|Birth of the "Forum Forum"|
You've just launched a (new) forum (sort of). How are things working out?
As the mod of a new forum you have a built in community, but in a sense, this is a new community: People with a particular focus or interest.
Has running this new community had an impact on your time? Your schedule? What?
Have there been problems? What kind? (No here. Not in WW, right?)
Describe your experience. What would you change about the launch? What would you do differently, now, a month later?
What have you learned?
Do you believe the new forum has been adequately promoted? Would you promote it in other ways? How?
How's the software you use as a mod? How does it compare to other forum software? What's good? What do offer forum software packages offer that's .... gasp .... better?
Question, question, question (fill in the blank questions) ;-)
Good questions, Webwork. In my opening post, I used the new Community Building forum as an analog to what many of us face in launching forums on our own (or client) sites. I guess it's fair to get a progress report.
Overall, we're pretty lucky to be housed within WebmasterWorld since we have some major advantages many forums lack:
- high site traffic and large existing member base
- stable and secure infrastructure (BestBBS)
- great mod & admin support team (I can sleep without worrying that the spammers are lying in wait!)
In launching a new, independent forum I undoubtedly would have had to spend many hours installing software, configuring it, customizing it (appearance, SEO characteristics, etc.). None of this was needed here, and due to the established nature of the entire site, I didn't feel pressure to create lots of posts to avoid an empty look.
As far as promotion, we got a nice home page thread shortly after the launch... That's all it will take for now. Members will continue to discover it on the "recent posts" lists, and if history is any indication we'll gradually develop off-site referrals as we build a body of forum-issue and community building content. I did consider spamming all the other forums here with URL drops to the new forum, but that would have been bad form. ;)
The heavy lifting of this launch has been done by the members of WebmasterWorld - with close to 500 posts in less than two weeks, we're off to a brisk start for a specialized topic.
In short, although launching a forum here does take a bit of effort (not just on the mod's part but by Brett, too), it doesn't compare with starting from scratch on your own site from a labor or stress standpoint. Still, it's building a new community and delivers the same kind of psychic rewards.
On my own forum, the main "wall" I've hit is traffic. I overestimated participation based on what a circle of people who I was talking with at the time of its creation said. (A dozen or so people said they would participate before the board was created. Of those, precisely 1 has become a regular poster).
The Traffic Wave: I've gotten lax, from time to time, about checking in. Invariably, this is when a busload of new posts show on the forum. I come back from a weekend of ignoring the net (which is most weekends, actually), and there's a pile of posts, many of which I should have responded to in a timely manner. I've since modified my "ignore the net on weekends" habit to allow a couple checks a day on the BBS on Saturdays and Sundays. The Wife is less than impressed with this change of pattern.
A forum I didn't create but was made moderator at: I stress about this one. Its a very busy board, and there's a lot to do. Fortunately, there's a few moderators, scattered around this "round earth" thingy, so we have good 24 hr coverage, and if one of us falls asleep at the switch, someone else picks up the slack (its happened to every mod on that board a few times. We all do it on a volunteer basis, and sometimes non-volunteer type work takes priority). Myself and one of the other moderators have taken to writing "articles", not quite FAQs, but general, long-winded posts that cover topics and questions that come up time and again, and making them stickies. This takes a lot of initial time and thought, but is working out well in the long run. The regular members have even taken to posting links to these threads when "that same old question" or topic comes up again, and its saving us HUGE amounts of time now.
Grelmar, you've hit on one of the truths of forum management - it's a seven day a week job, although in lots of cases all that's needed is a quick check. It gets even more stressful if your forum has troublemakers, since you really can't leave the forum alone for too long without risking a load of bad posts.
My forum's been live for a little over a month. I've got one or two regular posters and a several irregular posters. We're talking a total membership of 27. They aren't very knowledgeable but that doesn't matter that much. I do the research and respond as best I can to help them.
I'm not promoting the forum other than tieing links from content into it for those willing to follow up on the content with comments and questions. I suspect this will become a valuable method as the content of the site grows and the bots index both the content and the forum's content (I use a subdomain for the forum). But I'm experimenting.
My approach is more of a take it as it comes attitude. I have faith that the forum will grow and I'm not in a rush to grow it right now simply because I expect it will become more demanding as it does and I'm not ready for exponential growth. I've planted a seed so to speak, and will let it mature in it's own time.
In general my time on the forum is taken up with simply cruising through and seeing if there are any new posts and addressing them. I've got a few things on the drawing board for improvements but there's no rush at this time. No one has asked for them and I'll get to them when I have time. Like I noted before, the forum is an experiment and I'm not adversed to trying something new or testing a theory as long as the basic functionality remains for the forum's users.
I have admin status on an industry-specific forum that has been around for a couple of years and has about eleven hundred members. There's a few dozen regular posters (some of whom know each other in person), and the general tone is professional and helpful. There have been a few "incidents", but sometimes weeks will go by when the only modding that's needed is to delete an accidental duplicate post.
Our biggest problem is getting posters to understand and remember that the board is not a private space in the way someone's living room might be. No matter how cozy and personal the conversations feel sometimes, they need to be sensible about what they say. "Remember, your competitors are in here reading, too!"
I haven't had any real "problem" posters, but when I've been away from the forum and missed a whack of new posts, I feel that I might have missed out on the "warm greeting" aspect. I just think its nice to greet new posters as soon as possible, it helps to make them feel at home and welcome in the new environement.
Excellent point, Grelmar. Greeting new arrivals can be important, as well as trying to get new posters a reply fairly quickly. Their initial experience may well determine whether they become active in the community.
(And don't feel left out, you'll eventually get problem posters... Let me know if you'd like a few of mine. ;))
One MAJOR help in mod'ing a forum, active or otherwise: an email notification feature. Ideally, this will notify a mod any time either of two things occurs: a new post in any of the forum's topics; and a reply post in any active topic.
Yes, this does generate a lot of email dreck on a really active forum; but for those of us whose boards are in the "sort of active" category, it's a necessity.
Of course, that presupposes one checks one's email at least once a day....
Oh - software. Using phpBB right now, like it fine, not sure I'll stay with it forever.
E-mail notification is definitely a biggie in the early days - it lets the mod/admin keep up with new activity, both to kill spam and welcome new posters. Eventually, of course, the mail volume gets too great. But early on it sure beats going back to the topics page every little while to see if anyone has posted.