The 3 Silent Killers of Forum Membership and How to Prevent Them

3 minute read

January 20, 2021

The 3 Silent Killers of Forum Membership and How to Prevent Them

When you’re building a community forum, it’s incredibly easy (and common) to focus on questions of acquirement. “How can I obtain more members?” “How can I optimize my metrics?” “How can I do this, that and the other?” That’s all well and good… but only when combined with some self-reflection.  

What’s the central question you’d be asking from an inward-gazing viewpoint, instead of the acquirement perspective mentioned above? You’d ask: “Is there anything on my existing site that’s making people feel unwelcome or less valued without my knowledge?” Now that’s self-reflection.  

To get started, check your current operations and practices against these 3 “silent killers” of forum membership figures.   

1. Unconscious Biases

One of the central reasons people join online forums is for the variety and breadth of conversation they offer; we’re social creatures who enjoy the exchange of complex ideas.  

It stands to reason, then, that a failure to deliver on this front could be putting a serious dent in your membership numbers, monthly metrics, referrals and more. But it’s too easy to see things with rose-colored glasses when they’re of our own creation.  

Do you run a forum on the cuisines of different countries but keep noticing that most of your members are discussing Italian recipes? Maybe Italian dishes are your own preference and you unconsciously built that into your site’s categories. It would be well worth your time to double-check.  

Or perhaps you run a forum on different innovations in the finance sector. From Zelle to Venmo, there are an increasing number of apps that facilitate the digital transfer of funds. But you happen to work for Wells Fargo (hence the financial interest), whose fund transfer app of choice is Zelle. So without even realizing it, the threads you created on payment transfer apps all have to do with Zelle, even though that’s only a small portion of the market for financial innovations… see the problem?  

2. Getting Stuck in The Past

Being unconsciously narrow in your topic breadth can definitely cost you members. But by the same token, getting stuck in the past will cost you just as much.  

We live in an age of rapid advancement in virtually all sectors. And if your forum fails to take this into account, you’ll undoubtedly cost yourself a percentage of your potential member base.  

Do you run a forum on cars? Consider posting threads on self-driving cars, renewable fuel sources and the legal implications of automotive AI etc. Do you run an investment forum? Check if you’ve given equal weight to precious metals and cryptocurrencies. Investors in these two asset classes are often diametrically opposed over the financial future of the world. Have you geared your forum toward possible future scenarios?  

Again, the fundamental point here is self-awareness. Strive to be conscious of the conversations you’re not starting — and ask yourself how you can start them.  

3. Is Your Pool Evaporating?

So far, we’ve covered two “sins of omission” — unconscious biases towards your topic selection, and failing to be future-oriented around your topic of choice. This third mistake below is the most fatal of them all, and you should avoid making it at all costs.  

Is your pool evaporating altogether? In other words, have you constructed a forum — with a large investment of time and effort — around a topic that’s going away or becoming irrelevant? Are you trying to get people talking about yesterday’s news and ending up confused and disappointed when no one bites?  

Just as you would with an ordinary conversation, it pays to be mindful of topic selection on your forum. You wouldn’t expect to get too far on a first date if your conversational self-awareness was subpar. Why then, would you expect to get your forum anywhere significant with those same poor conversational skills?  

When you’re holding a conversation with an individual in any context, you’re expected to be self-aware about topic selection and other relevant factors. It just goes with the territory.  

When you oversee a forum, you’re basically facilitating hundreds, even thousands of digital conversations. This requires you to take those same rules of conversational self-reflection and multiply their importance accordingly.  

If you can manage to be one of the forums who operate on this basis, you greatly increase your odds of success.    

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