online and the rest will happen on its own are definitely over. A forum competes with many other websites and services for the attention of potential users.
So develop a strategy on how to attract your target audience to your forum. Many of the online marketing tactics you may already be using for your website or blog will also be useful for promoting the forum.
If you have a newsletter, for example, you can announce your new forum in it. You already have an existing website or blog, then of course it makes sense to promote the forum there. Your social networking channels are also a good place to draw attention to your forum.
As your forum grows over time, this step will become less important. But especially in the beginning, promoting your forum should be an important part of your efforts.
As your forum grows, it's important to regularly ask for feedback from your forum users. Ask your users what they like and where you could make improvements to the forum. This will make your users feel comfortable, which will increase the likelihood that they will continue to be active on your forum.
So be prepared to actively ask your users for their opinions and listen when they express them. Conduct polls or start discussions in the forum where you actively ask for suggestions and feedback from your users. A separate section in a forum for feedback can also invite users to make suggestions for improvement.
Ready to start your forum? Create your forum today with WoltLab Suite.