10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum

Author: | Posted in Forums 27 Comments

As we’ve already discussed, there are certain things you need to do in order to promote your forum. However, even if you’re successful, you and your community are still not care free. There are several things that can effectively kill even the most established forum. So, I’ve compiled a list of 10 Things that Will KILL Your Forum.

  1. Unless you're trying to become the next Million Dollar Hompage, a ton of ads just wont work for your site.Excessive Ads – Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making some money off your forum. But, when your advertisements begin to take up more space on your forum than your content, you’ve got a problem. People visit forums to talk to other people with similar interests. They want to share their ideas or ask questions. They DON’T want to have to sort through 3 pages of ads, to find one page worth of content. Think of it this way, you don’t tune in to your favorite TV show to watch the commercials do you? Well neither do your visitors.
  2. Cliques – OK look, your forum is supposed to be an online community, not an online clique. If your community is not open and welcoming to new members and fresh ideas, your forum will quickly stop growing, become stagnant, and eventually die out. People want to be accepted. It’s perfectly fine to have a group of friends in your forum, just be sure you don’t isolate yourself from the rest of the web.
  3. Trolls - never a good thing for a forumTrolls – Everyone’s encountered a troll whether you knew it or not. The Urban Dictionary defines a troll as “someone who gets pleasure by typing annoying/controversial/offensive words on internet forums or message boards.” If you run a forum long enough, probably every one of your members will annoy you from time to time. That’s just human nature. Trolls on the other hand, bring absolutely NO value to the forum and instead sit back and generally annoy you along with everyone else on the forum. They simply aren’t worth the hassle. To top it all of, many times, not only are trolls an annoyance, but they end up starting…
  4. Fights – Now don’t think for one second that everyone on your forum will agree with each other all the time. It’s just not going to happen. In fact, you don’t even WANT it to happen. Controversy is good remember? However, there’s a BIG difference between a healthy debate/heated discussion and a fight. Once a discussion or debate devolves into name calling and personal attacks, it’s time to shut it down. If you let fights fester, they’ll begin infecting the rest of the forum and will likely end up driving away people on one, or both sides of the issue. You’ll also lose members who simply don’t want to hear the pissing and moaning anymore. The internet is a vast and wonderful place, if your site loses its appeal, your members can abandon ship and jump over to an alternative with just a few quick keystrokes.
  5. You need moderators that are Kung-Fu MastersHeavy Handed Moderating – Have you ever heard the saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? Or maybe, “the power’s gone to his head”? Both of these things can befall you, or your moderators if you don’t watch out for it. Forum Moderators or Administrators are given power to keep the rest of the forum in line. But, as Uncle Ben told Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. To continue the string of cliches, Moderators/Admin’s need to tread lightly but carry a big stick (basically they need to be Kung-Fu Masters). All forums and communities need a chain of command, but given the right situation, one Mod on an ego trip can splinter your forum while you’re on your lunch break.Don’t get me wrong, spam needs to be deleted, fight threads need to be locked, and the rules need to be enforced. However, you and your mods must always remember that your forum exists due to the contributions of your members. Arbitrarily closing threads critical of you or the forum can be dangerous and secretly deleting posts is just asking for trouble. If you’re involved in the argument, ask another moderator to step in. Take a breather, calm down, and make sure none of your decisions are motivated by anger or selfish ambitions. If you’re unsure which course of action to take, ask the rest of your staff. Whatever you do, always be open about it. When you screw up, and you will, man up and admit it.
  6. Lack of Moderation – Yes, I just got done telling you that Over Moderation will kill your forum. The truth is, so will a lack of moderation. If you find yourself spending hours a day just trying to control your forum spam, it’s time to find some Mods. Get friends or family to help out or promote some trusted and long time members. And most importantly, use them. Consult them, give them a heads up before implementing changes, and listen to them when they offer up suggestions. You may even want to create a private “Moderators only” section where you can discuss any issues that pop up. But whatever you do, make sure you give your members a nice place to come. You wouldn’t invite friends over to your house if it looked like some back alley. The same holds true to your forum.
  7. Don't over post. You'll smother your forum.Over Posting – Look, people don’t come to a forum to hear one person talk all the time. It’s a community, not a soap box. If you want it to be all about you, start a blog. It’s very easy to dominate a forum, especially in the early days. There’s not a lot of activity and you’re eager to keep the conversations going. But, you need to give others a chance to answer questions, give advice, or offer up their opinions. If a post goes ignored for too long, by all means reply, but you’ll smother your forum if you’re the first to reply to every single post. As the old saying goes, “Better everyone think you a fool, than to open your mouth and prove them right.” And who knows, you might even learn something…
  8. Violating Privacy – This one’s a no-brainer. When people sign up for your forum, they almost always have to give you some information. Whether that’s an email address or some other bit of privileged information, don’t compromise it. Don’t sell your email list or start spamming your members with your latest chain letters. Trust me, they won’t appreciate it. See, I told you this one was simple.
  9. Your site visitors aren't turtles... they want Speed!Slow Site – You remember how slow dial-up internet access used to be? It sucked right? Especially if you’d ever used a high speed connection. Well, having too many ads (yes, it’s worth mentioning again), widgets, plugins, or those cool ad-ons included in your forum can drag your site back to the dark ages. Navigating around a forum requires more clicks than on an average site, and members spend a longer than average time on your site. If every one of those clicks takes your users to a page that is slow to load, it’s going to take a LOT longer than it should to get around the site. We’re now firmly entrenched in an age of instant gratification and if your site is slow to load, your members and visitors simply won’t put up with it. They have too many other sites out there to sit around and wait for yours to get it’s act together.
  10. Actually… there is no #10 – Oh wait! Over promising and under delivering. This is pretty much a good rule for life in general but it definitely applies to forums. If you tell your members you’re going to do something (add a feature, take care of a problem, listen to suggestions) then you’d better do it. Be very careful in what you promise and remember, this is a forum so everything is in print. You’d be surprised what people remember and call you on later. A couple of slip ups will likely be forgiven (they have in our case) but if you make a habit of getting people’s hopes up, only to disappoint them, don’t be surprised if you have fewer and fewer people to cry wolf to next time.

And my last bit of advice will be this… You’re going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But, if you follow the tips and lessons we’ve previously given you, and try to avoid things on this list, chances are, you and your forum will be able to withstand those occasional slip-ups. Most of all, be honest with your members. You’ll be surprised how much slack they’ll be willing to cut you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief series and as always, if you think we’re wrong, or left something out, feel free to chime in!

P.S. If you haven’t yet visited Mike Reed’s Flame Warriors Site (where a few of these thumbnails are taken from), you really should do so. It’s highly entertaining and even more accurate. Enjoy!

Note: If you’re a forum admin, mod or member and you enjoyed this article, check out our articles, 10 Tips for Promoting Your Forum and Top Ten Lessons I’ve Learned About Managing an Online Forum, if you haven’t already read them.

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