Forums are an excellent addition to a website to attract visitors to interact with the site and to return to the website freqeuently. While there are many other website additions that can retain visitors and have them coming back for more, forums are perhaps the most engaging for visitors to your website and offer the most benefits to both the website’s owner and the visitor.
Unfortunately, having a forum addition to a website does not guarantee its success and usefulness in gathering the hypothesized attention and attractiveness. A new forum with no content, no members or no active discussion is like an empty hall. Anyone who steps into such an empty room would most definitely get the creeps and run away as fast as they can. Similarly, your forum can quickly lose its purported usefulness if it is empty and bare.
Starting and building an active forum on your website is no mean feat. It requires a lot of time, patience, and hard-work. Why is that so? Well, there are several important factors that scares away visitors and you have to remove these factors in order to convince visitors to stay, read, and then post and join in the discussions. If there are no discussions in the first place, no one would be around to discuss! It is exactly a chicken and egg question that you have to answer. There are several methods to overcome these issues and to get content/discussions started on your forum.
1. Write good content and request feedback
Having good content draws visitors to read and if they have questions or concerns, they can always find a link to discuss it on your forum. Make sure you provide them a link and the outlet to voice out on your forums. The hard part is in writing quality content on your site.
2. Offer free incentives
Some forums offer active members special advertising opportunities such as banners or text links on the website and in the forums. Members are then encouraged to start threads and post and participate in order to obtain free advertising. Other than free advertising, you might want to consider giving away a free copy of your product to the top poster or hold a lucky draw for active posters. Nothing beats promotion than free products and competition. On my webmaster community (www.buildtolearn.com), I provide free cpanel web hosting for members who have accumulated 50 posts. This incentive has been in use for the past 2 years and our community now has close to 10,000 members!
3. Exchange posts with other forums
There are many other new forums started on the net everyday and you could work together with other websites to generate content on your forums. It is a ‘I’ll post in yours and you post in mine’ exchange where both webmasters participate in each others forums in order to get the ball rolling in the forums. This exchange makes it more interesting for both parties.
4. Pay for posts
If you have deep pockets or have a budget from your website, you can always get people to come to your forum and start discussions. Quality checks are in order to ensure that your ‘free-lance posters’ are not simply submitting 3 word posts or copying posts from other forums.
5. Talk to yourself
If all else fails, due to low budget or having nothing else to offer, you can create ‘virtual copies’ of yourself and start discussions with yourself. To new visitors to your forum, they see an active community and discussions, which helps them overcome the inertia. Once you have a handful of active members talking, you can stop talking to yourself and let your community grow itself!
The above are just some tips that I have gathered from participating in forums and from building forum communities on the net for the past 2 years. The tough part in setting up a forum is in the initial stage. Once you have overcome that hurdle, it gets easier for the forum to grow and mature.