How to Build a Successful Forum

In the V7N Webmaster Forums a staple question is, How do I build a successful and active forum?


I’ll tell you, but first let me dissuade you from starting one.

Dissuasion

In order for a forum to be successful, you will need to dedicate hundreds upon hundreds of hours to maintaining it, replying, babysitting, banning spammers and upgrading and/or fixing the forum script.

Even after dedicating hundreds upon hundreds of hours, the chances of you ending up with a successful forum are just slightly higher than the chances of you getting hit by an bar of gold. Reason being, there are hundreds of forums on any given topic, and the chances that your forum will end up with just the right chemstry to succeed are not good. Most forums never, ever get off the ground. I say again, most forums will never, ever get off that ground. If you decide to give it a go, be prepared for a fight, or be prepared for defeat.

This post that I am writing right now – it is being done for the forum members. Am I going to get paid for it? No, but if you run a forum, you have an obligation to your members to answer their questions to the best of your ability.

The Benefits

So you’ve decided to ignore my advice and start a forum anyway, huh?

If you must. The benefits of a forum are sevenfold (yes, I said sevenfold, and I said it with no idea how many benefits there are, but as you all know, I like the number seven, and I am sure I can come up with seven benefits):

  • Provides a Community for Friends with Shared Interests
  • Provides a Forum for Medium to Communicate with Clients/Audience
  • Creates Content & Adds Traffic
  • Addition Content & Traffic Creates Potential for Advertising Revenue (Adsense, YPN)
  • Provides Opportunities for Learning
  • Will Eventually Become a Knowledge Base
  • Provides a Medium to Demonstrate Your Product, Service, ETC

Okay, see, I did come up with seven benefits. Wasn’t easy, though.

The primary perceived benefit is in its potential for advertising revenue. Are you thinking this? Thinking you’ll start a forum for ad revenue? If so, lean forward please, so I can slap some sense into you.

The time and expense involved in running a successful forum is mind boggling. If it is a one-man job, then it’s a full time one man job. More often it’s a two or three person job, and the revenue possibilities are not the kind that put you on easy street. Most forums make under $100 a month with Adsense/YPN. A few of the more successful forums make $1,000 plus, but not many. Some of the hugely successful forums make $10,000+ per month in ad revenue, but they are few and far between.

A general rule of thumb:

1000 visitors to a forum equals $5.00 (five US dollars) in ad revenue

The amount will vary depending on how many ads you display, how you display them, and the nature of the advertising.

The revenue potential is much lower than other websites because the membership of the forum is constant. Once the membership has seen the ads and click on them once, the chances of them clicking a second time are pretty much non-existent.

The primary benefit of a forum, in my experience and from my point of view, is in that it provides a place to learn and grow as a professional. When I first started Webmaster-Forum.net, I knew very little coding, and to this day I know very little coding, so that is an altogether poor example.

I have, however, learned soooo much about marketing, branding, hosting, SEO and other topics, that the education alone is worth more than all the money I’ve made from advertising revenue.

Creating the Successful Forum

The launch of the forum is probably the most critical period in the life of a forum.

You start a forum on, say, Web Hosting. It’s day one, and oddly enough somebody finds your forum. There are no posts, and nobody online. What do they do? The same thing you would do – leave and find an active forum to participate in.

Once this deadness goes on for a few days or weeks, you have pretty much lost the window of opportunity to have a successful launch.

The launch of the forum is the one time the forum can have no members, no posts, and get away with it. So, when you launch a forum, you need to build momentum up right out of the gate. Yeah, that went in one ear and out the other, so I’ll repeat it with bolding and italics. From day one, out of the gate, launch your forum with enough promotion and advertising to create momentum.

When I launched Webmaster-Forum.net, I did so with an healthy dose on Google Adwords advertising, fun contests with cash prizes, and help from a friend or two who I compensated financially for time spent answering advanced coding questions on the forum.

The launch was so successful that we were able to drop the ad campaign within a couple months, and momentum was sustained.

Besides getting people there and getting them involved, the most important element of the successful forum is quick replies. Let’s say it in unison a few times. Ready? Quick replies, quick replies, quick replies.

When I visit a forum, if I see that questions are going unanswered, I leave without registering. It’s that simple. Quick replies.

Maintaining Momentum

Once momentum is created, the hard part can be maintaining it. Members will have a ball getting to know each other, jokes will be told, insights will be shared, and then you may encounter the Old Couple Syndrome. The Old Couple Syndrome is what happens in marriages. You meet a girl. You like the girl. You tell your jokes; she laughs. She tells her jokes; you laugh. You love her; she loves you.

Seven years later, you’ve had her every which way, you’ve heard all of lame jokes and they aren’t funny anymore, and you seriously find your new secretary more intriguing.

The novelty has worn off, and unless you do something, it will end in divorce.

Fresh Blood – keep promoting the forum and keep welcoming new members. Make them feel at home.

Fun-ness – contests, best member awards, etc. Stuff that keeps the membership involved.

Treat ’em Right – Your members are responsible for the success of the forum, not you. Treat your members right, with the respect they are due.

I suspect that most people reading this are starting forums for finanical gain. In the end you’ll realize that those members have become your friends and you don’t want to make money that way. At least I hope so.

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