Starting up your forum doesn’t have to be as hard as most people think it is, but don’t think its something that will happen easily and over night. You will have to put in your share of work to build up your community and get people posting and visiting. First off understand that there are millions of forums out there on the WWW, so take a few minutes, sit down, and ask yourself, Why would they visit and post on my forums, instead of the thousand other ones that are just like mine?
Thought about it? Good, then you should have understood that they wont. They have no reason to post on your brand new and empty forums, when they can go to another forum that is already populated and discuss’s the same topic. So what can you do to compete with the bigger forums? Once again take a minute to sit and think what you can offer your members/visitors that would make you’re forums unique. A good approach to this is to offer incentive for the user to post. For example, setup a points system, where for each new post a user gets X amount of points, and for each new thread they get Y amount of points. Now based on those points you can offer your members various gifts or special privilege’s on the forums. For example when a user gets 1000 points you can offer them say $10 via PayPal for example.
To use a personal example from my old website, Next Designs. Being that my website was a webmasters resource website offering various website services, I offered my forum members templates from Template Monster. Depending on the amount of points a member had, they could exchange those points for a template of their choice from Template Monster. In case you are wondering, the cost for me buying those templates for my members was countered by advertising, so no money was lost, however the website and forums grew in popularity greatly because of these offers, and in turn the advertising revenue grew as more and more people visited, and told their friends about it. I emphasize telling their friends because referrals and word of mouth is the best free advertising. If you have something that is truly unique, it will get spread about by word of mouth, and the easier you make it for people to refer their friends, such as a form that allows your members to easily send an email to X amount of friends telling them about the site, the better it will be. The Community Forum Course eBook has alot of interesting ideas and concepts you can add your own twist to to help offer something unique about your forums.
Now passing word of mouth, and pure uniqueness of your website, a very useful way to advertise your website even more is via Top100 lists. Join the ones that are popular themselves, and that are related to your websites topic. (You wouldn’t be joining a The Top 100 Barbie Sites toplist if your website was all about exotic cars, would you?) The wonderful thing about joining toplists is that they will bring in targeted traffic to your forums. What this means is that there is a higher chance that a visitor from a toplist will join your website and become an active member because he is browsing the toplist because he has an interest in a specific topic, so when he sees the link to your website, visits it, and sees how unique it is, he will want to join because not only is he interested in the topic of discussion, but you have provided him incentive to join.
Working off the idea of Toplists, starting your own Toplist isn’t a very bad idea, and will definitely generate its share amount of traffic to your website, provided you do it correctly. If you have a new website, there is no purpose in making a Top 100 list simply because 100 websites will not join, you wont enough visitors for that to happen. So start small, make a Top 20 list and let the first 20 people battle it out for the position. In the meantime advertise the toplist on various forums, websites and other toplists. Slowly but surely you will have a nice collection of websites that are bringing a steady flow of hits to your toplist.
Now, lets combine our first idea of being unique along with our brand new toplist and see what happens. For starters let me say that most people will join topsites regardless of whether they have already joined 10 just like it, simply because they want to receive more traffic to their website. Take advantage of this, show the user that you will provide more and more traffic to their website from your toplist. A example way of doing this is to offer a certain member the privilege to be a Featured Member. This is a feature that was first implemented in Aardvark Topsites. Aardvark will randomly display a different featured member every time the page is loaded, however with a few tweaks to the code you can make this change every X amount of days, or even every week. As time goes on, and your toplist and websites really grow in size and popularity you can offer the features member spot as a “Sponsored Result”, for say an extra $2. Its not much money if you look at it, but in the long run it adds up.
Shameless Self Advertising
Shameless self advertising is still the best way to bring a nice amount of members to your website. Go to the more popular forums and websites, and most of them will have an area where you can advertise your own site. Work up a good post that makes sure to mention why you’re website is so unique and different, and what you offer your members that others of the site topic do not. Post a few links to your website, and a nice description, and watch the hits come in. This was something that I spent almost a year doing, non-stop. I must’ve went through every single forum and website I could have found, popular or not I posted about my website there. Apart from the fact that this brought over alot of hits, this also works as a good SEO method, however I will go into detail about that a little bit later.
In the meantime lets take a look at a few places where you should post your forums at. One of the best places is Starting Point. Starting Point acts very much like a search engine for new websites. The ForumPromotion.net and Advertise Hotspot communities arer great places to advertise and discuss your forum and attract new members.
Affiliates / Reciprocal Links
Furthermore go as far as to exchange as many links as you can. Having a large affiliate section for your website isn’t bad at all, provided that you have chosen the affiliates properly. The best affiliates to have are those that have websites that receive a substantial amount of hits. You don’t want to partner with a website that receives no hits, simply because that will not help you at all. You want to exchange links with websites that are generating some traffic, and that have the same topic, or a related topic to your own website. Further more pay attention to the websites Google Pagerank, as this is an important factor in reciprocal links. You want to make this exchange work for you, and improve your search engine position and increase your hits. For example I run a link exchange at Rapid Purple you can take a look at.
Make sure you have a Twitter and Facebook Fan Page setup for your forum; a YouTube account wouldn’t hurt either. Social networking sites are great sources of traffic – so you’ll really want to make use of them. Most forum software these days features an RSS feed which you can use in combination with HootSuite (which we have a free 30 Day Trial offer for). Now you can have new or trending topics (depending on how you configure it) automatically posted to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Syncing these mediums together will help spread the word about your forum – and bring in some new member registrations.
Find Some Experts!
In any field there are well known experts. If you’ve started a forum on the subject, chances are you know who the top dog(s) is/are. Chances are there is already a discussion about one of their products or theories going on in your forum. If not, start one. Then contact the expert and invite them to join in the discussion. Chances are they’ll jump at the chance. They’ll get some free advertising and perhaps a chance to promote their product, and you’ll have the benefit of bringing more experts into your community. The more experts you have stopping in from time to time, the more well known your forum will become. And really, isn’t that why you’re reading this post?