How To Market Through Online Forums

Recently I participated in several online marketing campaigns. When asked where I thought the best place would be to market the product, I came back again and again to forums. The very obvious reason being that people on forums already have a level of buy-in and interest in certain product lines. If I put up an ad on Google I am sending it out into the great world of the Internet, but a forum provides a place where real people are already interested in certain product lines.

CrowdGather recently launched a product that they plan on marketing exclusively online and mostly through forums. The product is Erox, a commercial fragrance that combines pheremones and ER303, a compound proven to increase excitement and arousal in both men and women.

Yesterday, Sanjay registered CrowdGather on the best pheremone review forum called Pherotruth.com. After speaking with the owner of the site he was gracious enough to offer us our own vendor subforum, providing us with access to the most unbiased group of pheremone enthusiasts on the Internet on a Google Page 1 ranking site.

According to PostRelease’s whitepaper forum users are:

  • 3.5 times more likely to proactively recommend a particular purchase to someone else
  • 3.5 times more likely to share links about new products
  • 4 times more likely to post online ratings and reviews
  • Almost twice as likely to share advice– offline and in person – based on information they’ve read online

The possibilities for these symbiotic partnerships to be formed are endless to the benefit of the members on the site, the owners of the site and to the marketers of the product.

ForumCon is Back!

Attention All Forum Owners!

The semi-annual forum conference, ForumCon  is almost upon us.  On September 27th, in Chicago, the conference will bring together leading brands, forum owners and community managers to explore strategies in forum and community development.

During the one-day event, a team of renowned experts, like XenForo's Kier Darby, Dan Gill the co-founder of Huddler and our own Sanjay Sabnani, will  provide guidance on how to effectively engage with communities, gives tips on how to maximize the value of your communities and offers insights into new services to try and trends to watch 
out for.  

Sanjay will be speaking on a panel discussing the buying and selling of forums. 

It's the ultimate event for anyone involved in creating communities. We would love to see some of you there!

Highlighting PbNation

Despite initially being labeled as a fad, paintball has 10.5 million players in the U.S. alone, and is one of the fastest growing sports.

About PbNation

Generating over 20 million monthly pageviews and approximately 1.9 million monthly unique visitors, PbNation.com is the largest interactive sports community on the Internet with a focus on the extreme sport of paintball.

PbNation includes a paintball store, a collection of product reviews, a consumer-to-consumer paintball equipment marketplace, a paintball industry news section, and a paintball video content sharing site. While the majority of the content is paintball related approximately 30% of the content is non-paintball related including videos, gaming, outdoors, and other topics of interest to this demographic.

PbNation in the News

Splat Magazine awarded PbNation the 2007 “Paintball Web Site of the Year” and credits PbNation for having “played a larger role in the expansion of paintball knowledge than practically any other source in history.” SplatXD awarded PbNation the “Paintball Website of the Year” and said, “For as big as our sport is, our media for the most part is poorly produced, has extremely limited reach and does nothing to expand the visibility of the game.”

According to Forbes, PbNation is the “number one paintball fan site”, and the Chicago Tribune called it the “ultra popular paintball website” and listed becoming involved in PbNation as number one in their “Tips for Going Pro” about becoming a professional paintball player. Press Enterprises cites PbNation as “the leading paintball forum, helping facilitate everything from equipment reviews to discussions on the world’s best paintballers to the organization of games.”

“…PbNation is a cornerstone of the paintball enthusiast ecosystem and one of the largest independent forum communities in the world. From our initial review, we have found that PbNation has built up tremendous engagement in a very valuable demographic and we are very excited for what the future holds for us.” said Sanjay Sabnani, CrowdGather’s Chairman and CEO.

The Long Tail of Forums

In 2004, Chris Anderson wrote an article in Wired Magazine that discussed the importance of the Long Tail economy in regards to Internet based companies. Anderson argues that products in low demand or that have a low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough.

Some of the most successful Internet businesses have leveraged the Long Tail as part of their businesses. Examples include eBay
(auctions), Yahoo! and Google (web search), Amazon (retail) and iTunes Store (music and podcasts).

Perhaps nowhere on the Internet is this more clear than with Internet forums. Niche meeting grounds for merchants and consumers, forums provide a unique environment where experts can talk to people really look for advice on their future purchases.

Recently Sanjay Sabnani, a hobby knife collector and forum geek, ran into this issue. So how does one go about locating a blacksmith in today’s world?

Sanjay’s first step was to turn to different forums including BladeForums.com. Friends of his had purchased knives through this site and he knew it had a solid reputation. Through his search, Sanjay was introduced to the work of Zoe Crist, an up-and-coming blacksmith.

Prior to the Internet, Sanjay may have dreamed about knives but if his city didn’t have knife makers it would have been difficult to locate a modern day blacksmith. The Internet in general and forums in particular, have the potential of connecting up unlikely people, vendors and merchants looking to make niche purchases.

Forums opened up the door for Sanjay to become the proud owner of a knife that is being shown at a Blade Show by Zoe Crist. Forums also gave Zoe a location to discuss his craft and to meet potential customers.

This is truly one of the clearest examples of the Long Tail economy at work.

How to Build a Strong, Vibrant Community

Sometimes we want our communities to thrive and we push them too fast. But friendships and trust take time and dedication. You can’t convince your community overnight, but you can create an environment where members can learn to rely and trust each other.

How many times have we attempted to communicate with forum members in a joking manner and it has been misunderstood as rude or mean behavior. A major reason this happens is that most of the time when we communicate it is through visual cues. But on a forum you are talking to people you don’t know and have never seen so it is difficult to assess the way that people are saying things.

And of course,people on forums are essentially anonymous. On the one hand this allows people to open up in a way they might not with friends, on the other hand people often will be offensive and rude in a way they never would in real life. This aspect of forums also effects how fast your members will feel comfortable on your site. As forum owners, administrator and mods it is our goal to create and remember the following:

1. A unique environment. The subject may not be unique but the environment should be.

2. A safe environment. Some forum topics are more sensitive than other forums, expect these forums to take more time to unfold. Make sure whatever your communities’ guidelines are that they are followed.

3. If your forum is a complex subject matter then people that are novices may take time to stop being afraid of making mistakes or asking the “wrong” questions. If a member is new cut them a little slack and thank them for their posts.

4. Your layout should be user friendly–and not just for the users that have been there for a while. Reassess and consider reorganizing your forum if it is too difficult to navigate.

5. Be real! Share your personality and your time and others will follow suit.

6. Get people talking! Sounds simple but it is really important. Ask questions of specific members.

You have to earn the trust of your members. If you harass them, spam them or are rude to them then you probably are not using the right methods. Although it is counter-intuitive build your community steadily but not necessarily quickly. You want to cultivate relationships and if there are swarms of people descending it might actually take the community a longer time to unfold. Bottom-line don’t be afraid to let your community grow at its pace. Instead of focusing on being the next-big-thing focus on building an environment of trust and relationship. People will come if you have a good thing going.

What do you think? Does a slow approach mean a stronger community?

Interview with Patrick O’Keefe, iFroggy

Patrick O’Keefe is the founder of the iFroggy Network, a network of websites covering various interests. He has been managing online communities since 2000 and is the author of “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online social spaces. He has been responsible for the cultivation of communities like phpBBHacks.com,KarateForums.com and PhotoshopForums.com.

Tell us some about your background? What is Patrick O’Keefe’s backstory?

I began to play around with the web back in the mid-90s. I believe we bought our first computer in 1993 – it was a Mac Centris 610. Somewhere around 1995, we were online and shortly thereafter, I discovered free website services – first Angelfire, then Geocities and put up some truly ugly things, as we all do.

I began developing websites for over people in the fall of 1998 and I launched my “real” first site with it’s own domain name, iFroggy.com, on January 01, 2000 — Y2K. Planes were falling out of the sky, computers were exploding across the nation, and I was on NetworkSolutions.com registering a domain name. At that time, domains were $70 for two years and that was it. We didn’t have any $10 a year domain name registration. That was, and is, a nice amount of money and I was only 15 so I didn’t see myself registering lots of domain names.

I started the site as a web portal. My inspiration came from Yahoo and, even though they get a lot of heat these days, I still like them. I wanted to create a portal where I covered as many subject areas as I could. I did that for a little over a year and during the same period I began creating niche communities or websites. I put the focus on one specific thing, like martial arts or Photoshop, and found that I enjoyed how feasible it was for me to function as a one-man operation.

So what would you say iFroggy is today?

The iFroggy Network is a network of websites covering various interests, including communities, blogs and (somewhat) static content sites.

Basically I will launch any site that I find exciting. It doesn’t have to fit into any particular mold. Most of my websites have some sort of community driven tie, however, as most websites popular do these days.

The first pure community that I launched was a sports forum, and then I launched a couple more communities, some of which I manage to this day. phpBBHacks.com is an example – I launched it almost 10 years ago and it is the largest unofficial resource for the phpBB forum software.

At that time, there was no organized list of customizations for people who ran these forums. I wanted one, so I created the site out of need. Forums were primitive but very exciting spaces at that time. In early 2001, the forum community basically had vBulletin 1.0 and phpBB 1.0. So, the major platforms available today came out of that era.

Another community I created, KarateForums.com, is also having it’s 10th anniversary this year. It’s a martial arts community with close to 500,000 posts, although numbers aren’t as important to me as is the atmosphere and the people that are a part of it. The people-aspects of community are the things that I’m really attracted to.

You start sites when you have an interest and when you sense a need. Did the book emerge this way?

I liked the idea of writing a book and sharing what I know. Also, personal writing tends to lead me right back to my passions: social media, online community, and forums — all things I talk and write about a lot. Forums are the backbone of “social media”, this relatively new term we use to describe overall social interaction online.

It took five years to complete the book project, from conception to holding the book in my hands. That’s not normal. Publishers’ schedules generally dictate terms. But I had a couple of concerns. First, I had a number of websites to run and, at that time, I had high school to contend with as well. As a homeschooler, I had a greater amount of flexibility, which was very helpful.

First off, I wanted to make sure I could even write a book. So while I would be managing an online community, I’d notice what was interesting and write it down. What happened and how I handled it. Whether the end result was good or bad. I’d make this long list of notes just based on my experiences at first. Eventually I’d organize those notes into written chapters. I kept going back, adding sections, and it continued to get longer and longer.

Two and half years into it, I started pitching it to publishers myself. That didn’t work out so I talked to my friend Jeremy Wright who had just published “Blog Marketing” for McGraw-Hill and asked if he would introduce me to his agent. He did and I signed on with the agent and worked to make the manuscript proposal better. After getting turned down approximately 89 times, the 90th publisher said yes.

Is your book really the Bible for forums?

One of the great, extremely meaningful things to me about writing the book is how it has been received. When you write a book, you are putting yourself out there and you never know how people will take you. It’s a vulnerable position. I’m so thankful for the support and kind words that I have received. It means a lot to me.

That said, it is for other people to say, whether or not the book is valuable to them or holds any level of importance for those managing an online forum. So, I don’t feel comfortable speaking to that.

What I have noticed is that a small selection of people who have read it seem to take the book as “this is the way everything should be done.” That’s not my intention. The book is everything that I’ve learned. But I’m not a consultant. I’m not trying to get you to pay me to consult. For sixteen dollars, you get what I’ve learned over the course of eight years (now over ten) of managing communities.

You can take it and use however you wish. If you are a veteran, maybe it will confirm what you already do or maybe you’ll get a new way to approach something. I learn from others, always trying to improve. At the very least, I hope that it will make you think. If you are brand-new, then you’ve got a resource from someone who has done this for a long time.

There is not just one way to manage an online community. There are many.

What is the next 3 years like for forums?

I’m not one for predictions. I believe that innovation happens because we make it happen, not because we predict it. And then, after it’s done, we talk about it, praise it and criticize it.

However, I will say that I see forums as being extremely relevant. Some people, for whatever reason, want to divide forums from what they view as the hot social media tools, like Facebook or Twitter.

What gets lost is that these spaces are all related and deeply connected in many ways. For instance, what is the backbone of Facebook? Threaded, text-based conversations. That’s what forums are. Boil forums down to their essence, they are threaded text-based conversations. And in my lifetime, it’s hard for me to see that going away. Maybe 50 years from now I’ll look like a fool in this interview, but I don’t know that we are not going to want to type with each other in a thread of some kind! Today, we opt for text over the phone sometimes because of convenience, because of comfort, because of any number of reasons.

That’s what forums are to me. I know some people try to put forums in a box, because they think forums can’t be anything different – ever. It’s like Facebook has the patent on anything new, right?

That’s just not true. I just responded to a comment on Quora where the person wrote: “Forums are still partying like it’s 1999.” And that the forum space hadn’t evolved in ten years. I thought about that for a moment and said, “That’s not right at all.”

Even so, this a fairly common belief, especially among people who are relatively new to social media and think it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s as if forums were alien and different from social media, when it’s really all the same. If you were to go back to 2000 and pulled out the latest versions of vBulletin and phpBB and then you installed the latest versions of vBulletin, phpBB, Invision Power Board and Vanilla — you would see a startling difference and a lot of new things.

But what will not change is the text-based conversation. It’s here to stay and it will remain as the staple of what a forum is. And because of that, forums are very much similar to Facebook. Quora is more or less a forum. Just because somebody adds new features, makes it slicker or run better, doesn’t mean it’s some entirely new form of communication.

I think text is here to stay and that will be the core or forums. Sure, you can have video “forums” and already do and bandwidth adoption continues to grow, making it easier to share video and audio content on forums – but that goes for the whole web.

All of these spaces are influenced by each other and learn from each other and that is great. Forums will be affected by a lot of the trends that you see on the web as a whole, whether that is through mobile browsing, more seamless sharing or something else. One of the great things the social space does for people who run communities is that they learn from each other very well. Facebook has pulled a lot from “forums” and “forums” will learn from Facebook.

The bottom line is that everyone is learning from everyone else, and all of us are getting better and that’s good. It’s not a competition.

What is the hardest part of what you are doing?

The thing I struggle with as a one-man operation is balancing out my time and figuring out how to best spend that time. I have at least two or three ideas of things I’d really love to do right now that would be fun and (I believe) successful, as far as traffic and monetization. Yet I have these commitments already and that’s part of the challenge.

This is a problem for a lot of entrepreneurial people working online. It’s a lot of hustling and trying to get a lot done. And then you have to balance that out with having some semblance of a life. It’s about balancing out work, personal health, and family.

Tell us what a day in Patrick O’Keefe’s life is like?

I’ll take this from a professional angle and put aside personal responsibilities. I am responsible for the entire iFroggy Network. Everything that you see, I probably touch. This includes everything from keeping software up to date and writing content to managing finances and selling advertising. I am the point of contact for everything that happens.

Part of my day is routine, part of it is tackling other items on the to do list or working on new things. The routine consists of visiting various social sites where I maintain presences, checking and responding to e-mail (I’m at Inbox Zero most every day), visiting my forums and making sure everything is on track, reading new items in my feedreader for the blogs that I author, writing blog posts and more.

With my forums, as the administrator, I’m responsible for the management of those communities, completely. Updating software, making design tweaks, talking with members, monetizing, promoting and more.

This includes day to day operations – viewing new content, handling moderation related tasks, managing staff and more. When I visit my forums, I first read and respond to any private messages and outstanding post reports and then I view the staff forums, reading and replying as necessary and reviewing any and all post removal decisions that have been made by members of my staff. Most of them are good, but sometimes I will have to make a correction of some kind.

I’m also an active member on the forums I manage, posting and contributing where I can. Most days run smoothly enough but once in a while, you have some situation that takes a substantial portion of time to sort through.

As I mentioned, I also author a few blogs covering topics I am really passionate about. In addition to my personal blog, I also author ManagingCommunities.com and BadBoyBlog.com. For these sites, I also subscribe to and read various related publications and news sources, allowing me to stay on top of new information that I might have to cover or want to write about.

At ManagingCommunities.com, I write about online community and forums. At BadBoyBlog.com, I write about my favorite record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs. I like writing about online community and I am a big fan of Bad Boy and Mr. Combs. It’s a lot of fun for me.

I also have some professional pursuits that aren’t specifically tied to iFroggy, such as the book and speaking at conferences and events. I spoke over a dozen times last year, giving solo and panel presentations.

I also co-host two weekly podcasts, the Copyright 2.0 Show with Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, where we talk about copyright and plagiarism-themed news, and and the SitePoint Podcast with Brad Williams, Kevin Yank and Stephan Segraves. It’s a web development themed show and SitePoint is one of the largest web development communities in the world – a top-1000 site according to Alexa. It’s a fairly popular show and won the Podcast of the Year award during the most recent .net Magazine Awards.

What is your advice for anyone launching a forum?

I’ll provide some very general advice, as it’s a general question. If at all possible, try to start up with the structure you want, speaking specifically of your guidelines and policies. Don’t think “well, I won’t have any rules until we actually have some activity.” People get used to not having guidelines and then, when you add them in, it’s as if you’ve sprung it on them. You’re changing the rules and people don’t like change.

Change is important and will happen – you’ll need to change your guidelines, you’re design and who knows what else. But, there is no reason not to set some ground rules from the start, so that people know the type of community they are getting into. I’d say the same about ads. If you plan to have ads, start with some — even if they are just placeholders. Start with those things beforehand so that the proper expectations are set. I think that leads to a better experience for everyone down the road.

I also believe it is important to have a focus or a niche. Know whom you want to reach. One of the things that many people try to do is to be there for everyone. So they’ll say, “I want this community to be for everyone interested in subject ‘X’”. The reality is that not everyone wants a community that is for everyone. Every online community is like it’s own country. So two communities built around the same topic could be quite different from one another because they both have their own social norms and guidelines.

Know who you are, who you want to be and allow your actions to speak to that. Every decision you make, every guideline you write, they should all speak to what you are as a community. For me, my communities, the guidelines put paramount emphasis on respect for all members, speaking to each other in a respectful manner. Stricter than many other communities in that regard, I would say.

A few times a year, I find myself telling a member that the community might not be for them. They’ll complain that I have guidelines that are too strict or that I’m moderating in a heavy-handed manner. But, what is usually happening is that they want to be allowed to do something that isn’t welcome in our community. Our community isn’t for everyone – no community is.

You can’t be everything for everybody. Realize that early on and try to stay focused on your audience. If you chase everyone, you’ll probably lose the ones you really want.

Interviews with Sanjay Sabnani

Many of you have may have heard of Sanjay Sabnani, CEO of Crowdgather,  but may not know a lot about his background in the world of forums. I thought it would be interesting to provide you with links to Sanjay’s more recent interviews as well as give you a brief history on his involvement with forums.

Background
Active as a forum member since 1998, Sanjay Sabnani recognized a unique opportunity to enrich the forum member’s experience as well as effectively monetize a network of sites. Sabnani has been an active proponent of message boards since 2002, when he acquired General Mayhem, his first message board community. He continues to acquire forums and turned this network into a business with the launch of CrowdGather in 2008.
Sabnani has occupied senior executive positions in several publicly held companies: as EVP Strategic Development at Hythiam, Inc. (NASDAQ:HYTM), as Director of Business Development and Strategy at OSI Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:OSIS), and as President and Director at Venture Catalyst, Inc. (NASDAQ:VCAT).

Interviews
Interview on Jonathan Volk’s Blog
Interview on Mixergy.com
Interview on Corporate Profile
Interview on Young Entrepreneur
Interview on Trendslate

Where Are Social Media Marketers Seeing the Most Success?

An article was published yesterday on eMarketer that contained some very surprising information. In recent times when marketers discuss social media the primary destination that comes to mind is Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

“Eighty-five percent of companies viewed Facebook as successful, a significant jump from 54% in 2009. Yet Facebook hasn’t matched message or bulletin boards, with 93% reporting it was a successful tactic.”

 

This information was released in a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Market Research.

The Importance of Forums

The importance of forums is something that we at Lefora and CrowdGather talk a lot about. Today Sanjay Sabnani, CEO of CrowdGather, had the honor of being interviewed by Tom Murphy at SocialMedia.net on just that topic.

The interview centered around the lack of love that forums have received from the mainstream and whether or not forums are becoming obsolete with the rise of social media.

Sanjay summarized the difference between forums and social media by stating that:

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet….There is nowhere else [besides forums] on the internet where your passions, your hobbies and your knowledge base is sufficiently given credit for.”

Read more at SocialMedia.net

Forum & Communities Conference 2011

On February 16, 2011 VigLink is sponsoring a one day conference that is bringing together forum owners, brands, and experts to discuss the state of forums today and he direc

tion forum communities will take going forward.

It is an exciting opportunity to meet with other forum owners and to listen to the insights that other forum managers have gained in managing forums.

Sanjay will be attending and he hopes to see some of you there as well!

theForumCon.com
16th Febuary
9:00am – 5:30pm
EARLY BIRD Ticket -$95

Calling All Forum Owners, Win a FREE iPad! A CrowdGather sponsored contest.

Win a free one of these!

The holidays are over and there was no iPad under your tree/menorah? AdminFusion.com, a Crowdgather Forum, is holding a contest to win a FREE iPad.

All you need to do to enter is to be a member of AdminFusion, and write an original (never before used) article about an aspect of owning, marketing or running a forum.

Three prizes are up for grabs, and the winners will be selected by the AdminFusion and CrowdGather staff, and the prizes are as follows:

1st Prize: iPad
2nd Prize: $100
3rd Prize: $50

How to enter? Submit your article to AdminFusion: (Contest Entries – AdminFusion) which only you and the AdminFusion & CrowdGather staff can view, and wait to see if you win!

One entry per person only, first entry is the one which is counted. You have 24 hours after submitting your article to make any changes or correct any mistakes, after that it is final, sorry!

The contest is open until January 14th 2011, and winners will be announced by January 21st 2011!

Top Five Mistakes as a Forum Owner (and how to avoid them)

Each forum is unique but many of have been confronted with similar problems. Although some of these are harder to avoid, with a little planning you may be able to sidestep the most obvious pitfalls of a new forum admin. 

1. Problem:
Not being a leader/Catering to everyone
Setting up a forum requires a lot of time and dedication. Often in the initial phase it is easy to just do whatever you can to get people posting on your site. You cater to their wishes. You don’t step on toes. You encourage posts. And then finally when you realize you have a thriving site, you also realize that you have created a situation where everyone expects to be catered to all the time.

Solution:
How can you avoid this? Well, some of it is inevitable but if you set up clear rules from the beginning you will save yourself some headache. Growing your site through giving in to everyone is only a recipe to creating a site that you probably won’t want to spend any time on. So think ahead about the type of site you want it to be in a year, not only what kind of a site it is today.

2. Problem:
Getting into confrontations with people publicly
It is so easy to get into a word war with members, but there is nothing more damaging to a site’s morale than a whole lot of negative posts.

Solution:
People should be allowed to openly air their opinions but if something starts to escalate to becoming personal between you and a member – take it to a private area.

3. Problem:
Appointing mods/admins that are not ready or are power-hungry.

Solution:

There are a number of ways to avoid this but I recommend either taking a vote or asking your top posters what they think. Also, you may want to consider taking on a mod on a trial basis to start and let them know clearly that you are just seeing if it is a good fit.

4. Problem:
Deleting files. Whether it is deleting objectionable files and then getting complaints from the members, or accidentally deleting files as you move things around. It is easy to do and it can be devastating.

Solution:
When VB asks you if you are sure you want to hard delete…well double check. Always make sure you have a back up of your files. I can’t say that strongly enough. Back up your files.

5. Problem:
Promising to not put up ads on your site

Solution:
Let your members know that you intend to put up ads from the very beginning. Sites don’t run by themselves and there is no shame in covering your costs.

Building A Community: Five Easy Steps

The first thing to know when building an active forum community is that it will not happen overnight. To get started the most important things you will need are:

  • Dedication
  • Skill
  • Patience

Lucky for you, the first steps in getting a forum started entail getting proper hosting and forum software. With Lefora you can skip these steps and use our free forum package.

Step One
To get started you need to decide on a particular topic for your forum. A general talk forum is very unlikely to work, as you need to be able to capture a niche group of people. Once you have decided upon your genre, stick to it…there’s nothing worse than seeing a forum going off topic before its started. The forum should have a good number of interesting and focused topics. The content should reflect the interests of the target audience, and every care should be made to have well-written and informative content that is updated regularly. This not only helps attract new members, it keeps older members from losing interest and defecting to other forums.

Step Two
The forum needs to have a clear list of rules, a disclaimer, and most of all, good solid moderation. Visitors will quickly become frustrated with forums that have no clear guidelines, or feature rude, obnoxious, or overbearing members. Good manners are required as much online as offline.

Step Three
So, now the crucial part: the setup. Jot down a few notes about what exactly you want to be discussed on your forum, then create around 3-4 forums. Do not go overboard and create hundreds of sections. If you do this, people will be distracted by the lack of posts and will leave. Once you have your few forums built up you can maybe look into adding additional forums.

Step Four
Promotion, especially in the early days, will take considerable time and effort. Forums can be difficult to start (members generally are shy when there are only a few present), and the more posts that take place, the more individuals will join. This is the snowball effect of forums, so marketing must be done consistently, day in and day out, until the forum becomes more self-sustaining. Getting visitors to your site, and making them stay is probably the hardest part. Many sites and forums offer paid posts. Use them as a last resort as they give undesired results, which leave your forum full of off topic posts and advertisements. A very effective way of getting people registered is to create around 10 accounts yourself and post under the different names. Obviously not telling people you are the admin otherwise they would think you’re insane!

Step Five
Remember, if you are not committed to your forum’s topic you will not attract people.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. The owner of the forum should take an active interest in the forum and SHOW this interest by contributing regularly. Above all else, people join forums where they feel they will learn from the owner of the forum, and if the owner is never present, they quickly lose interest in the forum. Finally, keep your forums active. There are many ways to do this; competitions, giveaways, constant new topics being posted, and unique content. Unique content is essential. Don’t take posts from other forums because you will not only be in trouble but it will also increase your risk of being banned from search engines.

Help Us Improve in 2011

We are always looking to improve our service, and your feedback is very important. Please take two minutes and fill out our customer survey @ http://bit.ly/hqjBDw. Your feedback will help make Lefora better for everyone.
Happy Holidays,

-Lefora Team

Lefora News

Lefora has passed a few milestones in 2010, including passing 100,000 hosted forums. Since our launch in 2008, we’ve been working hard to scale the Lefora platform to ensure that your forums and topics load quickly no matter how active they become.

As part of our strategy to continue growing the Lefora network, on Friday, July 23rd, we entered an agreement with CrowdGather, Inc. to acquire the Lefora platform and properties. There will be absolutely no changes to the Lefora platform nor it’s feature set. The transition has been seamless and we’ve put a lot of time & effort to make sure that no forums experienced any downtime.

To be clear, our pricing plans and our free service will stay the same. There are no plans to make any changes, Lefora is a great service and CrowdGather shares our vision in keeping it that way. The advantage is now Lefora joins an even larger network of thriving communities as we continue to grow. By combining forces, we ensure that we can offer the same level of value without increasing our costs.

You will continue to get the same level of service and support from CrowdGather and the existing Lefora team will be here to help continue carrying our mission forward – “to make forums easy”.

The entire Lefora team is excited about our future. We’ve been in close communication with the CrowdGather team since our launch in 2008 and we have an incredibly positive outlook for what the future holds.

Read more about our news on MarketWatch.

Interview with forum-software.org

Forum Software Reviews

Today, I have the fortune of publishing an interview with Nicolas Ternisien who runs the very popular Forum Software Reviews site, forum-software.org. Nicolas is a professional Java/JEE developer with strong interests in Open Source (mainly the KDE desktop) and web technologies.  He lives in Brussels, Belgium with his wife and three cats.  In addition to running Forum Software Reviews, which keeps him quite busy with a backlog of forums to review, he works at the European Commision as an JEE consultant.  Nick does an excellent job of walking through dozens of different forum software packages and comparing them on a whole range of features.  All of this infomration is compiled into comparison charts, individual write-ups of each forum, and dozens of screenshots.  It’s a great reference website for any forum admin looking to start a new forum.

Stats:

  • Started May 2006
  • Reviewed over 43 types of forum software!  From phpbb, to zoho, to lefora, to google groups
  • Has over 10,000 admins visit each month!

.

Why did you start forum-software.org?

I started Forum-Software.org (“Forum Software Reviews” name has been chosen after while, because Forum-Software.org was looking to the name of a the template website used in DNS squatting 😉 in 2006, because I noticed at this period that no websites were comparing, listing and testing forum softwares – or at least, I did not googled correctly. Obviously, some big communities around each softwares were really dynamic, but it was hard to find an unbiaised opinion in such community, that would of course promote the one they support.

I mainly develop and review softwares on my hobby time, so it could therefore explain why you could find intervals of time (the worst was maybe two months!) without any news. It is based on PHP and the famous – and awesome – Drupal CMS. It was my first experimentation of this CMS, and I must admit that still today, I could spend hours to fix my first misusages of it.

The first goal of Forum Software Reviews was to regularly review forum softwares (of any kind, well known, or not, classic or exotic, …), let the users be able to test them directly with live demonstrations, and try to be as objective as possible. At the beginning I did not want to give rating, to do not disappoint developer teams that work hard to implement such softwares, and because it is hard to judge in several hours the work of several months. But, finally, I added them because of a global needs from my readers, that want to be guided in the forum software jungle.

The Forum Comparator came later, and is really used now, even if it is of course oriented in a technical way (the comparator will not help you to know if the ergonomics or the appearance of a software are well suited for you.

.

What are some interesting trends you are seeing in forum software?

The two main trends I noticed in the last years is the increasing power of open source, that really levels up the quality of free forum softwares. It is sometimes really sad, because some great projects have been given up, but finally, this Darwin’s natural selection in softwares is really good for final users. The other really important trend is the services oriented way to provide and distribute softwares. Lefora is a perfect example of this, as now, community managers do not longer want to install, upgrade and administrate a software, and prefer spending time to improve and manage their community. This is, in my opinion, the logical way from which the “cloud-computing” is coming from.

.

What are some important features you like to see in forum software?

In my opinion, one of the most important thing is the ease of use of a software. You see too much often forums with thousand of buttons, to watch, quote, change the appearance, report a problem, create a new topic, rate an answer, register… for each topic pages where the only important action is, actually, to reply. This also requires a simple and clear layout and theme, not overloaded with images and so on.

One of the future important feature is the integration with social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. Users are tired to create a new account, upload their avatar, and describe themselves in each community they register. This is probably one of the reason why so many Groups are created in Facebook: one account to rule them all. Fortunately, many solutions exist, like Gravatar, Openid and Google Friends, and more and more softwares are implementing (often via plugins) such integration.

.

What are your future goals with forum-software.org?

I plan to create a new module, in the next months (remember the “hobby time” in my first answer) to let users register the forum website they manage or administrate. This would be a good way to gather some statistics about type of softwares used, community size average, number of posts and topics,… I hope it will bring additional information about, for example, what is the general forum software used for an expected community of, let’s say, 2000 users, percentage of usage of a specific forum software, most used forum software in biggest communities…

Those information would be integrated through charts and inside of each forum software reviews. Obviously, this would be also a good way to create a directory of existing forum, and let users promoting what they were able to do with one software (theme used, list of plugins, local customization,…). This is in my opinion, a good way to see how much a software is flexible or not. I will keep you informed of such new improvements.

Thank you for this interview, it was really interesting, and please excuse my french way of speaking english 😉

.

Author’s Comments: Nicolas made some really insightful point here, especially on the direction that forum software is taking.  I personally agree with his statement that ‘ease of use’ is one of the most important things in forum software.  When you have too many options, it just becomes overwhelming.  Tying in with social networks also hits on another pain point that we hear alot – people don’t want to create yet another membership account.  So if they can choose to login with their existing facebook or twitter account, many times they will choose that option – and from other hosting sites we’ve talked to, we’ve really seen this ‘third-party login’ usage take off in the past year.  It’s something we plan to add to Lefora in the future.

Featured Forum – Bicycle Tutor

Two weekends ago I took a 2 day bike trip and encountered some bike problems along the way.  When I came back from the trip I went to Bicycle Tutor for tips on how to keep my bicycle well maintained.   With all the useful help I received,  I just needed to interview the creator of the community.  So this month we are interviewing Alex Ramon from bicycletutor.com.  Alex’s site is primarily a video tutorial site but he showcases his forum section heavily.

*Threads: 850

*Posts: 3,189

*Members: 790

*Software: MyBB

How long have you been running bicycle tutor as well as the forums section?

I started Bicycle Tutor in December 2007, and launched the forums the following year to cope with all the email questions I was getting. The first year the forums were online I used bbPress, but recently upgraded to MyBB for the added features and functionality.

Where do most of your visitors come from? How do they first hear about your site?

Half of our visitors learn about the site when searching for answers on search engines. The other half come from other websites, blogs, bookmarks, facebook, and forums. Word of mouth has been the biggest source of traffic since the beginning. People really like the videos and are happy to tell others about the site.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?

1. Always be helpful and friendly.
2. Avoid making too many rules and restrictions. Make it easy for people to register and begin posting.
3. Make it easy for visitors to change their profile settings and subscribe to threads by email and RSS.
4. Always be helpful and friendly.

Have you had problems with trolls or inappropriate members on your forum? If so, how did you manage their behavior?

I’ve had a few severe hack attacks on the main site, but luckily not much trouble on the forums. A few times someone has set up an account and posted spam threads, but they are easy to spot and delete. I can’t recall any members being rude or inappropriate. I think it’s because cyclists are just awesome by default.

How have you promoted your forum, and are you still continuing to promote or does it grow on it’s own?

It seems to grow on it’s own now, but I also put links around the main site wherever appropriate. I use the forum category feeds to post the latest related discussions below each video. I also announced it on my facebook fan page and recently sent out a newsletter letting subscribers know about the upgrades. I will continue tweaking to make sure people find answers to their questions easily when they visit the site.

Being the bicycle tutor and forum admin, how often do you chime in and answer questions on your forum?

At first I was doing my best to answer every question, but soon found it difficult to keep up. Luckily other people started joining and offering their answers and advice. I want to encourage that because there are so many people that know things I don’t. I’ve gradually scaled back my presence, but I still post whenever I have something helpful to say. I also keep an eye on threads to make sure no questions go unanswered for too long.

Author’s Comments:  Alex’s forum has really utilized the main part of his site, video tutorials, in building a great community of bicycle maintenance experts.  He’s also done a great job in using other social media sites in promoting his forum to the point it’s growing on its own.  Thanks for your time Alex!


Featured Forum – Prince Jackson Board

Today we’re talking to Celina, aka princemj, founder and admin of the forum princemichaeljacksoni.lefora.com.  Celina started this forum just 2 months ago and has already passed 500 member!  They are sky rocketing up the Lefora charts, with over 6,000 monthly visits!

Prince Jackson Board Stats:

* Age: < 4 months

* Threads: 653

* Posts: 20,155

* Members: 527

* Software : lefora

Celina, why did you start your forum?

The reason why I wanted to create the Prince Michael Jackson message board is because I realised how many girls out there that are falling for this sweet boy. Including myself. I wanted to create a place where we could discuss the latest, share pictures and show our support. It’s all for love. L.O.V.E!

How have you promoted your forum so well, all within a few weeks of starting your forum?

Well, at first I started discussing with a friend wether or not to even open the forum. Then we decided it would be a good idea, so we started figure out ways to promote the forum. First I made a youtube account for the forum, then I made a badass trailer and uploaded it on youtube and suddenly the members just kept floating in.

Do you have any specific tips for people on Twitter about how they can use Twitter to promote their forum?

First of all its important to know how to promote without getting people pissed off. Twitter users are just like the rest of us in that they are blind to obnoxious messages after many years of receiving commerical messages in their in-boxes. Make your tweet interesting and capturing in a smart way.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose lefora over another forum service?

I asked my friend who is good with technology and stuff for advice and he told me about lefora. I then found out how easy and great it is to handle, and I’m glad I made this decision!

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?

  1. Make a smooth and nice-looking design for your forum. A design that attrachs visitors to join.
  2. Promote your forum on different webs, such as facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, and the list goes on.
  3. Treat your members with respect, be sympathetic, helpful, and professional in your way of dealing with problematic matters.

.

And finally, is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to thank all the members of PMJ for making the board such a success in every way possible! Everything truly couldn’t have worked without their participance and loyalty. I’m greatful that eveything is going so well on the board, and thanks to lefora too for being so damn great and professional with their service. It’s all for love, L.O.V.E!

.

Author’s Comments: Celina has done an amazing job of growing her forum, within a month of starting her forum we noticed her moving up the charts.  She’s used twitter a lot to promote her forum and reach out to the community and creating that video like she did on youtube was a really smart way to ‘advertise’ her forum with a viral video that people wanted to watch and would pass around.

Lefora 2.0 coming soon…

Lefora 2.0

The development team at Lefora has been hard at work for many weeks on an entirely new infrastructure, code named Aardvark.  Aardvark is like Lefora 2.0, it’s an entirely new code base, rewritten in the Python 2.6 programming language.

Over the next few weeks, we will be stress testing Lefora 2.0 on various forums before releasing it across the network.  We’ve already started an early beta period on one forum, hackyour.lefora.com.  We’ll be upgrading our support forum soon.  We’ll continue to post updates about this release in our Support forum’s News & Announcements category.

As Lefora 2.0 is a full re-write of our current service, we haven’t added any new features (yet), our initial release will basically look no different then your current forum.  However, going forward it will allow for many improvements:

  • With a new optimized code base, the Lefora team can have more rapid development times and release cycles.  a.k.a., it’ll be easier for us to build and release new features onto your forum.
  • The new code base will improve our scalability, so that we can continue to grow at a rapid pace and still serve up forum pages quite quickly.
  • We’ll be able to offer more ‘core’ configuration options for your forum, such as a large library of themes for you to customize and edit.

 

 

 

Featured Forum – The Unofficial B-Cast Forum

This might be the first time we’re featuring a forum that is less than a week old.  Just 4 days ago James (veritas) started The Unofficial B-Cast Forum for fans of the daily B-Cast show.  What’s interesting, is this forum caught my eye within 2 days of launch due to its spread on twitter with ‘re-tweets’ and it’s enormously fast growth (over 200 posts from 30 members in just 2-3 days).

Unofficial B-Cast Forum Stats:
* Age: < 4 days
* Threads: 67
* Posts: 274
* Members: 37
* Software : lefora

What is your forum about? My forum is a “fan” site for Breitbart.tv’s The B-Cast, which is a daily M-F 4pm to 6pm eastern webcast with live chat, hosted by Scott Baker and Liz Stephans. They are very active in the conservative media and Scott Baker was recently featured on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck Show.  They focus on the political topics of the day and various other news breaking events like the Acorn scandal along with other interesting stories and the occasional humorous viral videos. The forums seek to reflect that same type of information. Myself and several others of a growing audience have been involved in the chat aspect of the show for quite some time now. When chat was left open around the clock, we started noticing that people would show up at all hours of the day and night and just chat and share links. But as you probably know, chat is like dropping leaves in a stream. If you are not there at the time, you more than likely will miss whatever is said or posted. Because even though the chat runs all the time, it does clear from time to time. I thought that the same people involved in the chat all with very similar interests in politics might want a forum to give more permanence to posts and allow people to get their posts seen by more members and have more time to really expound on their points. Chat only allows for quick one line types of posts and with the viewership rising continually it was getting harder to get your posts seen. I think that the chat feature is what makes The B-Cast special because we can interact with the hosts during the live shows, but people still wanted to talk even after the 2 hour show was over. I floated this idea of a forum and several of the chat members thought it was a good idea. That is why I started the “Unofficial B-Cast” forums.
Have you run a forum before? I have been an Admin on a few successful political forums and have tried to launch a couple of others in the past.
I see you’ve had a lot of ppl retweet about your forum on twitter, how did you go about motivating other people to tweet about your forum? Well I would like to say I had a lot to do with it, but it was really just the chat members letting others know what we were doing.
How else have you been promoting your forum? I have really just been using twitter and our chat community at The B-Cast to promote it. Along with putting it in my signature when posting elsewhere. I tried to use the sidebar function to create a custom html widget to show The B-Cast’s twitter posts. I followed the directions in the support FAQ, but for some reason I can not get it to work.
Is there anything else you’ve been doing to help generate such high posting activity over the first few days of your forum? That is pretty much it. I happen to have a great pool of the B-Cast community supporting what we are trying to do. I think that was key. There was already a group of like minded people that were anxious to express their ideas, I just gave them one more place with a little different format to do so. I hope that as The B-Cast grows, our fan community will as well. The B-Cast’s URL is http://www.breitbart.tv/livestream/ the show is M-F from 4 to 6 eastern and the previous day’s show loops after that until midnight or for weekends when the next live show starts.
How did you find out about Lefora and what made you choose it as your forum software? To be honest, not knowing exactly how people would like the forum idea even though many said they would, I Googled for a free format and found Lefora. I like the WYSIWYG style for the posters. I will say that since most of the sites where I have been an Admin were phpbb, the Admin tools are a little limiting, but sometimes simple is better. I like the way this site takes many of the headaches most Admin face, such as spam, and tackle that for us. Also, the theme format that was available and I chose was perfect to coincide with The B-Cast.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with fellow admins? I would say that one thing I have learned is make sure you identify your audience before starting a forum. If you can find something that already has a following online, but not a forum, you will probably be able to get members. The trick after that is keeping them. I think it will work for The B-Cast forums, because this was started by me as a service to my other Bcasters. I believe in what Liz and Scott are doing and I want to promote it any way I can!

What is your forum about?

My forum is a “fan” site for Breitbart.tv’s The B-Cast, which is a daily M-F 4pm to 6pm eastern webcast with live chat, hosted by Scott Baker and Liz Stephans. They are very active in the conservative media and Scott Baker was recently featured on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck Show.  They focus on the political topics of the day and various other news breaking events like the Acorn scandal along with other interesting stories and the occasional humorous viral videos. The forums seek to reflect that same type of information.

Have you run a forum before?

I have been an Admin on a few successful political forums and have tried to launch a couple of others in the past.

I see you’ve had a lot of ppl retweet about your forum on twitter, how did you go about motivating other people to tweet about your forum?

Well I would like to say I had a lot to do with it, but it was really just the chat members letting others know what we were doing.

How else have you been promoting your forum?

I have really just been using twitter and our chat community at The B-Cast to promote it. Along with putting it in my signature when posting elsewhere. I tried to use the sidebar function to create a custom html widget to show The B-Cast’s twitter posts. I followed the directions in the support FAQ, but for some reason I can not get it to work.

Is there anything else you’ve been doing to help generate such high posting activity over the first few days of your forum?

That is pretty much it. I happen to have a great pool of the B-Cast community supporting what we are trying to do. I think that was key. There was already a group of like minded people that were anxious to express their ideas, I just gave them one more place with a little different format to do so. I hope that as The B-Cast grows, our fan community will as well. The B-Cast’s URL is http://www.breitbart.tv/livestream/ the show is M-F from 4 to 6 eastern and the previous day’s show loops after that until midnight or for weekends when the next live show starts.

How did you find out about Lefora and what made you choose it as your forum software?

To be honest, not knowing exactly how people would like the forum idea even though many said they would, I Googled for a free format and found Lefora. I like the WYSIWYG style for the posters. I will say that since most of the sites where I have been an Admin were phpbb, the Admin tools are a little limiting, but sometimes simple is better. I like the way this site takes many of the headaches most Admin face, such as spam, and tackle that for us. Also, the theme format that was available and I chose was perfect to coincide with The B-Cast.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with fellow admins?

I would say that one thing I have learned is make sure you identify your audience before starting a forum. If you can find something that already has a following online, but not a forum, you will probably be able to get members. The trick after that is keeping them. I think it will work for The B-Cast forums, because this was started by me as a service to my other Bcasters. I believe in what Liz and Scott are doing and I want to promote it any way I can!

Myself and several others of a growing audience have been involved in the chat aspect of the show for quite some time now. When chat was left open around the clock, we started noticing that people would show up at all hours of the day and night and just chat and share links. But as you probably know, chat is like dropping leaves in a stream. If you are not there at the time, you more than likely will miss whatever is said or posted. Because even though the chat runs all the time, it does clear from time to time. I thought that the same people involved in the chat all with very similar interests in politics might want a forum to give more permanence to posts and allow people to get their posts seen by more members and have more time to really expound on their points. Chat only allows for quick one line types of posts and with the viewership rising continually it was getting harder to get your posts seen. I think that the chat feature is what makes The B-Cast special because we can interact with the hosts during the live shows, but people still wanted to talk even after the 2 hour show was over. I floated this idea of a forum and several of the chat members thought it was a good idea. That is why I started the “Unofficial B-Cast” forums.

Author’s Comments: In just a few days, James has done a terrific job of realizing another outlet was need for a community and so he started a forum on Eamped.com (running the Lefora forum software).  He took an active chat room and turned it into a thriving forum overnight.  From posting links in their chat room to his use of Twitter and of other members ‘re-tweeting’ his message to their network has helped contribute to this success.

It was also interesting to read his comments on the Lefora software – at first it seems limiting, but it’s simple and automatically takes care of the many headaches that admins have to deal with on other forum software, like spam prevention and theming.  Our goal is to hide complexities so that the admin interface is incredibly simple to use and not overwhelming.  We spend extra time programming automatic community functions into the forums, so admins can spend their time fostering their community, not tweaking a bunch of settings.

Twitter, Facebook, and Social Network traffic on Forums

From a question posted over at the popular The Admin Zone forum, a number of admins of forums are debating the value of traffic from social networking websites like facebook and twitter.  I decided to run some stats on our 80,000+ forums and see just what type of traffic the major social networks bring, and how likely would a visitor be to explore a forum, or bounce and leave the site.

Below is a chart of visitor activity to Lefora.com forums from popular social networks.

A few interesting stats:

  • 1/3 of all our traffic comes from search engines, mostly google.  This traffic tends to be slightly lower performing then our site averages, and something we’re working on improving.
  • Facebook is the 5th most popular referrer to our forums (of any website), it is over 5x as popular as myspace for referring traffic.  However, there are two reasons for this.  1, we offer Facebook Connect integration to make it easy to post updates to your facebook wall from the forum, and 2, myspace blocks all outbound links on their site with a scary intermediate page warning people they are leaving the myspace garden.
  • Social networking sites generally far out perform the average activity on our site, from pages per visit, time on site, and most importantly, a lower bounce rate (meaning people find what’s interesting in the forums after they click through a link on a social network.

For more Lefora Stats, be sure to check our recently added real-time Stats page.

Interview – Martin Reed of CommunitySpark.com

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.
His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.
Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.
We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.
I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.
You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.
Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.
The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.
My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.
Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?
Only three?!
1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.
.
What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.
As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.
What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.
Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.
Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.

His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.

.

Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.

We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.

I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.

.

You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.

.

Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.

The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.

My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.

.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?

Only three?!

  1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
  2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
  3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.

.

What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.

As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.

.

What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.

.

Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.

.


Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.

Where’s the time spent on forums?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/superzelle/3490611685/

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/superzelle/3490611685

With over 65,000 forums hosted on Lefora, we can run a number of ‘behavioral’ stats on activity within a forum.  One random, but interesting stat, is just how much attention is given to different actions on a forum.  This is based on a percentage of pageviews, so it’s not an accurate reflection of time within each – but it’s a good indicator.

49% of pageviews are spent reading & replying to threads
30% browsing through categories
5% on the headlines page
4% at a login screens
2% reading PMs
2% in the admin panel (admins are the minority here, so this is a significant number)
1% starting topics
0.5% in the user’s dashboard and profile editor
and 6.5% of pageviews are spent doing something else…


Featured Forum – The Budget Queen

Today we’re talking with Teresa Theriot, Founder, CEO, and admin of The Budget Queen Forum.  Teresa has done an amazing job of integrating a lefora forum with her website.  The layout and colors have been matched across the two sites, so that a member on the forum, doesn’t feel like they’re visiting a different site when they visit other areas of her website.  Teresa is a stay at home mother of three children, she is an expert on saving money and founder of www.thebudgetqueen.com.  She has a weekly TV spot on  KATC’s Good Morning Acadiana in Lafayette, LA and a weekly column in The Daily Advertiser.

The Budget Queen stats:
* Threads: 492
* Posts: 1,861
* Members: 96
* Software: lefora

Teresa, could you tell us a little bit about how you became the Budget Queen?
Of course! A few years ago, my husband I decided very suddenly that I should stay at home with my kids. Being that we were both professionals, it cut our income in half. I had no choice but to make it work, so I started researching books, magazines, and websites on frugal living. There was a lot of information out there, so I had to work to compile it into a system that worked for me and my family. My main concern was that I wanted to continue the same lifestyle that we were living for a whole lot less money.

As friends and family noticed our success, they started asking us how we were making it work, because they wanted to stay home too. I began e-mailing deals and sales to everyone. When that got overwhelming, I decided to compile all of my data into a website so that anyone and everyone could access at anytime. I wanted it to be a one-stop-shop for all things frugal so that people wouldn’t have do all of the research that I had to do. I really wanted to help people share the same financial success that we were. So www.thebudgetqueen.com was born.

As the economy worsened, the popularity of the site grew into a full fledged business. I now offer paid advertising on my website and forum, corporate classes, group classes,  and private consultations. I also have a regular segment on KATC TV3’s Good Morning Acadiana, here in Lafayette, LA and I have a weekly column in the Accent section of The Daily Advertiser. Coming soon, I will have an eStore that offers money saving tools and products.


Who is your target audience and how do you go about marketing to them and bringing them to your forum?

I am not purposefully trying to target a particular audience because the information that I offer is useful to anyone and everyone, although it does seem to be majority female of all adult ages. The forum is devoted to sales, bargains, coupons, deals, etc. which is mostly relevant to women because they generally do the household shopping.

There seems to be about a 50/50 ratio of working vs. stay-at-home moms. There are also a couple men on the forum as well.  I really am trying to get the message out to everyone about this different way of living, so I am hoping that the number of men on the forum will grow.

Being that I am The Budget Queen, I generally only do marketing that is free. I do lots of word-of-mouth marketing, I am a member of a networking group, I am doing the weekly column in The Daily Advertiser as trade for advertising on their www.acadianamomslikeme.com website, I promote my site on my KATC segment, and I send press releases to the local papers when something new and exciting is happening with the site. I also take advantage of marketing myself for free on sites like StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I am always looking for and taking advantage of free marketing tools.

Have you noticed the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Lefora bringing new traffic to your forum?
Yes is an understatement. When I started the site, I was getting at the most about 3,000 unique visitors per month. Thanks to Lefora’s Search Engine Optimization I have seen numbers as high as 22,000 unique visitors per month, with no other national advertising of any sort. I have only been with Lefora for 5 months, so this is a huge success. Lefora’s SEO is going to be the key to helping me reach my goal of a national website. I am so grateful for the services that Lefora provides!
.

What goal did you have in mind when you first started your forum? What goals would you like to achieve at this point?
When I first started the forum, it was my goal to have a community where frugal minded people could come together and share their ideas, deals, coupons, recipes, or anything related to frugal living. Originally, I was targeting stay-at-home moms in an effort to help keep them from returning to work out of financial necessity. As the site grew, I realized that it was more than stay-at-home moms that needed the help, so I changed my focus.

Now that I realize the value of the information I have to offer, it is my goal to take the site to a national level to teach Americans a new perspective on money. As a culture, we are very frivolous and unconscious with our money. I would like to teach people that there is a better way to live. The truth is that we can live the same lifestyles on a lot less. My website www.thebudgetqueen.com has all of the tools to help people live better on less so that they can get out of debt and start saving towards their goals. The Budget Queen System is the key, and the The Budget Queen Forum is part of that system. It allows people to come together to discuss issues and share ideas on smarter spending. It has been a valuable tool in the growth of the site.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose Lefora over another forum service? Have you worked with other forum software in the past?
To be completely honest, I originally chose Lefora because it was free. As The Budget Queen, I always opt for something free over something that I have to pay for. The lower I keep my overhead, the more I profit. Plus, when I first started the site, all of the elements had to be as cheap as possible in order for me to stay afloat.

I tried other free forum services, but they always had problems that were never resolved. I loved the set up of the Lefora forum and felt as if it worked best for my readers. It was similar to some very popular forums that I saw in the past, so it was love at first site! Since then, Lefora has grown, changed, added new features, and I love it more each day. I feel that they listen to my needs and concerns and make a continuous effort to give me what I need. I am enjoying watching Lefora grow along with my own site.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?

  1. First and foremost, you need to be present on the forum. It is essential that readers know that you are there, so I recommend trying to post at least twice a day. Any random conversation is enough for people to know that you are there and that you care about their questions. I try to make an effort to get on and at least respond to some of the posts twice a day. Be as genuine and personable as possible so that others feel comfortable posting on the site.
  2. Secondly, post valuable information that keeps readers coming back. Random conversation is great, but to really hold people’s interest and keep them returning to the forum, you need to have valuable content for them to look forward to. For instance, on Sundays I post all of the drug store sales and deals. On Tuesdays I post all of the grocery sales and deals. On Wednesdays I try to post my menu plan for the week or some new recipes. Fridays are what I like to call “Freebie Friday” when I post all sorts of free samples, events, downloads, etc. This information reduces the workload for the reader by compiling the data so they don’t have to, thus making it easier to keep their budgets low. Anything that saves people time and effort is valuable information. My readers are aware of the routine, so they come back regularly to check out the deals.
  3. Last, get readers involved. When there doesn’t seem to be a lot of activity on the site, create a contest or other fun game to get readers involved. In the past, I held a contest asking for new money saving tips. I chose the winner at random and sent her an Entertainment Book as a prize. I think I got about 52 responses to this post. I also posted a request for pictures to get readers to add their pictures to the site. There are all sorts of creative ways to get readers involved based on your forum topics. When things are super slow, this really seems to renew the passion on the forum.  I also try to do or add something new to the site each month to keep the site growing and constantly interesting.

.

I hope this information helps everyone! It’s been a pleasure working with Lefora. Thanks so much for your interest in my site!

Author’s Comments: Thank you Teresa for sharing such valuable tips on how to grow a successful forum.  I particularly like what you mentioned on how you go about marketing your site for free, from sties like stumbleupon, twitter, and facebook.  Word-of-Mouth marketing is very powerful, espically when that happens online where it’s easy for people to share.  It’s always helpful to make something understandable in just one sentence on how it would benefit an interested party – that is sure to get spread around.

For the admins, you are right on the ball about being present on the forum.  There have been many members that come to us asking why their forum isn’t popular, but the #1 thing they are forgetting to do is post consistently on their forum.  By posting a few times every day like you suggested, it ensures two things.  #1 that when members come to the forum, there is something to catch the member’s interest and make the forum feel current.  #2 it helps google crawl a forum if there is new content added each day – and that will send potential visitors to the forum.

Featured Forum – vBulletin Fans Network

Today we’re interviewing Floris Fiedeldij Dop. Floris has been active on the internet since 1993, creating web sites, communities and helping forums be content rich.  He runs a number of forum sites such as wetalk, and the vbfans network, assists the support team at Jelsoft Enterprises Limited (vBulletin) and Headstart Solutions (DeskPro) and runs the popular forum for vBulletin board owners, staff and users.

vbfans network stats: (http://vbfans.com)
* Threads: 27,474
* Posts: 147,405
* Members: 14,645
* Software: vBulletin v. 3.8.2

wetalk network stats: (http://wetalk.tv)
* Threads: 16,000
* Posts: 24,300
* Members: 2,750
* Software: vBulletin v. 3.7.6

How long have you been involved with the vBulletin community?
After closing my web creations studio company at the end of 2000, I have been creating the creations.nl forums, but was never satisfied with the software packages. I had my eye on vBulletin and we manually imported the data and went live with it on January 1st, 2002. A year later. It has instantly impacted my site, doubled in users and posts.

When version 3 of vBulletin was announced I got involved in the private testing, and used my live site creations.nl – renamed to vBulletin.nl which later was renamed to vBulletin-Fans.com.

I have joined the vBulletin Support Team March 2004.

What are your favorite vBulletin Hacks?
I have always found a single feature missing from vBulletin, the statistics modification from Bane (if I remember correctly). Providing you and your users with live statistics of visitors, referrals, search terms, etc. It was very feature rich for a modification for just version 2 of vBulletin. Unfortunately it never continued after version 3 was released, and I still miss it.

Other modifications that I liked have become default features in vBulletin. And I believe the ‘friendly url’ rewrites I personally prefer – will be default in version 4 too.

Have spammers been a large problem for you on any of your forums?  What tactics are you using to help prevent spam?
Yes, spammers are malicious users in my eyes, and have no regards for the service one offers with their site. It ruins the overall mood and impression one has of a site when visiting it and seeing it infested with spambots and what not.

It is a problem on not just my board, or a vBulletin powered board. It is a problem for bloggers, any forum owner, and other online application.

Thankfully reCAPTCHA is pretty good, and the features that sites offer, such as vBulletin’s human verification system, and the built in Akismet support. They help block most of the registrations and their posts (moderation queue). Keeping the front end of the site clean and usable – so visitors can find what they need and participate.

How do you think other forum software stacks up against vBulletin, such as phpBB, IPB, and Lefora?
Bluntly: They’re all pretty crap. Free alternatives live up to the stereotype : You get what you pay for. And there is a reason why I choose and stuck with vBulletin version 2 and 3. I have a feeling this is changing though, in the last few years; and years to come.

IPS is finally taking their software products serious and is making great progress moving from a consumer platform giving free licenses, to a paid solution – even worth enough for small companies.

Lefora is a fresh breeze of air and trying to be ahead of the technology and stepping into the market where todays services and social networking is a constant task for admins and users/visitors. Hopefully it grow big and quick and fix what others have been longing to get but can not find in solutions currently available.

When people ask me what free alternative to pick over vBulletin, I tell them to consider SMF, and inform them to get donations or funding, so they can import later into vBulletin.

When people ask why they need vBulletin or if it is worth the money. I ask them “If you are serious about your site, why go for second best?”

Do you think there are any downfalls to a hosted forum solution?
Yes, control. You leave a lot of trust into the hands of others. And their policies usually include ‘unexpected data loss and down time are out of our hands, and we are not liable for any direct or indirect damages as a result of this’. Leaving the service provider almost completely covered, while the user who ‘trusted’ the hosted solution with the problems if they arise. Additionally hosted solutions means that unlike vBulletin you probably do not decide when you upgrade, you can’t improve performance by changing a hosting provider, or when you need to grow. And costs can add up quite quickly while a $25/month VPS could sometimes fix all of this.

Are there any features you want to see added to vBulletin?
Let’s start with the top ten suggestions from the customers, and this hopefully includes the statistics mod I was talking about earlier.

The biggest request is user-friendly, innovating, modern, intuitive, user interface. Can all these software solutions come up with an interface that is quick to learn for the guest browsing the board?

What do you think forums will be like 5 years out?
They will hopefully have the customer requested features available in every forum product out there, hopefully free and paid alternatives caught up with vBulletin. And hopefully forums will have grown to a solution that is not just for consumers and a business, but also easy to expand, modular, scalable, and finally ready for the social as we will know it in the next few years. Supporting OpenID / Twitter, Google, Yahoo oAuth / Facebook Connect, or having matching features / API integration / and simply put .. be a SN in a box with the ability to connect to the cloud. So you don’t sign up on 50 forums and have 50 profiles. But have an online social profile and can use that on 50 forums. Let’s stop calling them forums and just make them ‘sites’. Be it a blog, forum, social group, gallery, etc .. hopefully software such as vBulletin and IPS and SMF/phpBB can serve as ‘engines’ to generate and power dynamic and flexible social sites.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?

  1. content is everything – good content, is worth everything
  2. consistency, dedication and passion – without it, you can not make it work
  3. business plan. a short and long term road map, and build a team to help reach the goals. build an advertising ring to generate income, generate a fund to have a budget to invest in hiring developers, designers, marketing, advertising, etc. No guts to think big, no glory will happen, ever. Know what you want, know who you want, know when you want it.

.
And do not be afraid to love your audience. Show your staff that you care, have your staff show they care about the members. Have the members show they care about the newcomers and visitors.

And finally: Stop spamming. SEO is fine. Fighting over a rank shows you have no passion for your site, voiding the above tips.

Finally, Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yeah, my cat is on twitter, she’d love it if you follow her : http://twitter.com/sashapurr ; But in all seriousness, if anybody wants to know more about me, I invite them to my blog on http://mrfloris.com – and thank you for taking the time to interview me. I wish you all the best of luck with the Lefora project.

.


Author’s Comments:
Many thanks to Floris, he packed in a lot of great information here.  Floris mentioned a few times about the direction of forums and some important technologies required to get us there.  Like the frustration of dealing with 50 forums with 50 profiles and how that’s just not scalable.  It’s one of the problems we’re solving here at Lefora, by creating a global account system that allows a member of one forum to join any other forum on Lefora without creating a new account and a new profile.  Floris mentioned the open authentication systems vBulletin supports, and that’s something we’ve built out as well with Lefora’s Single Sign-On API (SSO) – this allows a Lefora forum to hook directly into the login system of another website, so members of that website are automatically logged in and ready to post on their first visit to our forum.  Lefora is vastly expanding our API over the next few months, including integration with services like Facebook.

“Control” and “Trust” are two other items Floris talked about in reguards to hosted forum solutions and it’s feedback that we’ve heard frequently from both existing forum admins and potential new admins.  To address these concerns, we’re building out a Lefora exporter into our API so that admins of a forum have free direct access to their forum’s data – which ultimatly helps build trust in our service.


RateItAll Badge for Lefora
August 2020
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

A Lefora Free Forum Production