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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

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How to turn an average forum into a successful one
viggen




msg:1556922
 8:09 am on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

First, i know this is probably not going to work for every topic, but i hope one can use some ideas in this post...

One of my sites (educational,very low paying niche) had a forum that attracted maybe one or two new members a week with about 5 posts a day. Here my story how i made it the biggest in its niche. The first problem was that there were already other forums in this niche that existed for years, second problem was that it was not only a small niche but also a very low paying one (Adsense). First i needed to get more people...

1.Get more people to sign up
I placed on all of my content sites a little line at the end of the article that says "If you would like to discuss "name topic" join our forum and share your ideas...

I made a News section in the forum were only the headline and the first sentence is visible for people that are not signed in...

I put the most interesting thread of the week on the front page...

I contacted "superstars" of my niche (Authors, Scholars etc..) to post in my forum (the time just before or after they published a book is a good time as they are more willing to do so and most of the time for free...

Another way to make people sign up is to get the "opposition" to come to your forum, for example if you have a fan forum for "Manchester United" I would start a thread like "10 reasons why Chelsea sucks", then i would go to a Chelsea fan forum sign up there as a huge Chelsea fan and would post something like "have you seen those suckers over there what they talk about us?", some people will most propably register at your forum just to bash your views on Chelsea ;) This brings me to my next point how to make them post, now that you have a regular stream of sign ups...

2. How to make them post
The Daily News section; this is at my place the most viewed subforum, but relatively few replies, nevertheless, some will reply...

The content pages error forum; One section is for errors, (factual and typo) you will be surprised how many people will make a post just to get a typo corrected (and it helps to keep the content part as error free as possible...

Promoting as early as possible the most active quality members to moderators; This is a very special point, a moderator will not only moderate but will post many quality posts...

Rewards; The most successful part of getting people to post on this particular forum was the introduction of Usergroups based on participation. Everyone starts as a guest (in my case they are not called guests but something not realy nice (nothing derogatory but nevertheless no one wants to be called that in my niche", so already i get some posts why the heck they are "fill in your term"! They have some restriction, (no signature, no avatar (again posts why this is not working), after 10 posts they are automatically promoted to full member, which gives them rights to have avatars, signature and a nicer usergroup name :)

The next Usergroup is the bulk of my members, to get to the next lever one has to participate for at least 3 months, must have several high quality posts and the admins/mod then decide if this particular should be promoted to the next level, he gets then a personal mail congratulating him and he gets access to more features (own blog on the site, personal email adress, own picture gallery)

People in that usergroup are sometimes promoted to the highest Level, to get there one has to write articles for the content site, if they are well written they will then be promoted to this particular level, with access to a special member section and a freebies like books etc..

Now why want people to get promoted? Well people (at least in my niche)love to get free books, so many work (post) really hard and lots just to get to that "VIP" level

Giveaway; We give allot to the community for free, actually almost 30% of our income goes back to the quality members, this creates a constant stream of new content (almost every book is rewied by the member and then published on the content site in the book review section), I also alway contact the author about the review, many just say thank you, but many also start participating in the forum...

3.Interaction of Content and Community
Every article that is written by a community member gets a link on the main page for 2 weeks (i use a blog software as front page which has the advantage of making it very easy to update, an archive for a nice sitemap and the article gets spidered extremely fast by the engines) and an ego boost for the member who has written the article...

Members Blog; because i offer a blog for special members (which surprisingly allot of them are using) most of the time i only have to link to the members blog for the recognition and the link juice stays within the domain...

Every article we write gets thrown into the forum for discussion, that way the article gets dissected, improved and often a spin off article is produced by a community member...

I check regulary my access logs for search phrases people arrive on my site but without having the exact content for it, (search engines are not perfect), once i have identified such a phrase, i start a thread about it, and once you are big enough and you have a dedicated community, chances are that either a popular thread or even a content with the exact phrase is the end result, hence making the previous top ranking search phrase a self fulfilling prophecy.

Using members as watch dogs; Everyone knows big content sites are the target of scrapers, copyright violations etc..
I explained once the ramifications and that we had to protect "our" content, now i get almost daily mails or posts about sites that are using our content, some are even contacting the owner of those particular sites, complaining about the infrigement...

To summarize; My content part is now basically community driven, i hardly have to write any articles myself, all i have to do is to give directions...

4.Monetizing the community
As i mentioned previously, the niche is very low paying and if it wasnt a labour of love, i would never have bothered, but 3 years later this "low paying niche" is one of the biggest money maker of all of my sites...

I made it from the start very clear that at the end of the day i would like to make money in order to maintain not only the quality of the forum/site but also to be able to give back to the community. This open approach was very well received and clearly understood.

Adsense; This was the first real money that poured into the site, while the earning per clicks were rather poor, the amount of clicks made some up for it and it made it actually possible to start giving back to the community. However the content sites were getting much more EPC, so my focus was right from the start making the community produce content pages.

Amazon; In my niche, books play a significant role; thats why i put on evey article an on topic amazon product link. I made it clear in the TOS that i will add my amazon affiliate code in every book title that gets mentioned in the forum, again this is understood and no problems, i actually have my moderators to do this for me, they have my affiliate code and know how to make a static amazon link with my referal Id. I have a most popular book of the month section, and a book review section, the book reviews from forum members are generating the most money from amazon, people trust people they know...

Demographic Monetization; The moment i realized that with trying to make money with my niche wont get me very far, but trying to monetize the demographics of my visitors i had a winner. While the niche might be relatively small and the potential to earn real money from that are remote, the people that visit the site have one thing in common, they are mostly highly educated and have lots of disposable income. I actually figured that only out once YPN came on board. Suddenly i had ads that were not really targeted to the content, but that paid so much more then what the contextual correct ads from Adsense were paying. My focus shifted then from monetizing the content to monetizing my visitors.

Conclusion
Since i switched about 3 years ago from gaming the engines to building a community driven site, i have not noticed an algo update, other then the rankings went up, I do only basic on page seo, no link building (still i get plenty of links every day, mostly from .org and .edu sites) and have other then checking the access logs for new phrases i can build sites for, completely forgotten the search engines. I get now about 5 to 10 new members a day, about 5000 posts a month (which seems probably small for some, but in my niche i am a giant ;) ) and have a the fun of my live. I created a community that pays my bills..

As i said at the beginning, not all of that i just mentioned is probably applicable to your topics, but i hope you got at least some ideas how you can make your community site a bit more successful...

Not being an english native speaker and making now my longest post ever at WebmasterWorld, i do apologize for all typos and grammar errors

 

Endurer




msg:1556952
 1:37 am on Mar 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Comprehensive, I must say. Many thanks for sharing it here with is.

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