Once upon a time, online forums were the primary means for interacting online. Then along came social media.
While social media is a more immediate form of social interaction, online forums are still quite popular. This is because online forums allow communities to come together and share knowledge and enthusiasm about specific topics. Adding a forum to your website is a great way to increase user engagement and grow an online community.
Before you can do anything else, you need to decide where you’re going to host your forum. You can either host it on a page on your website or on a subdomain. Choosing between these two options will largely depend on your web hosting provider and your site’s organization.
Pick a Content Management System
A content management system builds your forum page and allows you to design and categorize the content. This software is crucial to your forum’s performance, so make sure you do your research and pick the right one.
Set Up Your Forum’s Structure
Rather than jumping right into creating pages, it’s best if you figure out how you’re going to organize your forum topics. You need to make it easy for people to find what you’re looking for. Therefore your navigation needs to support the needs of your users. Begin by figuring out what topics you want to create discussions around. These topics should center around the theme of your forum. For instance, if your theme is fantasy movies, you could have a topic for current fantasy movies and another for older fantasy movies.
Design the Look of Your Forum
The design of your website should match the design of the rest of your website. It should use the same colors, layout, logos, etc. so that your users aren’t confused when they navigate to your forum page.
Come Up with Rules for Your Forum
To promote healthy and informative discussions, your forum must have a set of rules for users to abide by. These rules help ensure that everyone feels safe to participate. They will also help to keep discussions on the topic. For example, you might consider having rules about using respectful language even when there is a disagreement. You should also include a rule about no foul language or discriminatory comments. Other rules you might want to have rules about self-promotion, spam, links to external websites, and NSFW (not-safe-for-work) content.
Write Up Some Conversation Starters
To get things on your forum started, you should plan some general discussion topics that encourage conversation. This will help break the ice for new users, especially at the beginning. After all, it’s easier for people to comment on an existing post than create their own.
Publish Your Forum
Now that everything’s all set up, it’s time to make your forum active. Set your pages to live and connect your forum page to the primary pages of your site. You need to ensure that visitors to your website can easily find their way to your forum pages. So make sure to add a link in the navigation menu and in strategic places around your site.
Get the Word Out
Now that your forum is up and running, it’s time to get people to participate. After all, you need active users to realize your forum goals truly. The best way to do this is to advertise. Begin by reaching out to people you already have contact with, i.e., people who have left you their email address. Then branch out with social media and search engine advertisements to get the attention of a cold audience.
Moderate User Participation
Hopefully, with your advertising efforts, you will quickly amass a large number of forum participants. With your forum up and running, you must moderate all conversations to ensure that people are abiding by your rules and to settle any disagreements. You may also want to help conversations along by starting new discussion topics.
Gather User Feedback
As your forum grows, you must collect user feedback. Ask your participants about their experience and find out how you can make things better. This will keep people engaged and happy with your forum.
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