Jump start a web forum
February 1, 2007 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Web Forum Filter: We have started a public forum on our website and I would like some ideas on how to jump start it and get some people posting on it.

The subject of the website and forum is aviation safety and the human factor in aviation safety, so it is a fairly narrow audience - primarily commercial pilots (corporate and airline) although anyone in the aviation industry would be encouraged to post there We would like pilots to come to the forum (and the rest of the site of course) and get them to share their thoughts and ideas on those subjects and get some discussions going.

We have had a couple of early postings from ‘friends’ of our company, but I would really like to get a buzz going and get people to come to us as opposed to them finding it by accident. I know that once people start posting and reading posts on a forum they then become self-sustaining, but how do we get the word out and get people to register and make that initial first post?
posted by 543DoublePlay to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Try to get or compile a mailing list and do a mass marketing e-mailing to them? Otherwise maybe send a press release to industry magazines.
posted by JJ86 at 6:24 AM on February 1, 2007

You might try a PR agent to get a story in a trade magazine. Also, contact the pilot's union and the flight attendant's union and see if you can get a mention in the next newsletter or a link on their website. I would also find a way to contact the aviation reporter at the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times where Boing is headquartered and see if you can get a mention in his column.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:26 AM on February 1, 2007

Boing = Boeing
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:27 AM on February 1, 2007

You might look at some answers to the question I posted about getting posts to a company blog couple of days back.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:36 AM on February 1, 2007

Write posts in the forum about relevant topics and link those posts to topic-related blogs and web sites. Quote from (and link to) people you hope will join your forum. Large sites might ignore (or just not notice) you, but smaller blogs will. Link to them, get them to check who is linking to them, and hope you're interesting enough for them to link back and join your forum.

Every depends on good content.
posted by pracowity at 7:14 AM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been involved in the organizing of numerous online communities over the years, many of which involved forums. They really do take a lot of work to get up and running!

First of all, the proportion of lurkers to active participants tends to be around 80% lurkers and only 15-20% active members. You'll need to have a sizable number of registered members before you will ever reach a size that becomes totally self-sustaining. It can often take a year or more for an online community to reach a modicum of self-sustainability, so don't get discouraged.

So whatever you can do to try to increase your overall forum numbers is a start. Promotional mailings, press releases, posting related content on appropriate mailing lists with your sig mentioning your forums, etc. Make good use of a stat program to see your referrers and search engine queries that lead people to your forum.

Depending on the forum you are using, some allow you to use coding that is search engine friendly. This means that your forum's postings are easily searched by the giants such as Google, which in turn can lead to increased traffic, and potentially new members.

Be sure to welcome ALL new members, individually if possible. Send them a welcome PM. Ask forum members to post a brief intro about themselves (some love to talk about who they are and what they do) and then make sure to comment positively and welcome them to the group. Everyone loves getting some form of attention.

Give small incentives for participation. Use forum rankings that increase with the number of postings. Most people would never admit it out loud, but many secretly yearn to make it to "the next level" and will sometimes post just to reach that goal. Make the first few levels really easy to achieve, as it makes it much more satisfying for them.

You will also need to "seed" your forum with a number of interesting discussions. New members will rarely start a topic themselves; they are more likely to contribute to an already existing discussion thread. So start working on a number of topics of discussions that you can use. Don't post them all at once! Spread them out over weeks or months if necessary.

Post clips of news articles of interest to your community, with a particularly "juicy" part quoted, and with a link to the rest of the article (it should be made to open in a new window). You can often get people to participate because they will want to comment on the article and it can spark some interesting discussions and debates.

Be vigilant about spammers. It is practically inevitable that you eventually have spammers that begin to invade your forums and post off-topic material. Some of the smarter ones will try to sneak them in existing discussion threads, or just a web link in their profile. Stay on top of this and ban/delete them immediately, because otherwise if they see you don't, they will become even worse. If your forums become deluged with spammers, then your regular members will get fed up and not return.

Anyways, I hope these tips give you a solid foundation upon which to start the long road to building an active and growing online community. Good luck!

~ Jade Dragon
posted by Jade Dragon at 7:24 AM on February 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

I feel for you. I run 2 highly successful forums but have built a couple of others that I had to scrap due to non-use and lack of time. The fabled "build it and they will come" approach doesn't work, from what I've seen, even though it might have in 1998. Then there's the barriers with having the devil of a time getting a new site indexed to Google, dmoz not bothering with adding anything, the fine line of spamming vs. promoting a board elsewhere, and so on.

In essence I think the above ideas are great, and I think the key thing is to provide new content daily, and be firmly committed to writing/posting daily for at least a couple of months even if it seems like no one is reading. I especially agree with being vigilant about spam.

One idea that I recommend, slightly dubious but I think is important, is this: Create shill accounts on your own forum and spread your writings under multiple identities. This gives the idea of a small community and prevents making the forum look like your blog. Once actual people show up and real discussion starts, slowly retire the shills. Once the forum is big enough to bring moderators on board, you may want to delete the posts or "refile them" under your own name later on since any moderator poking around on the old shill posts might notice the IPs being the same.

I've sometimes considered paying $100 on Rentacoder or somewhere to hire some bored individuals to post on the forum to at least get it going, but there's no mechanism for assuring quality or relevancy of posts. I see some merit in running some sort of contest on the forum that would generate content for a prize (like a photo contest) and anything that would spin off side discussion, but my ideas here are vague.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:36 AM on February 1, 2007

I think the word I meant to use is not shill but sockpuppets.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2007

I strongly recommend reading Derek Powazek's Design for Community, and not just because it features an interview with mathowie. Unfortunately out of print (used copies starting at eighty bucks), but can be read online through Peachpit Press's Safari portal, borrowed through your library's interlibrary loan system.
posted by ardgedee at 9:49 AM on February 1, 2007

Congratulations! It might not seem like it but you've already tackled one major hurdle. I don't even have to tell you but you have chosen a wonderfully narrow topic for your forum. I'm so used to seeing all-in-one, A to Z style forums launched, that this is just a breath of fresh air.

Some thoughts:

- You really don't want to start advertising now. It might seem like a good idea (you didn't mention it, I'm just putting it out there) but sending a load of people to an empty forum will just help keep it empty.

- I second the 'shill' accounts only if you're in this for the long haul and don't plan on selling it to some poor sap claiming them to be legitimate posts. Other than that, go forth! On a side note, if you do choose to make various accounts be sure to add personality to them. Have each account separate, change your writing style a bit, this in itself may be the most difficult thing that you do!

- If you haven't already done so, start legitimately posting on other aviation websites with your own forum in your signature. I don't know about everyone else but I'm always tempted to check out someone's signature link.

- This one would definitely take some dedication but send handwritten letters to various people in the industry with your own mementos and at the end of the letter, ask them to check out your forum. However, this may be better if approached once the forum has gained some feet of its own, so to say.

- I would strong suggest against sending out any sort of mass mail. No matter how legitimate it may be, mass mail = spam.

Best of luck on your forum. Keep us posted :D
posted by 913 at 8:28 PM on February 1, 2007

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