Note: I love this article, and it's at multiple places because of it. Nice motivator for anyone who panics their forum is dead in a week or expects Gaia Online activity in the first month.
All too often are the cries of impatience, the admins who just want a successful forum. They want it NOW. Some of these take two days to set up a forum then panic when 100 people aren't registered or a million posts haven't been made, thinking that their forum is completely rubbish and has died already because the massive, hopefully waited for burst of activity and traffic hasn't barged through the door and started posting. This article serves as one thing, a quick reality check to these people. It says not to worry about how slow you think your forum is growing, why your competitors might not secretly be doing so well and why hard work is the only thing that pays off.
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
In other words, it's not expected that your forum will become big the moment it opens, or even in the first month. You cannot just build an online empire in one afternoon and expect to be raking in millions in a week. The internet, and especially forums do not work like that. If your forum is a week old, and you complain about 5 members, no problem, it's expected. If your forum is a week old and you complain you've only got 30 members, again, it's expected. Success is not instant. Forums are not for get rich/successful quick, they are communities. I see too many admins thinking of failure with such pessimism just days after launch, panicking they've failed, panicking the forum won't succeed and more honestly, expecting to be a big board in a few days. That does NOT happen. So chill out, post on your forum, market it and work on SEO and the members WILL come. In time.
Forums Are All Different
Again, nothing is as ridiculous as explicity using another forum as a yardstick to measure your success. Different forums gain different audiences, grow quicker, have different content and communities. Your forum will not become the same as the other forums in the niche when it reaches the same size, nor will it draw the same audiences, or the same community spirit.
Growth is not a Straight Line on a Graph
Growth of a forum depends on a variety of factors. You cannot predict these factors greatly well. For example, when your forum is small, you might get less members joining and less posts made because it feels quiet to the member base. The forum might get really popular and end up all over social networking sites, bookmarking sites and the media and the growth might go up massively, and when a forum is established, you can theoretically actually draw members by the activity that already exists. Activity will go up and down for the most minor or the silliest reasons, don't worry about it too much unless it's something that can be fixed and that's affecting your forum in a really, really negative way.
Rival Site Activity is Deceptive
Now, this is a rather unusual point at first, but you need to remember that the typical forum stats are not a cast iron representation of if one board is more active than another. Take various older forums. Some of them are nearly completely dead, with less than 200-100 posts a day. But they LOOK active, because of their AGE. A forum which has been around 10 years with 200 posts a day will have 730 000 posts, while a forum with 400 posts a day that's been around a year will have 146 000 posts. The more active forum in this case is actually the younger forum, and this indeeds makes the stats deceptive, especially as an old enough forum will become a big board eventually via pure longetivity alone. I know many forums which have this longetivity trick making the activity look high, and they're all the same. They look active, but when you do the maths and look at the forum posts, you find weeks between posts and long gaps with near no activity.
Similarly, a forum with a massive amount of posts could also HAVE ORIGINALLY have been massively active, but then died as the hype for the subject died down (common with sites based on films and games that are the next big thing) or something went horribly wrong.
Certain Kinds of Sites Have Different Types of activity
This is another key point to remember. Take resource sites for example. The majority of them, post count wise are nearly completely dead, but have a staggeringly high member rate. This is to be expected, since the draw is the resources, which could be graphics, games or videos. People will sign up just to download things and not to join in the community.
The above also happens with sites where the forum is integrated with a website, and the logins are the same. This of course is most common with wikis, blogs, galleries or various CMS type systems, or membership type things, where any member that joins for the site becomes a forum member automatically. This causes a low post to member ratio.
On the flip side of the scale are heavily community based and loyal discussion communities, where the member count might be far lower than the post count, since everyone involved is often posting like crazy because of the active community spirit. Indeed, I've seen 200 member sites with around 200 000+ posts, and some have anything as low as 20 members for like 500 000 posts. This is the other end of the scale.
In all honesty, the second one need not be improved most of the time, although a bit more marketing and promotion will help boost the member count. But for the latter, there's the side that you can boost it a bit by requiring post count for accessing things, and the other side that it's all part of the forum topic having this kind of flaky activity.
All in all though, chill out. Don't panic about your forum not being an instant success, don't expect an instant success and enjoy your forum. All communities are different, all forums have different aspects, and competition and stats can be misleading.
This article was originally written by myself for vBulletin.org, and can still be found there.