One of the biggest problems of online forums these days is the huge threat of competition, not just from other forums but from personal blogs. Blogging has become such a huge phenomenon and the majority of blog owners choose to write and spend their energy on their own blogs rather than online forums. This takes away a significant chunk of traffic away from forums and into blogs because more and more quality content is found on personal blogs rather than forums.
How does a forum admin combat this threat and how do you get forum members to contribute quality content on forums, rather than their own blogs. After all, the barrier to entry to blogging is minimal and almost anybody with an internet connection can create a blog.
Being both a blogger and a forum admin, I kind of understand the motivations of both sides and feel that I should share some of my thoughts on this issue.
The key is to restore a sense of pride of ownership to people posting content on forums. Here are some of my tips on how to achieve this:
Recognize their work
If a forum member is particularly good at submitting original or insightful content, consider giving them a position on your forum. It can simply be a user-title or something more than that. In cases where you find their quality of work to be excellent you might even consider monetary compensation for their work. But above all, the contributor needs to feel a sense of pride and a sense of belonging to the forum to be motivated enough to contribute.
A forum with a neat organization of categories and which separates quality content from the general chat and discussion will have a better response in terms of content submission. More than this, the content-driven portions of your forum need to be prominent and visible and members who submit original content should have an easy way of keeping track of their submissions.
Nothing is worse than having submitted a great article on a forum and then frantically searching for it one month later without any easy way of determining where it's gone. At the least, every member should have a "My Articles" link in his user profile to easily track the submitted content.
Customize and personalize
If a particular member is keen on contributing content but feels that the submitted content tends to get buried under others' contributions over time, the motivation to submit content will be reduced. In these cases where you find a member particularly prolific in submitting great content, but feels a lack of ownership or personalization, you should really consider setting them up for a section/subforum of their own where they can submit their content without having to mix it with others' content. This is, in many ways, a good solution for people who write and contribute regularly. Maybe even give them a "featured" status as a writer on your forum.
Finally, community blogs
Giving members their own blogs on the forum can be a great idea - if it's not overused. This is similar to the idea suggested above, but instead of integrating it with the main forum, it acts as a separate page of their own. A good idea would be to restrict the blogs only to members who've contributed well in the past and give other people a motivation to have their own community blogs.
If used properly, community blogs can be very attractive on sizeable forums because members will get the advantages of a personal blog combined with the visibility of a community forum. The key is to make it look attractive to members by making it prominent and well-structured.
It's always difficult to get members to contribute on a big forum because it lacks a sense of personalization and people who contribute will not feel a sense of ownership. Also "content" driven sections of a forum need to be prominent and visible if it is to become popular because nobody wants to submit content in some obscure section of an online community.
The key is to motivate and recognize people for their contributions and making it more personalized over time.
The biggest threat to a content-driven forum community is not another forum but the ubiquitous blog.