If you build it, they will not come. How to create a successful forum community
So you want a forum to go with your web site? A forum can give you feedback on how you're doing, it can send traffic to your site and it can be a valuable part of your site. It doesn't happen automatically, though.
Once your forum software is installed, you will need to populate it with threads. A forum is like a room. If it's empty, no one will come in to talk, so it's up to you to start a conversation and to keep it going.
Threads might be posted by you and yourself, a friend or family member and maybe one of your kids. You can be yourself, but be someone else, too. This may be a bit controversial, but it works: Register as a different person and talk to yourself. Be intelligent and stay on topic and whenever anyone else sees the conversation, they're more inclined to join in. Your friends, kids and family can do the same, but be careful. It's very easy to make a mistake. The goal is to create the illusion of activity by several people in a way that others will feel welcome to join in.
Most of the tricks to growing a successful online community lie in the "don'ts." It's hard to not be eager to get things going, but it will be much easier in the long run if you follow a few common sense rules.
A forum creates a unique community that's neither a web page nor a chat room, but somewhere in between. Google indexes forum threads so they're treated somewhat as a web page, but they're fluid and user generated. Keeping threads on topic and relevant to your purpose is important.
Avoid cliques or groups of people that seem closed to newcomers. Overly familiar and personal greetings and discussions will make a newcomer feel excluded. If you see something like this, break it up (gently!) by changing the subject slightly to include others.
Don't create folders or subfolders until there is a need for them. Keep your forum small until it warrants expansion. A forum full of empty folders is just... well a forum full of empty folders. That won't attract interaction. Create two or three to begin with, then you can see when and where to build out as the community grows.
Don't reward people for posting to a forum. Once you begin to give incentives, people will expect you to always give incentives. If you quit, they will quit posting; it's human nature. A forum you have to pay to keep alive is not successful. At the same time, a good moderator can be priceless and deserves a reward or a paycheck when you can afford it.
Allow only members to post unless you have a full time moderator and a good reason to allow guests to post. If you do, you'll need to moderate the forum twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It's usually not worth it because spam is everywhere and some "guests" will post only when they disagree.
If you want a successful community, don't create it behind closed doors. Most people don't want to join a forum that could be irrelevant or uninteresting and if they can't check out the forum until they've registered, they simply will not register.
After your forum becomes successful, you'll need at least one, and preferably two, good moderators who understand forums. If you moderate yourself, you'll need a helper. The one time you go shopping will be the time spammers (or worse) strike. A good moderator will help keep threads going by asking the right kind of questions, posting new threads, soothing hurt feelings, drawing out shy people and so on.
A forum takes on a life of its own. As its parent, it's your responsibility to direct it without stifling it. Allow it to grow on its own, but don't allow it to get out of control. Direct and guide it like you would direct and guide a child.
A successful online forum is a joy to visit, both for you and your members and guests.