Posts Tagged: "Community"

The “I Want To Know Everything” Guide To Starting Your Own Forum

The “I Want To Know Everything” Guide To Starting Your Own Forum

So, you want to build a forum, eh? Well, it’s no easy feat. It takes a lot of work to get it right, and even more to create an engaging community. If you still want to do this, there are a few things you should do. I guess the simplest thing would be to start from the beginning, so that’s what we’ll do.

Step 1: Pick a domain

I would say that the first step would be to choose a niche, but considering you are already researching how to start your own forum, it’s probably safe to say that you already know your topic. The next natural direction is choosing a domain name.

Choosing the right domain can take a bit of soul searching. This will be your online identity. This is the name that people will come to know your site by. For this reason, it’s very important to pick one that is not only unique, but is a good fit for the atmosphere of your site.

There are typically two types of domains that people choose for a website: A branded domain name, or an EMD, better known as an exact match domain. Again, they both have their place, so this choice is entirely up to you. Here are the pros and cons:

Branded

Branded domains can be funny or clever, trendy or simple. The benefit of using a branded domain is that it is much more memorable. Think of names like Google, Facebook, or Nike.

While these names didn’t mean much on their own, through proper branding they were able to stand out in the market, rise above competitors, and become names synonymous with their respective industries. If you are in it for the long haul (as most forum owners are), I would encourage you to go with a branded domain.

EMD

An exact match domain is usually not pretty. It’s simply a string of keywords. So, using an EMD can give you benefits in the search engines. If the phrase you use in your domain is what people use to search for what you offer it can be a good choice. The problem however is differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Check out this Google search or look at the screenshot below. See how there are more than one person using this strategy? Unless you own all of the domains, you’ll have to deal with other people creating sites doing the same thing you are doing — which will make it even more difficult to stand out from the crowd.

Forum Search Results

Pro tip – Make sure you choose a name that has not been taken on popular social media channels. Social media is a great tool to drive traffic to your board, so you want to pick a name that allows you to own that name on sites like Facebook and Twitter. This will help you build a cohesive brand that is easily recognizable.

Step 2: Choosing a host for your forum

This is one of the most important decisions you will make as a forum owner. When you first start out, you can probably get by with a budget host, but often times that does not produce the best results.

Here’s why:

Forums have heavy bandwidth and disk space needs. Unlike a blog or regular website, a forum will have people connecting to the site for longer periods of time. Members will be posting in the community, and adding more content. This is a good thing. The problem is that if your host hasn’t configured the server to optimize for the software you are running, you’ll end up with a laggy site. No one likes a slow website. A slow forum can cause you to lose members, so this is something you’ll want to pay attention to from the beginning.

Another thing you’ll want to keep in mind is backing up your files. With a forum, user generated content is churned out daily (hopefully!). People are posting most hours of the day, plus you’ll have new sign-ups coming in. Make sure you are backing up everything. Most large forums either keep real-time backups or back up every hour. In the beginning you can get away with backing up everyday, but once your forum gets more interaction, you’ll want to start backing up your files more regularly.

Most forum hosts understand how important this is. For example, we maintain hourly offsite backups for clients. This is important because we host some pretty large forums, like the official San Diego Chargers forum.

Bottom line: Choose a host that not only understands all of the forum software, but choose a host that can help you manage your backups.

Step 3: Deciding on what forum software to use

There is no right or wrong decision here. It really boils down to preference and what works for you. If you just want to get your feet wet as a forum owner, there are plenty of free forum software options out there. Some of the most notable are MyBB, phpBB, and SMF.

Keep in mind that free forum software is just that — free. You may save on cost, but you might find it more difficult to get the functionality you are looking for. There is also no guaranteed support, as most free software is ran with volunteers and donations.

Pro tip – Take a look at our forum software list to get an idea of what’s on the market.

Of course, there are paid options as well. The top contenders are vBulletin and XenForo. vBulletin was the original “top dog” of the forum game. XenForo came later and was developed by to of the original developers to vBulletin. So, you can say that there are a bit of animosity between the two companies.

XenForo seems to be making a bit of headway. It still boils down to preference, so do your own due diligence. If you want an example of a production site in action Digital Point uses XenForo, while Warrior Forum uses vBulletin.

Step 4: Choosing a design

Creating a custom design for your forum, usually comes down to two things:

  • Experience

  • Money

You either have the experience to do it yourself or you hire someone to do it for you. Fortunately, there are a few more options. If you do a quick search online you’ll come up with plenty of themes. You can even find free themes as well. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you settle on a design that captures that personality of your forum and will appeal to your members.

Step 5: Choosing the best mods and plugins

Most forum software is expandable via mods and plugins from other developers. It’s much like WordPress in that regard. You’ll be able to find both free and paid solutions that help add extra functionality to your forum. What it comes down to is how you want your members to engage in the community. You can add extra mods that allow voting on threads, or even build an advertising into your forums (which can work great for monetization).

Step 6: Defining topics and threads

This is important. Besides a good name and an appealing forum, you want substance. It’s important that you help direct the conversation to where it needs to go, and the best way to do that is by setting up clear topic threads that not only instruct new members as to what is allowed where, but gives anyone visiting the site an easy way to navigate to the conversation of their choice.

This is really a matter of preference. It depends upon your goals for the community and what you where you would like to see the discussion go. When you are first setting up your board, you should visit other popular forums and see how they have set up their threads. It doesn’t matter if you are not in the same niche, just have a look around and see what you think would work.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start with your forum theme/topic.

  2. Break this down into specific areas of interest. These become threads.

  3. Add a General thread.

  4. Add an Off-topic thread to allow members to talk about what they want.

  5. Consider adding a Marketplace or Advertising thread.

I’m quite sure you can come up with some more ideas (as you should), but those should give a general idea of how to structure your new forum.

Step 7: Creating guidelines and policies

This is quite possible the most important step out of the bunch. If you have no guidelines or concrete rules, you’ll struggle with keeping the community on topic — and there’s a good chance you’ll become a spammer’s paradise.

Here is some tips from GetSatisfaction.com:

  1. Know your special purpose

  2. Establish a social norm

  3. Set clear expectations

  4. Cast a wide net

  5. Create productive outcomes

  6. Make it personal

  7. Be a bridge

  8. Don’t feed the troll

  9. Measure the right things

  10. Assemble

Another thing you can do is just go look at what other forums are doing. Check out the community guidelines from popular forums, and see what works. This way you can adapt these to your own forum.

Step 8: Moderating the board

This is where you’ll have your work cut out for you. In the beginning, it won’t be as much of a job. Once your forum takes off however, you’ll want to enlist some help.

This is why you need to have clear, defined guidelines for the community. This will make the moderator’s job easier. The more concise the rules, the easier they are to enforce.

The main thing forum moderators deal with is spam. You can cut down on this through add-ons and mods, but you’ll still need a set of eyes monitoring the board. If you operate a marketplace as well, you’ll also want to vigilante with screening what people are selling. You do not want to open your community to scammers. If forum members are getting scammed on your forum, your site is the one that loses out the most. If trust is loss, you’ll have a hard time of attracting good members. You’ll also have a bad time monetizing your boards.

One way to combat this is to have people that post an advertising thread allow you to review the product, or offer “review copies” to other members.

Finding your mods

The best moderators are usually the most active members of your community — the people that consistently add value to the forum. You should reach out to these people and see if they would be willing to help.

Step 9: Driving traffic

Traffic is a big deal. If you have no traffic, you have no visitors, no new threads, no new members.

You have a dead forum.

This is something you’ll constantly want to be trying to improve. Here are a few tips to help you start driving traffic:

  • Use Twitter to tweet new threads as they are posted.

  • Visit other forums and see how they are driving traffic.

  • Run a contest or sweepstakes to attract people to your site.

  • Guest post on high traffic and high engagement sites related to your niche.

  • Experiment with highly targeted paid ads.

  • Reach out to other site owners in our niche and ask for a link.

  • Publish content your target market would find valuable.

Final Thoughts

Building a forum can be a lot of work, but in the end you can have a site that generates massive amounts of traffic. This can be especially beneficial if you sell products or services that your forum members use.

The really great thing about a forum is that it is fueled by user generated content — meaning the members of your forum are producing the content. When your community is tightly focused around a niche or topic this builds massive amounts of indexable content for the search engines. It also helps your site rank for a lot of long-tail keywords.

The most valuable thing about owning a forum is having a community around your brand. You create ambassadors and fans that know your business, love your business, and help it grow by engaging in your community.

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Using Online Forums To Build Social Engagement And Loyal Fans

Using Online Forums To Build Social Engagement And Loyal Fans

At times it may seem like pulling teeth to get people to read your blog. You could have award winning content and be a social media marketing master and still get mediocre page views and little to no comments. But one reason you may not be gaining the notoriety you crave is because you are simply not marketing to the right audience. Another reason could be that you are not becoming engaged in other communities and blogs.

In order to build loyal fans and traffic it is important to join forums focused around the same niche or industry. As long as you are active in the communities and post relevant content that inspires other people you will stand a better chance of attracting people to your social media channels and engage people with your brand. You must scan through relevant topics, read, and engage in conversations. When commenting, reply with meaningful insight which either inspires others to reply, answers someone’s question, or adds upon someone else’s point.

Google Search Operators

Google search operators are little shortcuts that help refine search results. Examples of this may be the word OR, symbol |, quotations around phrases or stop words, and other symbols such as a minus sign or hyphen (-), asterisk (*), half ellipse (. .), and tilde (~).

There is a whole website which contains a very in-depth guide on how different ways to use Google in order to refine search results to specifically search certain parts of the internet. It contains all kinds of Google search tips that many do not even realize exist. Below is list which should provide helpful examples on the basics of how to use Google search operators to find forums that will be relevant to your business.

Niche keyword “comments”

Putting comments in quotes will specifically find pages that have comments. It will help find discussions related to your niche. Try changing the keyword to a variety of words or phrases related to your industry for different results. Give yourself time to read articles or forum posts and reply with meaningful comments.

Keyword site:wordpress.com

This will search a specific site for results. It may provide better queries than using the websites own search bar and allow you to look for specific types of posts on a forum. That way you can easily filter through results to find the most relevant posts which pertain to your area of expertise.

“Powered by vBulletin” keywords

This is quite possibly the best Google operator phrase you can use to find great niche forums. As the query implies, this quotation will search through all message boards powered by vBulletin. You can of course do the same thing with any forum host that has been around for a long time such as SMF, IBP, MyBB, PunBB, and Phbb.

By combining different operators and trying new things there are a variety of different results you may get. Just experiment with what you know and see what you find. At the very least you will find helpful articles that pertain to your market. So experimenting with search queries can’t hurt.

Include a great bio with a call to action

Before you begin posting on forums that you find while utilizing these tips make sure that you write an awesome bio or forum signature in your author profile as well. Keep it quick and to the point while also inciting others to click on your link. Effective author bios should also include a small call to action.

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12 Forum Marketing Secrets That Work

Forum Marketing Secrets

Forum marketing involves reaching out and engaging with the right audience. Of course, you want exposure, but there is a careful line to walk. You want to gain exposure and establish yourself as an authority, but you don’t want to be annoying. Forcing your brand down people’s throat simply for a link will get you no where. So, where do you start? That is the question a lot of ask when we first start out trying to build a website or blog.

It doesn’t have to be hard. If you’ve been snooping the web looking for some ways to promote your website, chances are you’ve heard about forum marketing. We’re here to blow the lid off the misconceptions and expose 12 forum marketing secrets that are tried and tested.

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Premium Forum Hosting Benefits

Premium Forum Hosting Benefits
Although you can easily find open source scripted discussion boards and HTML set-ups as well as advertising supported free forum hosting services, larger forums with many users really require a paid forum hosting service. If your forum is amateur in appearance and function, it can really put a dent in the commercial viability of a project, and end up costing you both potential customers and dollars too.

A premium forum hosting service provider will take care of all of the details of setting up any type of web message board without you having to install any new software on your own. A good host will know how to address all of the set-up details and provide you with around the clock support too. As with many things in life, when you buy a premium web board hosting package from a reputable supplier, you’ll get what you paid for with more web space and completely hassle-free maintenance for all of your hosting processes, and you’ll usually get a bunch of other built-in features for free too. Just because you’re getting first rate service doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay a fortune for it either, as competition has improved the breed and there are many good board-platform hosting choices available these days. A good provider will provide the installation of any software needed at their end and handle the complete forum/board set-up process while still offering the customer the ability to make sure their new board platform matches the theme of any new or current website they want it associated with. Customization tweaks and other requests should be offered at reasonable costs too.

The more user/visitors a message board or forum has, whether actual or potential, the more it underscores the need for a paid professional hosting service that can help make the most out of it. Both the site owners and the people who rely on their favorite Internet message groups and boards as trusted community resources in the subject area of their particular choice will benefit from a fully functional and professional platform. Web forums provide the worldwide Internet community with the ability to share information and conduct commerce in ways never before possible and they can be profitable too when they are set-up and managed correctly.

A fully functional forum platform will:

  • Encourage users to develop a sense of community.
  • Allow the staff to instantly post announcements.
  • Encourage users to help each other.
  • Active content appears higher in search results.
  • Allow all users to interact in a fun forum atmosphere.

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How to Attract New Users to Your vBulletin Community

How to Attract New Users to Your vBulletin Community
When building a new vBulletin forum, many owners want an easy and fast way to gain more members for their community. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for gaining members, but with these tips you should see an increase in traffic to your site.

One of the first things you should do is create board categories for your forum. By having too many categories it makes your site look empty. When guests see an empty message board, they assume no one uses it anymore and will head elsewhere. People come to these forums as a means to be heard and to communicate with others who are passionate about the same topics they are.

Next, you should keep your website clean and bright. Making your website a pleasant place to visit will keep site visitors coming back for more. For example, if you are targeting an older crowd, you should have easy-to-read fonts on a light color background. This will make your vBulletin community look more professional and will encourage more people to stay and register.

The next thing is a mistake many sites do – they hide content from their website visitors. You should never hide content from guests. Forcing them to register will either cause them to leave and get their answer at another website or have them register for the site to get their answer, but never come back again because it was time consuming. You want to have content that will turn visitors into members. Posting content that is engaging to the reader is an easy way for you to gain members that want to comment and share in the discussion.

Finally, before you advertise your site, you should have some content already generated. New visitors will be more likely to comment on existing posts than generating their own. It will also turn an empty site into one with content, something that is very important for vBulletin forums when they start out.

Whether your next forum site is for business or pleasure, the experts at URL Jet can help get your vBulletin site started. We are the #1 high performance vBulletin hosting leader, offering many different services to fit your needs. From web hosting to hourly back-up solutions, URL Jet does it all. Call us today at 1-888-699-2609.

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Design Matters: Picking the Best vBulletin Layout for Your Site

Design Matters: Picking the Best vBulletin Layout for Your Site
Chances are you are just starting your vBulletin forum and one of the first things you will have to do is choose a layout. This may seem like a daunting task, but with a few tips you will feel more confident in your site.

When choosing a style for your site, you should choose something that is easy on the eyes. Pick colors that go together, look professional, and fit the time period. Also make sure the style is simple and the information is easy to find. Many people do not like searching and would rather click the back button on their browser than search your site.

With any forum, starting out you get to decide what categories you want for your forum. In addition to this, you will have a few members on your site. Keeping these two things in mind, you should limit the number of categories on your site. To encourage discussion and to turn visitors into members, you should keep them simple and broad. Doing this will keep your forum from looking empty and unappealing. Users go to these sites for discussion and to have their voice heard. If a site looks empty, they will end up going elsewhere. Once you gain members, you can then expand your site.

Finally, you should remember your site’s demographic and try to appeal to them. Think of categories your members would want to talk about. Look at other sites to gain ideas, but remember that you are just starting out, so naturally they will have more members and more categories than you. You can always ask other people in your demographic to see what they want to talk about. The answers may surprise you and could help determine your site layout.

While choosing the right site layout may be difficult, picking the right company to host your vBulletin community is easy. At URL Jet, we are the #1 high performance vBulletin hosting leader. Call us today at 1-888-699-2609 or visit our website, http://www.urljet.com/, to see the other services URL Jet can offer your business.

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Forum Marketing: How-To

Forum Marketing: How-To
Marketing a business through online forums is a cost effective way to grow a business quickly and make it stand apart from the crowd. The people who frequent forums and message boards on the Internet today are generally very familiar with doing business on the web and it is not unusual for the users to be experts on the specific niche topics covered by a particular forum. This means that marketing your own business, product, service or website with forum marketing is a low-cost, high potential business strategy that can get your message out quickly and help your marketing efforts exponentially.

However, as good as online forums are today, not every forum in a particular niche will be worth investing your time in and this means it can be critically important to start with the right forum community for your specific niche business or interest. You can start your search using niche-specific keywords to locate the various online communities in your field that will be worth your time. You can narrow your list of potential targets by looking for forums that have at least 1,000 members and 10,000 existing posts. A good forum should also get a minimum of at least ten to fifteen new posts daily. Obviously, you don’t want to waste your time farming leads on a forum that is overrun by spam or hosted by a direct competitor to your own specific business.

One good strategy is to create your own forum account as soon as possible because users with older registration dates are usually given more privileges and access to more features than brand new members. You want to focus on becoming a participating member of the forums you plan to use as permanent marketing channels for your business, instead of just dropping in to push your latest advertising campaign.

It is also very important to check out the user agreements and posting guidelines of the forums you are interested in because they can affect your ability to market effectively. You will need to pay particular attention to whether or not users are allowed place links in their posts to promote their own businesses. You will also need to know if users are allowed to post commercial messages or directly contact other forum members for commercial purposes.

Spend some time reading the forum in the beginning and try to resist the urge to start posting right away. Spend time reading the forum to get a sense of the community’s mentality and to determine who the most influential posters are and which specific topics generate the most interest. Many forums are tight communities and learning how a forum works up front will help you fit in more quickly and start making valuable contributions sooner. When you do make contributions, you should recognize that whenever someone posts a thread or asks a question related to your business products or services, the answers you supply are the key to successful forum marketing.   Useful answers can help demonstrate your expertise and generate trust. When you back up your advice with useful related links and respond to follow up questions quickly, the entire forum community will come to regard you as an expert in your field. Take it easy on the strong opinions and sales pitches in the beginning and the level of trust will increase to the point where people will ask for your recommendations. When you start getting direct inquiries for recommendations is the right time to bring up your own products or business without appearing overly biased.

Once you have earned the trust of the forum users you can start more aggressive marketing campaigns, but don’t fall into the trap of loading a forum with spam messages. Forum spam might increase temporary traffic to your website or business, but it can also seriously damage your reputation in the long run.   Ethical marketing practices that enhance your image will encourage far more forum users to learn more about your business than any amount of spam ever could. Starting slowly and learning all you can about your target forum before you start posting will allow you to take full advantage of the true potential and help you create a low-cost, high-yield marketing strategy that really works on the Internet today.

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Setting Up and Hosting a Forum – It’s Easier than you Think

Setting Up And Hosting A Forum – It’s Easier Than You Think
Many people are intimidated by the idea of starting a web forum because it seems like a daunting task that requires a lot of attention and resources. While it is a very big project to undertake, the process of actually setting it up and hosting it is pretty simple. The real work begins when it comes time to populate your forum and turn it into a lively discussion board that drives traffic, but you’ll never make it to that stage if you don’t take the first step and learn how to set up and host a forum.

Choosing and installing forum software

Web scripts make it extremely easy to set up a functioning website, without them web development would be a nightmare. So, considering how easy it is to set up a blog using a foundation like WordPress, it should be just as simple to set up a forum using the right script.

However, not all forum templates are created equal. You should learn about their varying functionality and extendability to see which one best suits your purposes before installing anything. The main contenders in the world of forums are Phpbb3, MyBB, bbPress, Simple Machines, and a few others. Most of these should be available from your QuickInstall or Fantastico menu depending on your hosting, but you can also download them from their official websites and install them yourself.

Here’s a quick overview of the two forum scripts usually recommended for beginners so you have a general idea of what they’re best for, make sure to do your own research and check out the features of each one.

phpBB3

PhpBB is an open source platform (like many forum packages) that’s been in development since 2000. It boasts one of the most complete feature sets of any forum software and it’s very flexible with a lot of room for customization. This emphasis on micro management can be a hurdle for beginners, but the streamlined GUI makes it easy to digest. The community is large and very active, they are more than happy to help people out with technical issues and they have created a cornucopia of different extensions and modifications. This is one of the most commonly used and reliable platforms and it’s suitable for almost every situation due to its extendability.

MyBB

MyBB was once considered an outsider when it comes to forum software, but it’s proven itself to be one of the most intuitive and easy to use solutions around. It’s open source which is always a plus, there is a huge community behind it and the development team gives it a lot of love with frequent updates. One of the most attractive parts about it is the streamlined administration panel, everything is laid out in a way that makes sense and even a beginner can figure out how to manage their forum just by clicking around on their own. Don’t let its ease of use fool you, MyBB is very powerful and extend-able and some of the largest boards on the net run it. The library of plugins and themes is mammoth and with version 2.0 on the horizon, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Choosing a hosting plan

Forums are a different beast than the average website or blog, the content is created entirely by the users which means that interactivity is a big factor- it’s much more difficult for a server to load a page worth of dynamic forum posts than a regular static article, the information is coming from a variety of sources. The database will be much more complex because it needs to store everything about the users and what they’re doing, which means the more they interact with the site and each other the more power you need from your hosting provider.

A shared hosting plan from one of the bargain hosts isn’t going to cut it, sure they claim to give you ‘unlimited’ resources in a lot of areas but that simply isn’t true- it’s called shared hosting for a reason and those resources are being allocated to other sites as well. It may be fine to start out with a shared plan for testing purposes, but once (if) you start getting traffic you will need to invest in either VPS hosting or reseller hosting at some point to handle the load if you haven’t already.

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Forum Hosting – As Popular as Ever

Forum Hosting – As Popular As Ever
Over the years we’ve seen many trends, from AOL communities to MySpace pages to Facebook groups, but none of these trends have diminished the power of the Forum. For when it comes down to it, people who are interested in, let’s say sailing in the Great Lakes, like to gather together in a forum about sailing.

This is because forum hosting services bring together an entire community of people who gather to discuss a specific passion that’s important to them. Maybe the various forum members are on Facebook, or AOL, or MySpace, or maybe they’re not. With a forum, is doesn’t matter because forums, or message boards, are stand-alone communities that function independently on the Web.

We’ve been hosting forums for more than a decade and have hosted forums that have thrived over the years, as well as brand new forums that caught on quickly and became a community hub for a certain topic. Regardless of what other trends are happening on the Web, forums are here to stay.

For more information on OLI’s forum services, please visit our Forum Hosting page to see all that’s possible.

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