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Advice desperately need on making my forum a success

3:42 pm on Nov 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I have a pretty popular news site with over 20,000 daily visitors and 4 months ago i launched a forum.

It has been seeded with over 500 posts all written by our journalists who are experts in our sector and we make on average 6 new threads a day and comment on all threads.

But nothing is happening - it is advertised on every page of the site and still we get very few new subscribers and hardly anyone participates.

Our posts are open, not arrogant, we have no Spam on the forum - i haven't got a clue what we are doing wronmg.

Are there any forum experts here who can give some advice?

Thanks for any comments.
4:34 pm on Nov 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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There are plenty of news sites where people do post. I imagine that everybody who wants to participate in a news forum already does so elsewhere.

If there is any specialist area that attracts your readership then you should concentrate your forum on that subject.
4:36 pm on Nov 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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It can be tough to get a forum off the ground and some sites just don't lend themselves to it well. Is your site general news or from a specific industry? Are there other active forums in your market? Do you allow comments on your articles? How is it advertised on the rest of your site?

It's always useful to have a function to a forum other than just discussion. For example, small business forums might have a services wanted sub forum or a tech forum might have an expert help section.

I think in general though, forums seem to be losing their appeal - over the past few years people have generally moved away from being a part of a community and more towards blogging or tweeting where they can effectively create their own micro community. And on the flip side, forums can be resource intensive to maintain and difficult to monetise, so less websites are producing them.

It sounds like you're taking a good approach to it though - seeding the forum and ensuring the quality of it are the key areas to start with. Sometimes it just takes time to build up momentum.

Also, you have to consider your traffic sources. If we assume you're 80% search / 20% referrals (for argument's sake), that's still 100% people looking for news, and 0% looking for discussions. But over time that would shift as people link to good threads and so on and you get people visiting who are interested in discussions over news.
5:22 pm on Nov 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Taking news into the equation, good, informed comment on a topical news story will help generate opportunities. Viewpoints are important, and once you have momentum you may find others will comment back based upon the viewpoints.

6:46 pm on Nov 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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There is one great video telling the story of how reddit founders promoted the community:

There are many things in it to learn from, I think.

The first part I'd start with is forcing some activity. Reddit created fake accounts - it might be not the best option but inviting your friends and getting heavily involved in answering / asking questions there is the first thing to do.

The best tool is the one that is heavily used by the creator. So becoming the active forum user is the first step, I think.

Also, it needs some time... If people see some activity there, they will start getting involved.
11:56 pm on Nov 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

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All good points, and I agree with MG that forum participation in general has been on the wane for some time now.

Is it possible that your discussions are too cerebral or require too much effort for the average user? Our most popular threads are stuff like "What Are You Doing Right Now?" or "What's The Best Movie You've Seen This Year?" There are plenty of deeper topics, but these, as well as some games that have developed over the years, keep people coming back and posting regularly.

It can be frustrating when you start a thread with an informed and well written post on a relevant topic and all it attracts are cybercobwebs, but that is quite common.