Here at Performancing, we’ve highlighted various forum software to use in conjunction with your blog. Ahmed Bilal also published an article back in 2007 which explained how to launch a forum on your blog. Once you have the blog up and running, it’s time to manage it. Thats where the expertise of Patrick O’ Keefe comes into play, author of the book Managing Online Forums. The book covers all aspects of managing an online forum but it doesn’t stop at forums. Many of the topics discussed within this book could be used in managing online communities in general.
In Part 1 of this interview, I tap into Patrick’s knowledge regarding what to do before the first forum post is published and developing your community. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.
Jeff – What are some things that should be done prior to the first forum post being published?
Patrick – It’s important to be ready to accept people, in all facets. If you ran a brick and mortar restaurant, would you open with the store clean, but with you in your underwear? The same goes for your community. From your look to your functionality. Don’t launch with things coming soon. Launch with things that are ready to go that people can use now. You should have your infrastructure set up, both publicly and privately. So, that means your public forums, but also your private forums for discussion amongst staff and the proper documentation of guideline violations.
Speaking of guideline violations, it’s important that you have your user guidelines written and online. It’s always best to start with guidelines to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the start. It’s always harder to add guidelines later than it is to start with them because, even if you are still managing the community the same, it will be treated as a new thing and a change when people may feel that they are already used to a certain way. So, have guidelines and enforce them from the start.
Guidelines are also a sort of vision statement for your community. They really show people who you are and who you want to be. Have a set idea in mind for your forums. It doesn’t have to be too specific or difficult. At KarateForums.com, we want to have a community where the martial arts can be discussed in a respectful manner that is both family and work friendly as much as possible. Everything that we do works to accomplish that. I’m a big believer in having goals, having an aim and sticking to it.
Suffice to say, before launch, all details should be taken care of. Don’t launch until you are ready.
Jeff – Once the forum has launched, what are some steps one can take to grow and nurture their community?
Patrick – So, from a promotional standpoint, with forums, a lot can be tied to activity. If you’re hyper about marketing and hyper into aggressive growth, you want to have some activity going because activity itself directly affects the success of any marketing campaign that you undertake.
As an example, let’s say you use Google AdWords to promote your forums. If you send people to a community that hasn’t had any posts in a few days, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice and not realizing the full potential of your money because people are less likely to join a community that doesn’t already have something happening. Even if it’s just you, your brother and a few friends (or something like that), activity is activity. Try to keep some going.
Most people don’t have an ad budget. I’m the same. For those people, it’s important to have that activity and then to make sure that people can find you through search engines. So, using a search engine optimization hack for your software can help, to ensure that search engines are able to spider your content. Forums can be big time content generators, from the general to the very, very specific, and making sure that search engines can find that content can make your life a lot easier.
As far as nurturing goes, I believe that nurturing comes from you, and your staff (if you have anyone), spending time on your site and ensuring that it’s taken care of. This can take shape in the form of fairly, but firmly enforcing your guidelines, welcoming people to your forums and contributing yourself. Being a part of the community allows your users to regard you as a real person, rather than a machine or just an authority figure. This can lead to the community being a more encouraging and comfortable place for people to be.