One thing to keep in mind is that having a forum is just one of the first steps in launching a successful community. As I mentioned a while back, just building it doesn't mean people will show up.
Maybe the single biggest challenge in community building is keeping a new user after they've visited or posted once. You have to put yourself in the shoes of a new member: They got excited enough to register, to create an account, and maybe even to post—but then they disappeared. Why is that? As a community manager, you need to ask yourself some hard questions about what kind of experience a new person has on your site. Take a look at your category structure and ask yourself, "Does this make sense from a new user standpoint"? If you were a brand new user, where would you go? Would you be overwhelmed?
It can be difficult to "forget what you know", and remember that new users don't have your knowledge of the structure and flow of your community. Not everybody understands forums and not everybody comes to them from the same place. Sometimes, it comes down to guiding people into engagement, even on a one-to-one basis. When a new member joins, make sure you welcome each and every one, individually. It sounds daunting, but just one person can handle this job even in the largest communities. It can take ten seconds to say "Hi! Welcome to the community!" and it could mean the difference between a fly-by and an active member.
Make sure you have a place for new members to introduce themselves. Give them the opportunity to share a bit about themselves and maybe even reward them for doing so (a badge for introducing yourself has been a popular method of engagement for many of the Vanilla communities I've been in charge of).
Sometimes, we lose sight of why we created a community in the first place; it can be very helpful to go back and re-evaluate your community goals. Sitting down and writing out the short- and long-term goals of your organization can really help to refocus your efforts. Why did you start your community? Was it to generate interest around a brand? Was it to help your support team? Was it to give your customers a better avenue to communicate with you?
Executing a daily strategy is actually quite simple on a macro level; have a list of tasks that you should do every day, including saying hello to new members, going onto other social channels and inviting people to engage, contacting old members, bumping old threads that may have been popular but died out for some reason (never underestimate the power of the thread necro!), or other tasks that make your forum seem active. Often, all it takes is one small bit of activity to spark a fire.
The most important thing is to not give up; you started your community for a reason and even though people come and go, your community can grow with the right nudge here and there.
Guest post by Brian Ambrozy. Brian has been the Editor-in-Chief of Icrontic, a leading technology and PC gaming community, since 2003. Overseeing a staff of reporters covering everything from computer building and video games to technology legislation and internet policy, he has produced and covered a range of stories in an engaging, welcoming, and accessible manner."