Building Online Communities
Rand from SEOmoz waxes lyrical on community-building from the unusual perspective of the recent Seattle storms. He recounts that the storms have caused adversity and this has been met with benevolence by many residents, helping friends, family and neighbours by sharing services with them.
I suppose until very recently, I’ve shirked away from online forums as places to contribute. Generally, I’d be promiscuous and visit loads of blogs dropping comments where I had something to say and moving on. I never thought of forums as places to build communities until recently.
We started up a forum on our reality TV website. It bombed. We wiped it out, figuring there wasn’t much of a market for a forum in the space (especially since there were better established alternatives).
A few months later, after looking at some of the communities these forums generated, we decided we wanted to try again, but with a different focus.
We reinstated the forum using the free and excellent Simple Machines forum software and started posting on it. Since then, the forum has experienced dramatic growth, and here are some of the reasons why:
- Invite An Audience: We asked regular commenters and contributors on the blog to join. Many did, and this lead to us getting to know each other better.
- Promote It! We lifted the RSS feed from the forum and republished the recent posts on the homepage, which lead to greater click-through. It helped people actually discover the forum!
- We also promoted the forum in other ways – an advert beneath each post encouraging signups was one. Another was by creating a menu under the site logo with links to “Blog” and “Forum” clearly displayed.
- Create content: In the early days, it was important to generate content on the blog, so we’d post about big news items on the blog and the forum. We didn’t want visitors landing in a barren forum!
- Respond. In building the forum, we interacted with our members and got to know them better. Because we’re actively involved in the discussions, we know what shows people like and dislike and we’ve been able to set a fairly mature tone for the forum which keeps insults to a minimum!
- Kill Trolls Quickly! We don’t often get trolls on our forum, but when we do we shoot them down with a total ban/account deletion. A side effect of our community is that we’ve become very protective of our members. They don’t deserve to be abused or insulted. Long time members are fine, but if a new member is abusive, they’re shown the door!