I have been a huge fan of forum based communities ever since I made my first big cash windfall from one. If it wasn’t for installing a forum and thus creating a community the site would never have become a saleable asset or bring in stable revenue for over two years consistently. However since then I have continued to build sites hoping to establish communities around a forum and failed miserably.
The benefits of a SUCCESSFUL forum are tremendous:
1. A forum brings you fresh daily content for free that you don’t have to lift a finger to produce. Even while you are sleeping your community members are tapping away at their keyboards conversing, writing articles, arguing, shooting the breeze, etc, producing thousands and thousands of words of content that will bring in other members and contribute to turning your forum into a valued online resource of information.
2. Your website becomes very sticky. Web business people often talk about the stickiness of a website because the amount of time a user spends at a site and the number of times they frequent it in a day are very important metrics. It’s all well and good to have a site that brings in thousands of viewers everyday, but it’s even better if when they visit and hang around for a while too. It’s much easier to sell them something or have them join up to an autoresponder list or newsletter if they are viewing page after page of your website.
3. You gain an instant customer support team that work for free. Hiring forum staff or “mods” (moderators) to act as forum police give you a dedicated and loyal support crew that do their job just for the satisfaction and glory of being important in the community. Remember a strong desire within every human being is to feel valued and a leadership position in a community forum makes a person feel important, powerful and famous…and thus happy to work for free! Better still, even the normal members feel compelled to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding and will actively answer questions and help out other members. A forum can be a living and breathing FAQ and support helpdesk available 24/7 that you don’t have to pay for.
Don’t Get Too Excited
The benefits of having a popular forum community are clear but before you get too excited consider that there are some huge roadblocks you face before you can expect your forum to earn the rewards mentioned above. I’ve started at least five forums of which only one managed to get traction and establish a real community.
The good and bad news is that the main variable that leads to failure or success is you. Yep, that’s right, success is in your hands. Scary isn’t it. Seriously though, it’s not a case of if you build it they will come, you first have to pass the ghost-town stage, which can last months or even years. In fact your forum may never make it out of deadsville because you have made a few critical decisions.
1. You didn’t choose a niche you care about or have knowledge about. I’ve made this mistake a few times. As an entrepreneur I sometimes get caught up in the “idea” and run away with castles in the sky dreams without thinking about the energy required to get off the ground. A forum requires active participation by the owner, especially early on. If you are not prepared to fill the place with heaps of good content from day one then no one is going to hang around your forum when they first come visiting and see a lot of “0″s in your topic counts.
You have to care enough about the forum topics to post everyday, perhaps for months and months. My motivation often hit hardest at the start when conceptualising the forum. After it was finished I’d do a little promotion and then plan to sit back and watch my little community grow like a flower. But it didn’t. People visited, maybe even joined and made a post or two but quickly disappeared when they realised no one was responding to their topics. I realised that in order to build a successful forum I had to care enough about content, not just idea, to help kickstart growth.
2. You chose a niche that is already supported by another forum community (or many) that has traction. Before starting a forum do your research. Don’t start something that already has a solid community forum unless you can niche your target audience enough that it is clearly different from any other established community. Sure competition is good, but why make your life harder by competing with other successful communities.
I made this mistake when I built a forum site designed to help guys with dating girls. I had grand plans to build a huge resource of articles and advice to help guys get the girl of their dreams. I had just finished building my site and then stumbled across not only one but two very, very good community forum sites. These sites had accumulated years of really solid content on the same subject matter as my new community. They had enough quality content to fill a book or three. I couldn’t compete with that nor did I have close to the knowledge and experience that existed in their communities.
3. You chose a niche that simply doesn’t have enough numbers to support a community. This is a more difficult problem to spot. Generally because of the breadth of the Internet most niche forum community websites can find an audience of a few hundred people at least. Even the most bizarre and obscure topics have fans, you just have to find them and bring them together. Sometimes though there just may not be enough people that share your passion that are willing to participate in an online forum. Certain industries or interests are just not meant for the Internet.
4. You didn’t choose a niche at all! This might seem obvious but it’s worth stating. Your forum can’t be everything for everybody. Don’t select a topic that is just too broad or undefined that you will have hundreds of different forums on hundreds of different topics.
I think you can tell a lot of the potential success of your forum rests in choosing the right niche. It must be a good sized niche, but not too big. Don’t try and compete with an already established forum niche. Most importantly, choose a niche that you just love to write about. If you get those things right your forum has a good chance of getting off the ground.
Note: If you are about to build your own forum you should read this article before you get started – How to Build a Super-Popular and Profitable Forum Community in 5 Easy Steps