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Five Ways to Get a New Forum Off the Ground in 2023

Forum in 2023Recently there was a thread on LowEndTalk asking how to launch a new forum.

It’s tough.

The technical parts are relatively simple.  You pick your software, and there are tons of available packages, with many choices from both free software and commercial packages.  You can have it hosted, or host it yourself (might we suggest shopping for a provider on LowEndBox?).    You can speed it up with a CDN and protect it with anti-spam and anti-DDoS options.  You can select modules and extensions – file downloads, mini blogs, voting systems, classified ads, sky’s the limit.  Then there’s art and logos to make, forums to lay out, and rules to write.  And then finally you’re ready to launch.

Which means the easy part is done.

The hard part is finding the community.  In this age when social media is overflowing with ways for people to connect with specialized communities – using accounts and apps they’re already familiar with – coming to your XenForo or SimpleMinds forum means learning something new.  Besides the quirks of the software, there’s also learning the rules – stop asking those questions everyone asks and read the FAQ, you must be a member with X posts before you can share a link, etc.  On the other hand, if they’re on Reddit or Facebook, there’s probably already a community around what you are discussing, and everything is already familiar.

What’s Your Edge?

The question you need to answer is: what is it that your forum provides that people can’t get at Facebook, YouTube, or Reddit?  Some examples:

  • More robust file-sharing, downloads, etc.
  • A community that violates typical social media rules.  This doesn’t have to mean piracy or hacking.  There’s a lot of things that SM companies don’t want to get into: adult content, discussion of firearms, etc.
  • A community whose software allows an preferential expression.  For example, art communities might want better gallery features than you get sharing a photo on Facebook.

Just specialization alone isn’t enough.  All you have to do is watch a Facebook commercial to realize that there are effectively millions of hosted forums on social media.

Getting Off the Ground

How do you attract members?  Obviously, if your budget is unlimited a few Superbowl commercials will get you going but mere mortals must take other approaches.

Here are some ideas:

  1. In the 90s/00s, the standard advice I read multiple times was to get some friends (and your own alternate personalities), create a few dozen accounts, and then simulate activity by talking to each other.  People join more readily if there are many people talking.
  2. In other forums besides your own, link back to your own forum.  Not necessarily “hey I just started a forum” but if your forum is about, say, Toyota racing and someone asks a question in another forum on this topic, you can answer with a link that leads back to your forum, the same way you would like to Wikipedia or any other site for info.  You can even write a post first and then link to it.
  3. Add static content (pages, etc.) that are SEO-friendly and attract searchers.  If you can be the definitive go-to for info on some subject, you’re way ahead of the game.
  4. Put links to your forum in your forum and email signatures.
  5. Read The Admin Zone, a forum devoted to people managing forums.  There are subforums specifically about getting started.

Any other tips and tricks you’d recommend to those starting from scratch?  Please comment below!


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