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How To Add 25,000 Members To Your Forum – A Case Study

By Leslie Samuel
28 Comments

Leslie implemented a clever growth strategy for his online business by purchasing a large forum. After making the acquisition, he immediately went to work to grow the forum and had some pretty amazing success, more than tripling the membership base.

In this article Leslie reveals how he was able to grow his forum by an additional 25,000 members and facilitate a solid community.

Forum GrowthOwning a forum for a year was a very interesting ordeal – one where I was able to see the power of the online community experience firsthand. Forums can do so much to add value to your brand and, if done well, can make a huge difference in your bottom line.

For a number of reasons, I left the industry I was once a big part of, but the lessons I learned were extremely valuable. In a previous post, I shared Ten Tips To Ramp Up The Success Of Your Online Forum. In this post, I want to share with you exactly what I did to add over 25,000 new members to my forum. However, before I go into the exact steps, let me share with you why I believe adding a forum to your blog can be a great thing.

Reason #1: Create A Sense Of Community

Before owning a forum, I had used my blog as my main method of communicating with my readers. Blogging really provided the foundation for what I was going to experience as a forum owner. However, when I added the forum to the mix, it added a whole new dimension to my online brand.

I was no longer the main source of content. My subscribers were. As a result of that, something that became fairly obvious rather quickly is that the forum members began to see the forum as their own. It became their “online home”, so to speak. If they saw something they didn’t like (i.e. Spam), they would immediately report it to the forum staff. When decisions were being made, they would give their input. Suggestions were given on a regular basis as to how we could make our forum community better.

Based on Google Analytics, the average time spent on my blog on a daily basis was somewhere around 3 minutes. However, the average time spent at the forum was around 20 minutes, with many members spending hours in the forums, interacting with each other. At any given moment, there were as many as 100+ unique visitors browsing the forum for a significant amount of time.

Reason #2: Content Is Added On A Regular Basis

Because of the nature of the “forum beast”, you don’t have to worry about adding content on a regular basis. Your members take care of that for you. Forums thrive on discussions, and active members are more than willing to keep the discussions going. If you have your forum SEO optimized, the value this adds is phenomenal. Your index count goes through the roof and Google seems to see you as a major force (and I like Google very much).

Reason #3: Members Are Willing To Volunteer

This is the part that amazed me. Because there was such a strong sense of community, many members wanted to do their part to make the forum better. When I took over the forum, I was in need of moderators. I knew a few key people who had been active in other forums online that I knew would make an excellent team. When I asked them, they were more than willing (if not ecstatic) to help out for free, because they were usually in the forums anyhow.

This provides significant leverage because you are then able to free up your time to work on marketing and enhancing the forum.

I wanted to deal with those reasons above first because they give you the background as to what steps I took. Now let’s get to the juicy stuff. Here is what I did to add 25,000 members to my forum…

Leverage The Community

When I realized that the community aspect of the forum was so strong, I decided that I needed to use that to help bring new members into the forum. This was done in the form of a 6 week internship program.

First, we announced to the members that we were going to start an exclusive internship program, where we would teach them to drive traffic for free in exchange for them using the methods we teach them to promote the forum. We received over 50 applications from members that were excited to learn how to generate traffic and decided to accept them all into the program.

As a part of the internship program, they received one video lesson weekly, covering one aspect of traffic generation. The topics included:

Along with the videos they received an assignment and had to report back to us in one of the private forums with their results. We would give them feedback and they would move on to the next lessons.

This was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had since starting internet marketing. To see members of the forum community banding together and doing the work that was necessary to help grow the forum was just amazing, and the feedback we received was just awesome. Here are two of the comments that were left in the private forums:

“I’ve taken other online courses in internet marketing before, so a lot of this stuff isn’t new to me, but with this internship program, I am finally able to say that I completely understand what all the numbers mean, and how I should interpret my keyword research.”

“I thought I knew my stuff, but I was wrong, the internship has turned out to be a big help, and I need to do it some more.”

It was a win-win situation because they were getting value by learning all of that content and we were getting value because new members were added to the forum on a daily basis as a result of what the interns were learning. At any given moment, we had a number of members tweeting about the forum, writing articles and submitting them to directories and doing a number of other things based on the guided instructions they received.

Leveraging The Industry

When I took over the forum, I had already established relationships with some of the main websites in my industry. These sites had large membership databases that were directly related to the purpose of the website. A few weeks before the relaunch date, I started contacting these owners of the sites, informing them about the fact that I had purchased a forum, and letting them know what my plans were.

I was very specific in asking them if they would consider sending a message to their members letting them know about the changes that were happening, that the forum was under new ownership and that it was going to be the next best thing since sliced bread. I even provided them with the exact content I wanted them to put in the email, and tailored it to their specific website.

Every site owner I contacted was more than willing to send out the message to their database of members, and the buzz spread around the industry pretty rapidly.

Leverage My Blog

As a member of Blog Mastermind, I learned how to build a blog and set my blog up for success. As a result of all I learned, my blog became THE blog in my industry. Yes, there were others, but none of them had the gained as much traction as mine did.

I was able to build my list using my blog, and on the day of launch, I sent out an email to my list, and the news spread like wildfire throughout the industry. This caused a huge influx of new members that were already a part of the industry, but not a part of the forum.

Without my blog, and the success that was achieved in growing my blog, I doubt that I would have been able to grow the forum at such a rate.

Article Marketing Campaigns

In addition to the article marketing that was done as a part of the internship program, we wanted to make sure that there was always a constant stream of articles posted to various article directories.

To accomplish this, we outsourced the writing of 100 articles on a monthly basis for about 3 months. These articles were to be written and submitted to the top 5 article directories. It’s interesting to take a look at the stats and see that many of those articles were still ranking well for the keywords we were targeting and still sending a constant stream of traffic to the forum even up to a year after they were submitted.

Holding Contests And Giveaways

When we first took over the forum, we tried to have contests on a monthly basis that encouraged participation. Some of the contests were in the form of referral races, which oftentimes resulted in an increase in incoming traffic. Other times, random giveaways would be given where they received an entry for each post in the forums.

These giveaways were usually for something relatively small like a $10 amazon gift-card or a gift from the Something Store. The Something store prizes made the members really excited because although they only cost $10, they were random gifts that could range from a simple pen to an ipod. A few of the members got nice watches, and were very proud to take pictures and post it in the forums for the members to see.

What Did Not Work So Well

It would be great to be able to write this and tell you that everything we did was just awesome. However, that would be a lie. What I mentioned above were the things that we did and considered to be successful. There were things we did that were epic failures (as my students put it).

Our YouTube Contest

One day we had the bright idea of having a rather unique Youtube Contest. I posted a video to our YouTube channel and we held a commenting contest. For every comment a member posted on the video, they would receive an entry into a raffle and would win a cash prize at the end of the contest period. The goal was to make it one of the most commented videos, which would result in more exposure for the forum. It was our newest and “greatest” idea.

We made a big deal about this in the forums, hyping it up and getting the members super pumped to get out there when the contest launched and start commenting like crazy. Within an hour of posting the video, there were thousands of comments, and within a few more hours, the video was shut down by YouTube. Evidently, that was a violation of their terms. We learned our lesson and never did it again.

Traffic Exchanges

This is something I’d heard a lot about in the past and wanted to test it out. Epic Fail! It resulted in a spike in traffic, but the conversion rate was so low that the only thing worse would have been a negative conversion rate.

Mismanagement Of The Internship Program

The internship program was a great success and resulted in everything we wanted, in terms of driving traffic and adding new members quickly. However, there was one problem – At the end of the 6 weeks, I was exhausted.

Our plan was to relaunch the internship program every 2 months. However, after the first round, we never had a relaunch. What we should have done was outsourced the management of the program so that we wouldn’t have been as burdened with it.

All in all, it was a tremendous journey. You’ve read about our successes and some of our failures. Do you run an online forum? What have you done that has contributed to its success? What are some of your challenges? Have you thought about adding a forum to your blogging?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear them.

About Leslie Samuel

Leslie Samuel is a blogger who believes that the internet can change the world. He runs an Interactive Biology website that Makes Biology Fun and teaches people how to grow their online business in his Learning With Leslie podcast. He also runs a Become A Blogger - A blog dedicated to helping people Change The World with their blogs. Follow Leslie Samuel on Twitter.

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28 Comments

  • 25,000 new members is an amazing result, so congratulations! I absolutely loved what you did with the internship program. What a great way to leverage your community.

  • Hi Leslie, great of you to be so frank with us about your forum community. I do own a nice community its small but fun to be a part of, especially since I grew it from the group up, and it’s come a long way since day one. You mention contests, which has me pumped up to try out some new ideas for my forum. I do have one question for you since you seem to be a bit of an expert, I am afraid my forum is too “nichey”, while I do not want to give away what my forum niche is, I will say that its a forum dedicated to an athlete. When you have a forum like that… how do you expand the forum? I feel like that’s a crossroad of where I am at right now. The members talk about whats going on currently with that athlete, but there gets a point where there’s nothing else to talk about, so… whats the right way to expand and branch out?

    Till then,

    Jean

    • Hi Jean,

      That is a pretty “nichey” forum, and it’s possible that it can work. It depends on how fanatic your members are about that particular athlete.

      If you are getting a decent amount of members, and they seem to be interested enough to carry on the conversation, then you should be fine. What I would do, instead of trying to guess at what people are interested in when it comes to that particular athlete, do some actual keyword research around that athlete’s name.

      That would give you a more accurate idea of what else people who care about him care about. It can give you some ideas for some interesting “hot topic subforums” that you can add to garner interest.

      Another way of doing this would be simply to ask the members what they want. Get suggestions from them. Once you know what they want, you can then give it to them.

      Hope that helps!

      Leslie

      • Thanks for the solid reply Leslie, it does give me some help in the mindset of what I need to look for and do.

        Till then,

        Jean

  • Great article Leslie, some excellent lessons there, thanks for sharing. Great to see you doing so well.

  • Good article.

    I was thinking of adding a forum for my websites and these are some good tips. A forum would be a good attachment to my website for Entrepreneurs to help them connect with Angel Investors, Venture Capitalist, Hard Money Lenders and more.

    I also run a website that shares News and Helpful hints for the Entrepreneur called theseedlounge.com

  • Having 25000 members in a forum is really great achievement and the strategy you had followed is really wonderful. This post will be a great help to the people who wants to start their own forum.

  • Great tips. I also want to add that since the internet is crowded with forums and communities on all sorts of topics, we’ve got to do something to distance ourselves from the pack. Whether that’s accomplished through the design, rules, or offering a certain feature that other forums don’t, I think we need to be memorable.

  • Mailing list, mailing list, supporters, community. If you have the people who are willing to get out there and help you, or try the new things you create. Thats the way to grow a forum.

  • I think, Members are ready to volunteer if they are obsessed about the community. Thanks for nice points.

  • A forum surely requires quite a lot of hard work, but once it takes off, there are many great rewards: Tons of great content that may provide top rankings for many interesting keywords; possibility to sell ad space; possibility to link back to ones own money making pages…

  • Wow – Some cool techniques here, but I think the coolest (and most innovative one) was the “internship program” you offered. I could see this working out better not just for forum promotion, but for an entire website or blog. You just sparked up a couple of ideas that I might use to promote one of my newest blogs :)

  • Great tips Yaro.

    I was thinking of adding a forum for my websites and these are some excellents tips.

    Thanks!!!

  • though harder to monetize relatively speaking, forums do add tremendous content boost which leads to more organic traffic. not to mention several other collateral benefits as mentioned in the post. i have implemented forums on two of my websites, and traffic has just sky rocketed. i am seeing tremendous increases in advertising revenues.

  • Hey Leslie,

    Great inspiring story that you have there…

    That shows the power of planning, prioritizing and action taking all rolled into one..

    Keep up the great work!

    Daniel Toh

  • Leslie,

    Thank you for the great ideas. I currently own a few niche gaming forums, and have been struggling to grow their membership. Since reading your post I started an internship program of my own with forum members being entered into a raffle for a weekly prize if they take part in the forum. Its been going very well so far.

    Thanks again!

    David

  • Leslie,
    Thanks for sharing this valuable blog post on the pluses and minuses of running forums.

  • very nice article.

    I have added a forum and blog for my websites and these are some good tips. A forum would be a good to my website for connecting with others. Blogs are also good source of interacting with certain peoples on issues..

  • If you are able to get 25,000 plus members this can be huge for a forums based business. Thanks for sharing with us again Leslie.

    - Robert

  • These are great ideas! I will definitely look into adding a forum to my websites. I love the idea about users contributing knowledge to enhance the overall value of your site. It sounds like you have set up a positive gain feedback loop.

  • Excellent advice!!! My forum was paid and private and now it is open to the public bcs I want the members to have an online home to help them succeed with health/fitness. I enjoy adding tips and look forward to it growing (mainly bcs that will mean I am helping more people!)

  • Wow! 25,000 new members is really quite amazing! I have been operating a forum for two years now and we are just barely reaching 5000 members. I can’t even imaging what kind of server load that would add. What platform were you using to handle that many users? phpbb? vbulliten?

    I have heard that Vbulliten is a bit better at handeling those large numbers of users, but i have also seen a benchmark that showed phpbb had quicker load times. So i would love to hear from someone with such a large amount of forum users what the real deal is!

  • Greetings guys. Im new to http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com. Nice to meet you all!

  • Great post with excellent points on what to do and not do.

  • Leslie I have read a few similar posts to this. (I have to say this is the best one). I do have a problem though. You all say not to make the forum too broad and to stick to a niche. Well that is a problem for me is that I have built a totally custom forum based system that caters to all interests. I know you will think this is a mistake but it is working due to the navigation system we have in place. I would love your thoughts after checking us out.

  • I don’t think this would have worked without the help of your blog. If you were to start from the scratch, I don’t think you would have made all that success.

    All the same, I congratulate you! Nice job.

  • […] Publish a case study that gives emphasis on the performance of your UGC content. (Ex. How To Add 25,000 Members To Your Forum – A Case Study) […]

  • GS

    Great article and like the idea of internship program.

    Anyone have a successful forum raffle model that works good?

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