Having a great community means having great members. Indeed, a community without an engaged audience, actively contributing, is no community at all. Building a forum from scratch can be difficult.
Obviously it is easier if you have a pre-existing fan base or following. Without it, the process can be lengthy, though it is certainly possible to achieve.
Determine Your Customer Journey Map and Buyer’s Persona
The first step is identifying the target audience. As a marketer you should know how to create a buyer’s persona. This includes not only demographic data but also psychographic. The more detailed your research is on your ideal member, the easier it becomes to understand why they would want to join your forum.
Once you identify the people you want to attract, planning how to attract and engage with them becomes easier. There are some great tools that will help you get some insight into your prospects:
- Google Search Console: If you already have Google Analytics installed, use the search console to get a deeper insight into what keywords, phrases and referring sites that your customers come from.
- Google Analytics: You will be able to get a basic understanding on your audience from social media channels they come from, keywords they used including key metrics such as time on site and other behaviours.
- Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo allows you to input the domain of competitor sites and view what the most popular content that was shared. It’s great if your industry has some high-traffic competitors that you can gain some insight from.
Spend time in rival forums and see how they do it. What are they doing that you can emulate? What are they doing that you’d like to avoid?
You may build your community around your products, although there are other approaches to consider, such as targeting an interest that is adjacent to your products without making the community directly related to your product.
Identify Key Influencers and Reach Out to Them
You’ll want to talk with some of your prospective members. Identify key influencers and reach out to them. Try to find at least 10+ individuals who are active and engaged in online communities like yours and try to bring them on board.
Discuss your plans for the community and gather their feedback. Determine:
- What their ideal community would be like
- What is lacking in their current community that they would like to see changed
- If they’re interested in helping grow your community
Use tools like Buzzsumo to identify influencers and If they have a blog, ask if you can do a survey on their traffic using SurveyMonkey or another tool. Offer to share the final data to them. Keep an active and open line of communication with these individuals. Work with them to build and promote your forum.
Getting People In the Door
When it comes time to finally start promoting your forum, it should be done early and often. There are a number of ways to go about accomplishing this. We always say that getting the first 100 members of a forum is the hardest, yet most crucial milestone to reach.
Here are a few ideas:
- Invite Your Contacts: Yes, no one wants to bother their friends, families, and co-workers, but you know what? It works. This is why Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites want to access your mail contacts at sign-up, because it works to get other people onto the platform.
- Promote It: In the beginning, few people will be beating a path to your registration page. Partner with media sites and key influencers to help promote yourself. Work out co-marketing programs and other cross-promotional agreements in order to extend your reach.
- Be Active: Especially in the early days, your community management team must be incredibly active. That means actively promoting and being involved within the community. Whether that’s supporting the members you do have with encouragement and feedback or thanking them for their contributions. Remember, in the early days you set the tone.
- Create Great Content: You can seed the new community with content that resonates with your target audience. This will get the ball rolling for the soft launch and have it ready to be picked by Google.
Always Be Growing
Building a forum from scratch is challenging and requires a lot of dedication and effort. The first 100 members are equal parts difficult and rewarding to achieve. Remember to always be growing and building your forum, creating content and engaging with members.
Keeping the audience active is an important part of building a successful community from the ground up. Always remember, it’s about the members. If members are happy and engaged, they will bring success to your forum.
Do you want a more detailed overview on how to build and grow a community? Learn more from these resources:
- Community Management 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Building Your Community From A to Z
- How to Excel in Community Management
- Community Survival Guide