HackerOne users: Testing against this community violates our program's Terms of Service and will result in your bounty being denied.

How to Start a Forum, part A

vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP
edited January 2014 in Tutorials

I did some research to find out the most productive ways to start a forum successfully . Here is a summary of the best approach you can take.

How to Start your Forum

Before you launch a forum, you want to make sure it is ready to be launched, first. It most always starts extremely slow when you create your forum and launch it to the general population without adding a new theme, logo and content. People get bored with default looks, too many sections and nothing to post about. So you should always consider these steps to take before launching it to everyone else. Make your first launch unique and fun to others so that your membership and activity grows faster.

The way it Looks and Feels

Your forum's look and feel is important. The first look and feel is always the default theme and logo. It may look good but its still the normal old default theme and logo and appears plain to most experienced forum goers. Make your forum more unique than the rest by adding your own custom theme and logo. If you have money to spend, there are various cheap and more expensive theme and logo services out there. Just do a Google search and make sure to reference your forum's software in the search. If you can not afford a new theme and logo, most software offers free themes from what community members create and you can use various free logo generator services all over the internet. If you are forced to use a free theme and free logo creator, try to make the two more unique than what they originally look liked before. A new member's first impression of your forum is very important and determines whether they will return or not.

When choosing a software, make sure its easy to use. Not all members who join are advanced in the knowledge of forum software. If needed, change some words on the software to be easier to read such as making "Register" to "Join for Free" or something like that. These little changes can have a dramatic affect on new members joining. Use a top level domain that is short and unique. Long domain names or use of subdomains with a directory can be hard to remember. Sure they can always bookmark your forum but wouldn't you rather have a forum domain that is catchy and easy to remember? I know I would because that is usually how word of mouth advertising starts.

Less is More

One of the biggest turn offs I have when visiting another new forum is when an administrator over does everything. Examples of over doing everything is adding way too many categories, forums and sub-forums. There is just no good reason for doing it. If you do not have much content, it makes a forum look dead. It can also confuse people on what section is for what kind of posts. It's always the right idea to start out with fewer categories and forums and very little sub-forums. Get your membership base built up first and then GRADUALLY add more as needed. Do not over do sub-forums, it's a very fancy feature but you still need only the ones you really need. Another part of starting small is staff members. When you first open, you really only need you and maybe another staff member. Never have more staff members than regular members. As the forum membership grows more and it becomes more active, ask yourself, Is there a need for more staff? Does your community require more staff because of certain activity? If it does, then add another staff member and see what happens. A good way to keep an active community is hiring new staff from within your community, it shows you trust your members.

Content, and more Content

Before inviting more people to join your forum and releasing it to everyone, consider having some content first. Many people do not want to join and empty forum and be the ones to have to post new content. For one, it makes the staff look inactive. The best way to get around this is everyday, post at least 10 or more new topics. It isn't much but in a few days, your forum will look more active and new potential members will have content to reply on. Give them something to want to join and discuss with you. Post as much as you can. You can also do post exchange partnerships with other forums to get more content and discussions going before releasing it to the public.



  • peregrineperegrine MVP
    edited January 2014

    Also when you launch a forum make sure you have all the security updates installed and be vigilant on checking postings for "malware or links to malware". An absentee landlord on a new forum is almost certainly instant death, and an absentee landlord on an existing active forum will result in "death by attrition".

    One way to go off on dead-start is to launch your forum with security flaws, have someone add a phishing app or a trojan, etc, etc. It wouldn't make new users feel warm and fuzzy. This by the way has happened to people and then they get blacklisted on other sites.

    I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.

  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    Good point, that is something I missed mentioning and it is very important, thank you for reminding me how important it is to also maintain your site secure. I will write a tutorial on the subject to go along with this as a part B.

  • Is there any actions I need to do to increase my security on my forum? I assumed this was built-in vanilla forums.

  • R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    I think that will be part B ;)

    But if you use the right version of Vanilla, there should be no security problem. You could always break its security concept so it might be useful to have an overview of what not to do or where to be especially careful.
    Nevertheless there could be danger in using additional software: PHP + database + webserver are needed additional software and they can be outdated or misconfigured, too. They rely on additional libraries and those libraries could also be weak spots.
    How you set up your server influences if you have a secure installation. There might be some server side tricks to make any php software more secure (I would always add a server side authentification with .htaccess to the admin area).

    But as I said before: that all might be part B

  • SamihaSamiha Berlin New

    I wonder how big your community of active members on soc media channels should be befor it makes sense to lead them into a forum?

  • AdrianAdrian Wandering Spirit Montreal MVP

    @samiha, I don't think you need it to be a certain size. I think it's when social media doesn't work anymore. For example, I find Facebook groups are poor for communities where people might search for older news or when people start posting on posts two weeks later. It works for communities that are small and care about recent developments. I think a forum and social media can work very nice together, but then I might be a bit biased :)

  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    It is never too early to start. Remember it takes time to grow a community. The most important thing is to have plenty of relevant content so people have a reason to join.

  • SamihaSamiha Berlin New

    True. Thank you both for your reply. @vrijvlinder, I just think you would always need a certain amount of people inside a forum to keep it going and not discurage newbies... I just applied for a job where I would have to build and engage a branded community from scratch. A forum might not be the biggest issue at the beginning. It's going to be about testing existing channels, talking to users, finding out what they really need to engage. Might also be about adjusting the App and implementing features to interact...

  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    The most important is to fill the forum with content before you get users. People don't want to be the first to post on a blank forum. Some people need to have some guidelines like categories and such but not too many they can't decide where to post.

    Get 5 to 10 volunteers to post topics on the subjects that most interest you future users. The biggest turn off is an empty forum. Filling it is what takes time and effort. You can promote the forum using the topics as bait on Facebook or other outlets.

    A forum is only successful if the content provided is needed or interesting to people.

  • Great write up. Would love someone to write a post on attracting traffic.

  • Can I use vanilla just for Q & A section on my website? its not a blog. its a website with listings.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... MVP


    Welcome to the community.

    Do you mean 'is it allowed' or 'is it suitable'?

  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    @skale said:
    Can I use vanilla just for Q & A section on my website? its not a blog. its a website with listings.

    Yes you can make it useful for a number of things.. your imagination is your only limitation ...

Sign In or Register to comment.