It is difficult to define a 'successful forum'. However, all forums deal with information and so the amount of information that is transferred across a forum is an indication of its success. The most effective way to boost the transfer of information is by boosting your forum's traffic.
Getting visitors to your forum for the first time
Promote your forum in a signature file at the end of your articles, emails and forum posts. This will show people that you do have a forum. Usually, the main reason people don't visit forums is not because they have no interest in visiting them, but because they don't know they're there. Raising awareness of your forum is particularly important. If you have an ezine, promote your forum in that and include some of the most interesting comments that have been posted. Your website should also promote your forum avidly. Try to include a visible link to your forum on every page of your website. This way whichever page visitors enter on, they will always have the opportunity to learn about and visit your forum. Also, with a link on every page of your site, visitors are always seeing your forum offer, and on the internet, repetition works!
Possibly the most effective way to get more posts on your forum is by offering an incentive to anyone who posts or signs up as a 'forum member'. Offer those who post a free ebook which you send to them by email. This way you capture their email address too and so if your forum goes through a period of poor traffic you can always contact old posters and ask them to post for you. Don't think old posters won't do this. They will probably be honoured that you have remembered about them and that you value their thoughts and comments. It is amazing how a little incentive such as an ebook can bring hundreds of people to post on you forum.
Publish testimonials about your forum all over your website and in your ezine. You could even incorporate one in a signature file. You can't rely on your visitors trusting you on the fact that your forum contains high quality posts. Get opinions on your forum from previous posters, collect the most complimentary ones and then distribute these testimonials to as many people as you can. People will be interested if you can prove that your forum has helped others. If you don't have any testimonials, then don't be afraid to ask your forum visitors for them. As I've said before, they will be honoured that you value their opinion and are likely to give a very complimentary testimonial.
Do you publish ads on your forum? If you do, then consider doing an ad swap with a forum of the same subject as yours. This will ensure that traffic from your ad swap will be targeted. This method of advertising is very effective and is also free. For tips on creating a great ad go to http://www.blog.info-ebooks.co.uk/creatingprofitads.html.
Getting visitors to come back to your forum
It is one thing being able to get people to your forum, but is quite another to get them to come back. However, if you wish to have a successful forum, you need people who post regularly.
Most importantly, make sure that your forum has a focused topic around which all the posts are based. Forums with no focus very rarely succeed because it is so difficult to attract a targeted audience and these forums very rarely go into enough depth on the subject that is being discussed. The topic you choose to base your forum on should be something that you know a great deal about so that you can respond to anyone who might ask a question. This will save you from looking unprofessional and you will also enjoy managing your forum more if it is based on something you are interested about.
Another essential fact to consider when running a forum is that people who post and ask questions want answers fast. They definitely do not want to have to wait more than 24 hours for a reply because it looks like no one cares about helping them. Just make sure you check your forum periodically, perhaps 4 times a day, and answer any questions.
Make sure that your forum is regularly updated with interesting posts. Nothing will put a visitor off more than discovering that the last post was over a week ago. This will definitely not encourage them to reply. Don't be afraid to post the majority of comments yourself. Even if they aren't replied to, at least it makes your forum look active.
Also, do not let your forum's layout let you down. I thoroughly recommend staying clear of bright colours. Choose a good colour scheme, perhaps a light and dark colour. Even though this sounds pedantic, your colour scheme is what visitors will see first. Be careful not to overcomplicate your forum either. Make navigation easier by putting links in an orderly fashion.
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