How do you build a successful discussion board? Let's take a look!

Welcome to the first in a series of articles focused on helping forum operators build bigger, better forums. In this series we'll provide a few practical, simple suggestions for growing your member base, keeping members engaged and designing your discussion board for longevity. To that end, we've put together a collection of tips, tactics and best practices to help you generate a self sustaining community as quickly as possible.

While many of the observations presented here may appear to be common sense, they're often not put into practice by even the most experienced forum operators. Whatever your motivations for creating an online discussion forum, keep in mind that building and maintaining a base of engaged members is the key to a healthy, lasting forum community. For most successful forum owners, the formula to achieve that goal boils down to two simple practices; regular engagement and the consistent application of sound management principles.

Like the old saying suggests, "A good beginning makes a good ending." With that said, let's review some basic suggestions for setting up your new discussion board;

  • First, and foremost, choose your software and hosting solution carefully. Setup simplicity, cost, technical support, reliability, ease of maintenance, and a top quality feature set should be your biggest concerns. Selecting the right platform is crucial to having an enjoyable forum experience and building a stable foundation for your community.
  • Next, pick a unique name and URL for your discussion board and consistently work on branding it. Be sure to choose a name that reflects the theme and personality of your forum.
  • Make your forum visually attractive. Newcomers will always be more willing to investigate and engage with your community if the visuals are appealing. Choose a good theme and make sure your forum is easy to read with a complimentary color scheme. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
  • Resist the urge to create a lot of topic categories until they're necessary or members request them. When visitors see a discussion board with a huge list of categories it can be daunting and discourage them from participating. Also, too many categories can dilute thread and post counts, making the the forum seem less active.
  • Be sure to include a general chat or off-topic category within your board. While the focus of your forum might be about collecting teapots or your favorite sports team, community members should be able to talk with each other about pretty much whatever they want.
  • Don't demand registration until you have a solid and growing member base. Also, always make sure your topics are viewable by guests. Most people will leave right away if they can't review the topics your members are currently talking about.

Now, once you've set up your new discussion board and have opened the doors for business, there are a few other suggestions you may want to consider with regard to content and conduct;

  • When deciding on the main topic of your forum, try to promote a unique perspective. Otherwise, if there are huge numbers of sites already talking about the same thing, attracting visitors and future members could be a challenge.
  • Generating some interesting content should be the first order of the day. Be sure to invite friends and acquaintances to drop in and post.
  • Also, if you own other content rich sites with a similar theme like a blog, website, Facebook page or Twitter account, consider re-posting interesting snippets from those sources.
  • Forward site traffic. Use your existing website traffic to drive engagement to your forum. Traffic from your other website(s), blog or social media channels could prove to be valuable sources of new forum members.
  • Respond to member posts as often as you can. Acknowledging contributions from new and existing members is always appreciated and really helps to build loyalty and engagement.
  • Be visible to your community. Even if you're not the most knowledgeable person in your forum, interact with members and post often. Also, private message (PM) and/or email members quickly when they have a question or issue that you can help with.
  • Be friendly. As the site administrator, you set the tone. Whenever possible, try to show your community warmth, friendliness and a genuine aura of caring. Maintaining an inviting environment is crucial to the success of your forum.

Now that you've deployed all the recommended "best practices" for setting up and launching your new forum, it's time for the real fun to begin. Invite friends and acquaintances to come by your forum and begin the conversation. As your discussion board's membership and content grows, so will your enjoyment. Stay tuned for our next installment in this series on building a successful, self sustaining forum where we'll discuss more advanced tips, tactics and strategies.