Forum communities are a valuable addition to any business brand. They can also become lucrative online ventures in their own right if you can build an organic, busy social space populated with a diverse collective of people. The problem is that it takes time to build a forum. People won’t post on a forum if there are no members or threads, but to encourage posts, you need plenty of both. It’s a catch-22 situation.
Why Build a Forum?
The benefits of a forum are two-fold. Firstly, if you build a forum attached to a main website, your traffic will move seamlessly between the two. Secondly, a forum is a self-sufficient entity that can generate an income once it grows to a reasonable size. Massively popular forums such as Mumsnet generate around $6 million a year in advertising revenue, but they don’t charge for user registration. If you ask users to pay for certain extras on the forum, it is not difficult to see the earning potential. However, without users, your forum will cost you more than it earns.
Choose the Right Forum Framework
There are different forum software options to choose from: some free and some not free. MyBB and SMF are all good choices, but bbpress is easy to use, too, and WordPress friendly, plus it comes with plenty of widgets and plugins. If you can afford to pay for your forum software, consider using vBulletin or IPB, as both have positive reviews. XenForo is a newer contender, which is also proving to be a popular paid forum software option.
It is impossible to build a thriving forum if the content is invisible to search engines. In the beginning, much of your new traffic will come via search engines, so check whether the forum is search engine optimized. Ask SEO experts if you need any help in this area.
Encourage New Users
Once you have your forum all set up and ready to go, it’s time to start looking for users.
- Paid posts – To begin with, you may have to pay people to post on the forum. Pay users to post ‘seed posts’ to encourage organic conversations and new users.
- PPC – Paid advertising of your forum should help to build traffic. You can hire freelancers to post on the forum, but restrict activity to a small section of the forum until it looks busy.
- Press releases – Write some press releases to promote your forum on media websites.
- Social Media – Link forum posts to your social media feeds and encourage people on social media to join the forum and start posting. When people see interesting forum threads and posts on their timelines, they are more likely to engage with the conversation.
Make sure users’ questions are answered quickly. To begin with, you may need to do the legwork via several different user IDs, but once the forum begins to generate organic users, you can slow your input down.
Be sure to create a welcoming, inclusive forum environment. New users will be discouraged from posting if threads are trolled and full of offensive comments and spam. Deal with any issues promptly to promote online safety and encourage lurkers to join in.