Before social media became prevalent, forums or message boards were the primary means of communication between various communities of users. But social media has not driven forums into obscurity. In fact, a few social media platforms today operate forum-style, with the most obvious example being Reddit.
Starting a forum website is a surefire way of attracting and sustaining some level of engagement surrounding a business, blog, or website. Forums build a community of people who interact and engage with each other.
This engagement can be very important for the forum’s owners and its users and can provide several benefits. They create an avenue for exchanging ideas and holding discussions that may prove useful to both participants of the forum and non-participants alike. For the owner, they generate useful engagement and income.
Forums can translate directly and indirectly to increased traffic to a website, greater volumes of sales, increased customer appreciation, improved SEO, and clearer understanding of customer needs.
In this article, I will show you how you the steps to create an online forum, and harness the benefits that come with one.
How to Create a Forum
Here are three steps that will lead you towards building your own forum in no time.
1. Choose the Right Web Hosting Provider for your Forum
One of the most essential steps towards owning and managing your own forum is to pick the right hosting partner. Although you are likely going to start small and grow slowly, the importance of picking a web host for the long term cannot be overemphasized.
You only have to look at some of the biggest online communities in the world, like Gaia Online and Android Forums. These forums attract several million visitors monthly. To be capable of handling such traffic, the best forums are hosted on web hosts that have adequate infrastructure.
You do not need to buy a dedicated hosting plan on the most expensive web hosts out there. Your hosting provider should offer a combination of essential packages, the right features, and affordability. It must also support the forum software you decide to go with.
You can check out our reviews for tons of web hosting options here. Our top picks to host your online forum are:
|Bluehost||Read Bluehost Review|
|Hostinger||Read Hostinger Review|
|Dreamhost||Read Dreamhost Review|
|SiteGround||Read SiteGround Review|
2. Pick the Forum’s Software
Right alongside selecting the best hosting platform for your forum is the software that will be utilized on your forum. Software provides a blend of design and functionality and will set the foundation for you to customize and structure your forum.
The right choice of software makes things much less complicated. There are several types of software to choose from, and a range of prices to pay for them. Some forum software are open-source and/or free of charge to use. Popular options include phpBB, MyBB, Codoforum, and Flarum.
For premium options, you can check out vBulletin, Muut, Vanilla Forums, and Discourse. The biggest online forums run on premium software. These offer significantly more in terms of performance and features.
As soon as you have decided on software and installed it, you can move on to customizing the design of your forum. Each software comes with resources that will guide you through, so you don’t have to worry about your ability to handle it.
A useful tip is to make sure that the look and theme of your forum match that of your website, blog, or business. It may feel trivial, but it really isn’t. Additionally, keeping the design low-key tends to work best. You don’t want a garish look that will leave potential forum participants and visitors disoriented and bemused.
3. Create a Forum Structure and Organize Categories and Topics
You probably already have a theme in mind for your forum, and your forum topics should be tailored around that. Categories and topics are important because your visitors cannot all engage on a vague topic all the time. Leaving a discussion “floor” open is a definite way to invite chaos.
To avoid this situation, create general categories, under which sub-categories or topics will fall. Threads that are created by forum moderators and participants will be assigned to these topics, according to their relevance. For example, if you have created an Android discussion forum, there has to be a category for Android apps. Under this category may come sub-categories for different Android apps, based on function.
It is essential that you understand your potential audience, and expand or streamline categories and topics to suit them. A survey at this point may prove quite beneficial in answering the very important questions.
Managing your Forum
Now you’ve created your forum from scratch, and that’s the easy part out of the way. Managing your forum and turning it successful is another monster entirely, and will require you to dedicate a lot of time, effort, and mental expenditure to it.
1. Create a Safe Space
You want your forum to be warm and welcoming, and a space that will have visitors yearn to consistently return for me. For that to ensure, it must be space clear of chaos, constant fighting, and bullying. Intolerance of any form must not be allowed to take root and grow in your forum.
Forum rules are very important. The rules must be fair to all members, and be reasonable. Enforcing these rules is just as important. You can appoint admins and moderators to handle rule enforcement, and allocate them the power to punish offenders.
2. Create Stimulating Discussions
Admins and moderators serve another important purpose, especially when the forum is still in infancy. They create and curate stimulating topics to drive engagement and conversations. A forum with no discussions can very easily fizzle out, with the few existing members feeling bored.
Scour the internet for ideas relating to your forum, and encourage engagement with incentives.
3. Link the Forum to Your Website
If your forum was created to drive engagement to your website, then you should link them both. You create a page on your website that will house the forum, and publish it, to save the forum to the website.
It is important that your forum can easily be accessed on your website homepage. Make it clear and obvious, not hidden somewhere in a dropdown menu.
4. Intensely Promote Your Forum
The large community you desire to build will not magically appear as soon as you build your forum. To attract forum members and visitors, you must publicize your forum. There are several ways you can go about this.
- Social media. Social media may be considered the anathema for online forums, but you can use them to promote yours anyway. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook can generate a lot of traffic to your forum.
- Other Forums. You can reference your forum on other forums, when appropriate. Be sure that you are not breaking any rules that could get you banned. You can get in touch with admin in forums that do not directly compete with yours and strike deals on mutual promotion.
- Send Emails. Lots of Emails. Emails are a free, or cheap means of getting to a lot of people. If you have a customer base for your website, send them emails with information on your new forum. Ask them to spread the word.
- Promote Forum Users. I know you don’t want your forum to become a base for others to promote their own business. But this can work for you, within reason. Creating a category or topic that allows users to promote their own business will have them coming back.
- Create competitions. Ask members to invite other people. Provide incentives for participation.