Pops’ list of 10 things he’s learned running a forum was received very well and seemed to resonate with a lot of our readers. We had several questions and comments on forum promotion so in the spirit of giving the people what they want, a blog post was born. Now, before I go on, I’d like to say that our forum is relatively young (about 15 months old) and we’re definitely not claiming to be the biggest or most successful forum around. Along the same lines, we’re not perfect either. We’ve not done as well as we should have on many of these points. However, that being said, I still think we’ve learned a few things along the way, and if nothing else, you asked for it, right? So here they are… 10 Tips for Promoting Your Forum.

  1. Be Unique - The internet is crowded with forums and communities on all sorts of topics. You’ve got to do something to distance yourself from the pack. Whether that’s accomplished through your design, your rules, or offering a certain feature that other forums don’t, you need to be memorable. Think about it, how many forums have you signed up for over the years? If you can’t remember, you’ve just perfectly illustrated my point.
  2. Discuss Hot Topics - No matter what your forum is about, there will always be hot topics to talk about - hot button issues that automatically generate conversation and debate. Industry news, technological developments, and current events are all great topics. Starting new threads or discussions about these “hot topics” can create instant conversation and can often be a shot in the arm for your somewhat stale forum.
  3. Create a Blog - That’s right, I said blog. Sure blogs and forums are two separate things, but how many of you have clicked over to check out our forums? A great blog post will often attract attention to content that your forum might have otherwise concealed. Blogs are more accessible, less threatening, and require a much lower level of commitment from the average reader. Done right, a blog can be a more gentle way to ease new people into a community. Also, blogs are more “linkable” which allows you to gain even more exposure within your target industry or niche, as well as helping your site rank better in the search engines. This of course will in turn lead to more visitors and hopefully more members. You can also use a blog to reward particularly great posts in your forum. If, for example, you have a member that regularly contributes great threads or topics to your forum, invite them to write an article for your blog. That provides you with more blog content and is just one more way to show your members that you value them. Which reminds me…
  4. Show your appreciation - This one is really quite simple. Your members need to know you care. About them, about their needs and desires, and most of all, about the forum. As pops mentioned, if your members know that you are invested in making the forum a success, they’re a lot more likely to contribute their time and content. So how do you show your appreciation? Tell them. Send your members emails or private messages thanking them for their contributions, offer some type of reward for your most active members, listen to their requests or concerns about the site, anything that can help you form a bond with your members.
  5. Be active - No one likes absentee landlords, fathers, or forum administrators. A forum is going to take up a lot of your time. If you don’t have time to run it, make sure you find someone that does. The forum administrator needs to be active and visible in the community. People need to feel they have a way to address any problems they might have or any disagreements that spring up between members. When activity slows down, and there will be slow periods, it’s the administrator’s job to stir up discussion and activity (this would be a good time for some of those hot topics from point #2).
  6. Invite Experts - In any field there are well known experts. If you’ve started a forum on the subject, chances are you know who the top dog(s) is/are. Chances are there is already a discussion about one of their products or theories going on in your forum. If not, start one. Then contact the expert and invite them to join in the discussion. Chances are they’ll jump at the chance. They’ll get some free advertising and perhaps a chance to promote their product, and you’ll have the benefit of bringing more experts into your community. The more experts you have stopping in from time to time, the more well known your forum will become. And really, isn’t that why you’re reading this post?
  7. Send out Reminders - As we discussed earlier, people often join a forum, participate for a few hours or days, get busy and then forget about their new-found forum. Even if your site is unique and memorable, some people will manage to forget it. Luckily for you, most forums require an email address to sign up. Using this list to send out weekly newsletters with site news, interesting threads, or your newest promotions will serve as a subtle reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited your site for a while.
  8. Welcome new members - Have you ever asked why Walmart employs a person whose sole job is to greet customers? Ever wondered why churches have those overly friendly people posted at the front door? It’s because people like to be welcomed. And, if it’s good enough for Walmart, it’s good enough for your forum. Be sure to welcome your new members and, if possible, give them a place to introduce themselves to your regular members. A welcome also serves as a great time to make sure your new members read your forum rules; further easing their transition into your community.
  9. Participate in the Industry - I can hear you already. Didn’t you already tell us to be active? Well, yes I did. This time though, I’m talking about the industry as a whole. People often say “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.” In most industries there are conferences or trade shows where hundreds or thousands of people gather and the best part is, they’re almost all your target audience. Of course these events will vary depending on your niche or industry but I’m willing to bet there’s a gathering of some sort. If your forum is about model trains, go to the train exhibits. If your community is art based, attend art shows and exhibit openings. Basically, attend as many of these events as possible, rub elbows with as many people as possible and, of course, during the conversation let them know about your forum.
  10. Allow Off Topic Discussion - Even workaholics don’t talk shop 24/7. Your forum members are no different. Creating a space for your members to blow off steam, tell jokes, and talk about their other interests will allow them to create friendships and unwind. Think of this as a team building exercise. The more your members interact with each other, the more likely they’ll be to visit on a regular basis. They’ll also be more willing to help spread the word about your forum or help improve the community. If nothing else, you’ll gain a few friends in the process. Now who doesn’t want more friends?

As I said before, our forum is far from perfect, and in fact, you may find that one or two of these tips don’t apply to your forum or aren’t easily implemented. But, I’m also willing to bet there’s at least one or two that you’re not currently using. Give it a shot and see which work best for you.

More Information on Promoting Your Forum: