So you want to start your own forum. How do you do it? First, let me warn you, it’s a lot of work. You get out of it what you put in. And the early days in particular will be hard as you work to get the ball rolling.
If you don’t mind the work, read on.
Decide what you want your forum to be about. General-discussion forums are very difficult to get off the ground, and it is a bad idea to try to start one from scratch these days. There is just too little room. It’s not impossible but the odds are stacked against you because of how many booming general forums there already are. You should start your forum in one genre or niche. Make it something you enjoy! Forums are a labour of love!
Once you have decided what you want it to be about, it’s time to choose your software and host. Take my advice, don’t go all out on an expensive software to start with. You have no idea yet if you will stick with it long term. I would start with free software and free or inexpensive hosting. Some great free softwares are SMF, Invisionfree, Zetaboards and Forumotion. SMF requires you to find a separate host, but it gives you more freedom than the others. But the others are more beginner friendly. Free hosting is usually supported by advertisements. If you are not sure which of these options to go with, do a whole lot of research. You have a lot to start learning about! Those free forums you can sign up with and boom, start your forum right away are very user friendly but more difficult to convert if you decide later that you want an upgrade. So, each of these has its trade off.
So you have picked your genre, software and host. Now it’s time for customisation! This can be a lot of fun if you enjoy making graphics. If you have no experience with this, you can install a ready made “skin” for your forum usually for free. Be sure not to just use the default skin, even if it looks nice–It makes you look lazy and does not make the forum appear unique. You want your board to look special and stand out!
Coding and formatting can be a challenge, but you do not need to give your board an entire workover with sidebars, etc. though those can look cool, they are entirely unnecessary. Generally, you can actually get away with new graphics laid over a very basic template and come up with a beautiful forum.
Now, it’s time to start laying down the groundwork of your site itself: The content. You should start your board with as FEW boards and categories as possible! Less is more. This is a common mistake. People starting out their forum with way too many boards. There are not enough members to fill them and they all spread out. And all those zeroes sure look lonely. If you have just a few boards it forces the few members to mingle, and there come your conversations starting up a lot more. Later on, you can add more boards once you have a thriving community.
The best way to start your community going is by just recruiting a few friends who share your interests and what the forum is about. enjoy just hanging out and posting and little by little, more members will be drawn to that and join. Warning, it will be slow going at first but hang in there! You’re off to a great start.
There’s nothing more frustrating for a new forum owner than watching people sign up…and then walk away. Maybe they seemed interested at first, but just drifted away. Well, maybe they just didn’t feel it was a good fit, you think. But if you get 20 people signing up daily and almost no one sticking around, you must be thinking, something’s wrong. I’d say you are right.
First, examine what your forum looks like to a newbie. Is it nice and active? Does it look appealing and professional? Since this is more about improving member retention than drawing in more new signups I will gloss over this part and assume that you have already optimised your message board’s looks to appeal to lots of people.
Now–when your new members sign up, are they given a clear direction on what to do next? If your forum is an RPG this is especially important because there is a game involved and a game means rules. Helpful hint: Set your forum up to message your members with a quick welcome message and guide when they first sign up. Let’s say they seem to like what they see so far, and post an introduction. What kind of reception do they get? Do they get ignored, or even flamed? Well I wouldn’t stick around either. Make sure your forum has a friendly atmosphere unless you want a board full of nasty people!
Okay, so you’ve made sure your forum is a nice, friendly and happy place to be. Why are these folks STILL not sticking around? It could be that they’re a little shy. Forums can be intimidating places to come out and speak, especially if they are large. One way to help cut down on this fear is have another member kind of be a ‘guide’ to a new player/member and hang out with them and show them the way till they are comfortable and accepted in the forum. My own Warrior Cats forum is in the process of working on this stage.
The key to a member sticking around is feeling like they are valued members who belong there. They don’t want to be processed, they want to be treated as human beings. Make them feel like they count, because they do!