Based off of what I have written in reviews, the Good Forum Guide and the Clan Guide, this article is pretty much a what to do and not to do list article about running a good forum. Now, I'll be honest and say that many of these tips are rather much common sense, but seeing as half the forums I've reviewed completely ignore the advice, I guess it's important to post this up.
Forum Structure and Layout
Now, first of all, you must be reasonable with your forum organisation. Now, as the Clan Guide I once wrote said, covering multiple topics is a must, and you NEED at least one area for non topically related posts to go in. However, here are a few good tips for numbers of forums and such like.
1. Keep the forum number to a normal level
Now, you don't know how many times I've seen forums with hundreds of empty forums lying around, and many having about 0 posts. I've seen RP boards which seem to go completely overboard with areas, gaming boards which try to cover every minor console released in the last 20 years and webmaster forums which try to be Sitepoint 2.0 complete with the exact same huge numbers of forums. Keep it down, because too many forums WILL confuse your members, and will make the forum look far less active than it already is.
2. Keep your forums related
And this comes in two parts. One, do not do the Gamefaqs style everything for everyone forum layout with about fifteen boards related to interests only marginally related to your topic. Seriously, there is no reason to have a forum about food or a forum about a TV series on a webmaster forum for example, and trying to be the jack of all trades is getting kind of old.
The other piece of advice is to have forums that relate to your theme, and don't overgeneralise it. I've seen three boards with come under this exact category. They have clear connections to a Nintendo gaming related site, yet the forum structure isn't related to the topic, and demotes the site topic to one forum called 'video games', with then TV, music, movies and webmaster forums among others. That's boring to me, and pretty much says that you have very little interest in the actual topic the website was set up to write/talk about.
3. Fill up the ones you have
No forum should ever have zero posts, and the ones you have should indeed have content in. Three topics is a nice round number, and I'd say one of those should at least a semi intelligent one. Seriously, this along with the 1st piece of forum structuring advice is one of my main criticisms of many, many forums I've reviewed at vBulletin.org
Features and Style
Then we come to the next most important things after content, the feature set and the style. Yes, I mentioned using vBulletin in other articles I wrote away from vBulletin.org, but since this article is being posted on a vBulletin resource site, advertising the king of forum software is kind of pointles. Never the less, here are the few tips I'd say.
1. Never use default
Because default to me shouts 'boring'. And yes, just using a logo on a default style is still a default style, regardless of what some forums seem to think. Be imaginative, replace the images with related ones, or if you really, really have no idea how to make a style and cannot find someone to make you one, use a premade style. Anything is better than a default (which itself is only designed for the official support forum).
2. Add smilies and avatars beyond the default
I hate these guys quite a bit:
And if your forum pretty much only uses these basic 10-12 odd smilies, I'll probably say to get some new ones. From my experience though, you should be adding at least a few smilie packs from vBulletin.org and .com and if possible, add a few custom smilies that relate to your theme. Because as you know, your users will really thank you for it.
3. Add Interesting features
But don't go overboard. Add things your competitors don't have on their forums, and keep your members happy by adding new toys and forum features every now and then. Of course, your forum topic will suggest exactly what you should install, but in general, a few good recommendations:
1- Gaming- Arcade, Gallery
2- Design/art- Gallery, gallery images on home page, etc.
3. Do not having flashing or blinking gimmicks!
No offence to the mod creators, but those scrolling alert bars, pop ups and marquee modifications are incredibly annoying, and more likely to drive away your visitors than anything else.
4. Put most mods near the bottom of the page
Again, should be easily to figure out. Too much stuff at the top equals scrolling to reach the content, and if you need to scroll too far to reach any of the actual forum content, it's wasting your user's time and giving them no information on what your forum is about. This double applies to quick register forms and X stats modifications, which some people seem to think are greatly important enough to be placed at the top of the page.
General Management Tips and Advice
1. Don't make forums all private
Seriously, I do not like boards where every single forum on the front page is either hidden completely from guests or says private where the last post information is supposed to be. This is because it gives no taste of what the forum is like to potential members, blocks out the search bots and looks like you have something to hide.
2. Don't fake the stats
Because to be honest, faking the member, post and online count by multiple digits higher just looks bad, especially when the promised content or community is nowhere to be found. On a similar note, don't set your admin post count to higher than the forum post count, that too looks very, very bad (1000% of forum posts by admin?)
3. Don't give paid users too many ridiculous powers
Like only giving signatures to paid users, or avatars. Worse yet, I've seen at least three forums which gave paid members powers to GIVE INFRACTIONS to people, which is probably the least responsible use of power in forum history (which is frankly like letting millionaires arrest people or such like). Don't also withhold, as I said, powers which are common across forums from the normal user. It's annoying.
4. Splash pages are useless
This is no joke. People do not wait for 2MB splash pages to load before trying to access an internet forum, or even a normal website. They also have zero SEO benefit, provide another barrier between the users and the content and are hell for those on dial up.
There you have it, my average tips to running a good forum. Sure, it's an unusual guide, and most of it is common sense, but reading this article is far more likely to get you a good review here and at various administrator forums, as well as get your members to hang around, so take it into account.
Links and References
vBulletin Pre Made Styles
The Good Forum Guide (my original guide)
AdminAddict (A great forum administrator resource)
Admin Extra (another great forum administrator resource)