4 Key Things To Start Your Online Forum Community
Published: 19th August 2006
Copyright 2006 - Cosmin Ghiurau
Founder and admin of ROYOUTH.com - Connecting Ethnic Romanian Christian Youth
I know there are a lot of you who are have heard about the awesome power of having an online forum community. You have probably already been active in numerous forums and have begun to create a network of friends on these forums.
Next thing that goes through your mind is, "Why don't I start a Forum of my own!" So you go ahead and begin to research on how to do it and realize that starting an online forum community is a lot harder than you thought!
Well, this article is about how to go about starting your own online forum in the easiest way possible. So lets here we go:
1. Establish Your Niche Topic for the Forum.
I have seen a lot of forums that I go to and they cover anything and everything in their forum. Now it is always good to have a "Chit Chat" or "Lounge" area of your forum to give members an opportunity to talk about anything. However, the success of your forum is to have a specific niche topic that will not only get your forum indexed by the search engines, but something that will attract your core audience.
This is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome even though it may seem the easiest thing to understand. Many novice forum webmasters see that they can add as many categories and sub-forums as they can in their overall website forum, and the main topic gets lost. In turn, when a visitor does happen to come the website, they are turned off by a 'General' forum.
2. Select the best Web Forum Script
There are so many forum scripts out there in which this is another huge major obstacle a novice webmaster comes across.
Your first tendancy will be to use the forum script that the forum you are most active on uses right? Ha! I caught you!
Now there is nothing wrong with this, but sometimes these forums scripts are so modified and 'hacked' as is sometimes referred to modified forum scripts that it will be hard for you to create one just like your favorite forum.
I would suggest to start off with a free forum script that has the feature to 'migrate' forum information to another forum script. For example. Start off with the free forum script phpBB. This is by far the most powerful free script available. Even most web hosts have it part of their package that you can install on a single click (we'll talk more about web hosts later).
Once you have phpBB installed, this is by far the best forum script in which other 'paid for' forum scripts have what is called 'migration tools' for. These migration tools is a script or tool that can transfer all of your forum information.
So for example, you website is successful and you wish to 'change your forum foundation script' to a 'paid script' such as vBulletin. vBulletin has a migration tool for phpBB, the process would be seamless and you wouldn't lose any forum information.
The worst thing for a forum community is to have a lot of activity on the forum and then the webmaster decided to change the forum platform because the free one they started out with just doesn't have all the features of other forum communities. So the webmaster changes the forum script and loses the forum information. I guarantee this will KILL your community.
So starting off with a wise plan in the beginning to grow is a huge step.
3. Selecting Your Web Host
The next thing after selecting what forum platform you wish to use, is the painfully hard decision of finding the right web host.
A web host is basically a company that 'rents' you space on their server for typically a monthly payment.
Now depending on your budget to start off with, I would say do a search on Google for the keyword: "Cheap Web Host". You will see millions of results. Go through the websites of the top 10 results on your Google search and decide which one you need.
I URGE you DO NOT start a forum off in a 'free web space' or 'free forum' community. You are tied to that that web host and more than likely you will have tons of advertisements on your site that will annoy your members and more than that, it really screams that that your website is not a 'permanent' home for your members. Perception plays in key role in the success of your forum. If you forum looks and feels hard to use. No one will use it. Would you?
Please stay away from free forum web hosts!
Either way, you'll be spending a few bucks a month on web hosting, but as you build your community you can slowly introduce your own Google Adsense or Banner Ad campaigns that will make you enough money to cover your web hosting costs and in many cases, enough to pay for your gas that month and more even more!
Select a web host within your budget, and make sure that the host you select allows you to have forums. Since forums consume a lot of what is called 'bandwidth' and web space, some budget web hosts have a maximum on how much bandwidth and web space to use.
From my experience, if you start off with at least 1GB of space and 5 GB of bandwidth. That is MORE than you will need until your forum community is large enough to pay for itself on a larger web host, or even lease your own what is called 'dedicated server'. Do a web search on Google for what a dedicated server is to find out more.
A solid and reliable web host is one that answers customer support in a timely manner. Make sure that before you decide on a web host to contact that web host via their toll free phone number or support email. If they don't answer quickly back to a potential customer how would they respond once they know you are a customer?
Do you homeword and make sure you are comfortable with the web host you choose because the last thing you need is to have to move web hosts and lose potential forum community information.
4. Driving Traffic to your Forum
Once you have everything up, you selected your niche, you found your forum community script, you installed it on a reliable host, you expect a flood of visitors to join as a member!
This is where the make it or break it part of the forum comes into play. If you have no visitors or members participating, your forum won't grow.
My advice is to start off the circle where you began. Within your network of online friends. These days with so many forums and social networking websites, there are so many to choose from why should anyone join YOUR forum?
Well, you can use this network of websites to your advantage. Start off with the forums you are active in. If they allow you to advertise your forum or website, do it. Otherwise add a link to is in your signature. If you have thousands of posts your link on that forum will appear in thousands of places instantly!
Then go to other forums relevant to your topic and try to be active there with a link in your signature back to your website.
Announce your website launch to your friends in your Messenger systems.
Better yet! Try to do a marketing trick of giving away something to a random member once a week.
Above all, make sure YOU are active. Even if noone posts anything that day. Go in and post. Try to provoke a conversation with your posts. Once members join and are active give them the honor of being initial moderators of your forum. This will encourage them and make them feel like they are part of your forum community and will keep their loyalty to your forum. In turn what will they do? Tell THEIR friends about it. Now you are beginning to see what is called a 'viral' effect to driving traffic to your website.
Most of all, do not give up. Keep talking about your forum and inviting people to join. The more passionate and excited you are about your forum, the more others will see that in you and your friends and will be willing to spend time on your forum to build it up.
Once you go through these initial steps to starting your online forum community you are on the right track to have a successful community. Once this happens, you can easily think about even being able to earn money from your website that will cover your costs and place some 'spare change' in your pocket. This is all of course if you have the right niche, the right forum script, the right webhost, and the right methods to drive traffic to your forum! To your success!