It's Quality, not Quantity, Man!
Seven ways to improve the quality of your forum.
Quality is a big problem faced by forum administrators. If we're not careful, things can get out of hand and our precious forum can turn to rot. This article will outline a number of measures you can take to improve the quality of your forum.
In my travels around to other forums I noticed that many of them had a large portion of their posts concentrated in the off topic, forum-specific, and advertising forums. Informal calculations showed that in some forums these areas held up to 72% of the posts, while at others it was as low as 22%. When the majority of posts are contained in these areas the post counts are quite high but very few are doing what the forum was intended for – helping people on the topic.
Of course, there are many other quality problems that forum face: members posting useless or immature responses, people who like to write in “IM speak”, spamming, unanswered questions, and many other problems can also affect the quality of a forum.
The following are several methods you can use to keep the quality level of your forums high.
Emphasize the Content
Many forum designers like to start the forum listings with administrative topics and/or general discussion. This is great if that is where you want people to be posting. But what about your topical forums? They are now pushed down where members will need to scroll to see them. Make it easy for people to participate in the topical sections of your forum by pushing your off topic and administrative sections to the bottom of the list. I found that the forums with the highest percentage of posts in the off topic areas had them positioned at the top. Of course, there will always be room for off topic discussions if you choose to allow them. Introductions and market place type forums are also important but they should play a supporting role rather than taking over the focus of your community.
Control the Spamming
Restrict what is and is not allowed in advertising areas and throughout the forums. Advertising or “Buy/Sell/Trade” type forums should be there as a resource for your members – not for spammers! Remember that your forum does not exist as a source of free advertising. Create a clear set of guidelines that allows members to post useful resources and keeps out the spam. Members who repeatedly abuse these guidelines should be disciplined.
Make sure questions get answered
I was recently at a very large and well recognized forum looking for information about a product I was thinking about purchasing. Even with over 75,000 members this forum had many posts with no response and even more with only a handful of answers. Remember that one of your main resaons for existence is to help people with your topic. It doesn't send a very good message to new members when they have to wait for a response or see a list of 0's in the posts column.
Your forum software should have the ability to search for posts with no responses. Use it. Even a bad answer is better than no answer. If nothing else, you can welcome new members to the forum and try to point them in the right direction.
Encourage good quality
There are ways to encourage members to make high quality posts. You could write up a “Members Etiquette” statement and post it in your forum related area. In some cases you may correct members for poor quality posting habits (i.e. If you write your post using IM speak, and not proper English, it makes it difficult for people to understand what you're saying, and therefore it is more difficult for them to help you).
Keep a good quality staff
If you aren't able to cover the points mentioned above, you might need to consider expanding your staff. There are many resources here at TAZ about finding good moderators and leading your team.
When building partnerships and link exchanges with other sites, always make sure you are aligning yourself with the type of people you want to be associated with. You may be able to get a lot of traffic by posting your link in random chat rooms, but are those really the people you want to be part of your community?
Lead by Example
You can start by setting a good example – if you put effort into high quality posts your members will be more likely to do the same. You should be modeling the kind of behaviour you want to see from your members. A forum is only as good as it's leader.
Of course, this doesn't mean that there is no room for off-topic chatter. You may find that you want to allow some members to promote themselves in the forums. Or maybe your members prefer to speak in slang rather than regular english. The key is to find the balance that works best for your forum. These seven steps will help you get there!