[Community] 5 Simple Steps for a Successful Forum

3 minute read

June 25, 2009

[Community] 5 Simple Steps for a Successful Forum

There is no single correct answer to this question, but having used (not to mention created) many forums over the years, I’ve come to understand that there are 5 simple steps you can follow:

1. Keep it Simple

Simplicity is paramount in every product, but even more so in discussion forums. Look at most multi-category, sliced-content forums out there, and know for a fact that our moms, dads, grandma’s and grandpa’s don’t know how to find the discussions, let alone take part in them. This is the main reason why the first thing you see on all Vanilla installations is a list of discussions in big chunky letters.

I’ve literally watched users close windows on forums because they don’t understand how to use them, and I’ve seen them quickly and easily get involved in discussions on Vanilla forums. If you choose a forum other than Vanilla, do your best to change the appearance so that it will make sense to your customers.

2. Be a Member

I can not stress enough how important it is for you to be a member in your own community. This means more than just creating an account there. It means getting involved on a daily basis. Set aside 30 minutes every day to check out the new discussions, answer people’s questions, and discuss their ideas. This will quickly become a fun part of your day, and your members will value both the forum, and your product or service more for having you there.

3. Avoid Censorship

If you find that members of your forum are voicing opinions that you don’t like, or are simply trash-talking your product or service, do not ban, delete, or in any way hinder their ability to express their opinions. Chances are that if your users are upset, there is a good reason for it, and a strong negative opinion should be just as important to businesses as a strong positive opinion.

You should be listening to what the users are saying, and attempting to find a solution that will please them. Even if you are not going to change your business in a way that will make them happy, they will respect you for engaging them with your explanations, and allowing them to speak openly about their issues.

4. Listen & Respond

Pay attention to what your users are telling you, and make changes to your business to reflect their wants and needs. If a person decides to spend time on your forum, they have most likely used your product or service a great deal. I’ve found that it is not uncommon to discover users who know just as much about the product as you do.

Their opinions matter, and you show them this by listening to their suggestions and reacting accordingly. Of course you steer your own ship, but if someone makes a great suggestion: implement it, give them credit, and thank them!

5. Use the Tool

Most forums are loaded with features and options that you can take advantage of to help build your community. With Vanilla we’ve created custom plugins for specific communities to help define and nurture their unique language and culture.

These features can vary from things like discussion polls, to discussion or comment voting, or even fun features like “King for a Day” status that is granted to one member for one day each week. Benefits like this will keep your community fun.

Your users will want to return every day, and truth be told: so will you.


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Mark O'Sullivan

Written by Mark O'Sullivan

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