Build a THRIVING Forum

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In the rare spare time that I have, I help operate a pretty good sized forum for webmasters interested in exchanging links for increased net exposure. We've managed to attract over 8,000 members and it's been a wild eighteen month ride. As I do spend a few hours in other webmaster forums and message boards for inspiration each week, I often come across posts asking how to build a robust, thriving online forum community. It's not easy but the rewards are phenomenal if you can get it to work. Based on my own experience, here are a few tips to help you build your own thriving forum

1) Create a Value-Added Forum
The reason most forums fail is that they do not simply do not provide any value to their members above and beyond the obvious. Creating a value-added forum is easy to do if you can encourage a community of members to not only share their experiences but get that community to work with one another for the greater benefit on what the forum is actually about. For example, if you have a forum about playing the acoustic guitar the you should also have sub-forums about the best guitars, guitar techniques, even a tablature sub-forum - essentially anything that would benefit (or provide value) to members and make your forum a place that guitar players will return to for information on the topic.

2) Identify Prolific Forum Adopters
It's happens in every successful forum; someone who embodies your mission to foster community, provide information and build a thriving forum. As a forum administrator, it is your responsibility to provide those prolific adopters with resources, acknowledgement and greater access to the heart of the forum. Prolific adopters can make or break a forum. If you can't find one, become one.

3) Establish a Reputable Forum Moderator
Un-moderated forums are sort of like the wild west - no control. The presence of a fair, reputable forum moderator (one that monitors the communication in the forum) is of supreme importance. A great forum can quickly turn into a marketing disaster and serious time waster for those participating so the presence of a forum moderator (ala Big Brother) can quell arguments (flames) and bring a balanced insight into the overall conversation. In addition, moderators act as a welcoming wagon for new members - an important part of encouraging overall use.

5) Publicize & Promote the Forum
You can't have a thriving forum if you don't have any members. Obvious, right? This is why publicizing and promoting the forum at every turn is so important. It's not easy to build a big forum community but here are a few ideas to get people to your forum.

- Use your house list and invite everyone to participate.
- Add a line to your signature file.
- Participate and prospect in other forums.
- Send press releases regularly about forum size and activity.
- Develop articles about your niche and promote the forum
- Request a link from your members

Building a forum is sort of like building a sand castle. It has to be well positioned to stand the test of time, you need the right sand, you must put a lot of work into it and it helps if you have some other people to help you build it.

In case you are interested (and responsible for link building) then visit LinksToYou.com, one of the largest pure link exchange networks on the Web with over 8,000 members.

This post was inspired in part by John Jantsch of DuctTapeMarketing and by Guy Kawasaki of Garage Technology Ventures.

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