Is Starting a Forum a Good Idea?

When you’re brainstorming online business ventures, starting a forum can seem like an attractive choice. After all, once you get the site set up and enable appropriate topics for discussion, the users create all the content! But is creating your own forum a good idea?

Should I Start an Online Forum?

Although a forum can certainly be a great idea, there are considerable challenges you should consider before launching one. First, be sure to avoid the pitfall made by many webmasters who devote the majority of their energy into designing and customizing an attractive theme or selecting the perfect forum script. No matter how nice the site might look, without a critical mass of users their forum will go nowhere.

Most people looking to strike it big with a forum will not have the budget to run a real advertising campaign, so you absolutely must have some previously established community if you are to have success.

In most cases, a niche forum focused on a specific topic will have a better chance of attracting users than one about every topic under the sun. If you have already have a blog with many regular subscribers, a popular Youtube channel, an email list, or even an established presence in a Facebook, LinkedIn or Google group, you’ll have a much better chance than if you just try to build your forum from scratch.

You should ideally do a lot of work to build up a community of users who will contribute to your forum before selecting a forum script or purchasing a domain name. If possible, try to get a few people who can serve as moderators or can at least have a small group of users who can participate in a pre-launch in order to get some discussions started.

What you absolutely want to avoid is to promote your forum and attract some people only to have them greeted by a ghost town when they hit your site. Make sure there is a good volume of active topics before launching because no one is going to want to be the first to post. Negative social proof is a killer on any site but with a forum, a lack of discussions is unacceptable and will quickly spell your demise.

Another factor working against you is the fact that discussions once served by forums are now occurring in other corners of the web, including Facebook communities, Twitter, and Q and A sites like Quora. It has become much more difficult to lure users away from these platforms because they already spend so much of their time there.

That said, starting a forum is not a bad idea at all if you are willing to do a little work beforehand to target a niche, build a following, and launch something that isn’t currently being served by other online communities. If you’ve started a forum online, how did your experience go?

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Andrew Walsh

I'm Andrew Walsh, a web entrepreneur, author and academic librarian. Check out my book Savvy for the Social Web, or learn more about me my personal homepage. If you're interested, please follow me on Twitter and Google+
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