Web Forums - Building an Online Community
by Debbi Sullivan
An online forum is about information sharing and community, and successful
forums don't happen by accident. Common sense, good publicity, and good
management skills are what is needed to keep your forum growing. Before you even
begin, there are a couple points to consider:
A high-traffic forum can be a great source of revenue
Is there a need for my forum? If you have a website that
already has a decent following, adding a forum for fans of your site will likely
be successful. Other good reasons to start a forum are having a unique or
'niche' topic, or having a new approach to something.
Check first to see if there are already forums out there that address your
topic, and in the same way you would. If there are, consider joining an
established forum instead of starting your own, to avoid fragmenting your
community into dividing its time between too many similar forums.
Where will I host my forum? While there are free hosts
available, it is advisable to choose a professional web host for your forum.
Most web hosts offer hosting packages for your entire website, including the
forum. Having a real hosting account allows you to have your forum under your
own domain name and control.
If you choose to begin your forum using a free service, it is unlikely that you
will be able to later 'move' it to private hosting without losing all the
previous posts. This could be upsetting to your long-time members if they have
to start over again on a new forum. It is better to host the forum on your own
from the outset.
The organization of your forum boards (topics) is key to managing your forum
effectively. Below are some basic guidelines to follow.
FAQ Every forum should have a general FAQ, that lists what your
forum's purpose is, what the general rules of conduct are, and what actions, if
any, will be taken for violation of the rules. You may also want to include a
brief description of how the board works, or a link to a tutorial that shows how
to use the features of the forum.
Main Topics (or boards) At the minimum, you will need two main
topic areas, or 'boards', as they are called. You will want one board for your
main subject; the purpose of your site and forum. For instance, if the forum is
for your favorite band, the band's name would be your main board. You will also
want a second board for ... everything else!
It is a well-known phenomenon that visitors to a particular forum establish a
kinship with each other, and spend time chatting about something other than your
main forum topic. This is desirable, and helps build community, but it can be
tedious to plow through twenty off-topic posts in the middle of a topical
thread. By providing a separate section for people to post on other topics, you
help develop your community and encourage your visitors to stay and chat.