When you ask a new forum administrator what the toughest part of growing a successful forum is, they often reply "Getting new members". If you spend enough time speaking with them, you might find even more specific answers like "Finding a way to advertise for free that isn't a total waste of time, brings in the right people, and encourages them to stick around."
Well I'm here today to tell you all that you've been mislead by people who think they know what they're doing, and in good faith have shared their methods with others...but are going about it all wrong. Many admins today talk about some very outdated methods of advertising, and I'm not so sure anymore if it's just them withholding the better methods and sharing the outdated ones, or if they just don't know any better and are still making the same mistakes themselves. Regardless of their intentions, I'd like to expose some of the more commonly discussed advertising suggestions you may have heard, and point out the flaws they have, as well as provide some better options. I think I'll write this as a series when I get time to write, and as I come across more advertising myths and poor suggestions.
So here is part one:Advertising at other forums.
All over the web you see people offering advice on how to advertise for free, and one of the most common that I see is the suggestion to advertise on other forums like yours. Now I shall dissect some of the recommendations I've seen, and hopefully I can help steer you all to a path that will get you more results for your time spent. For the sake of this article, let's say you started a forum dedicated to discussing Widgets a couple weeks ago, and your forum is located at WidgetTalk.com.
There are two major things that the following myths seem to suggest, but they are in fact things that can make your advertising efforts all for naught. These misconceptions are...
1. Posting on other forums and letting on that you are part of the staff at your forum, or even appearing to be a fan boy of your site is good.
2. Spending more time at other forums than you spend at your own is a good way to invest your time.
These two misconceptions are really hurting a lot of people, and in some cases it's killing their forums completely. If you only remember a couple things from this article, please remember the following. Posting as the admin of WidgetTalk.com on WidgetForums.com will usually get you nowhere other than banned or called a spammer. Either one of these will make you look just as bad as all the other spammers forums are seeing nowadays. People have learned to completely ignore spammers on forums, and most have become blind to unnatural looking posts containing links. The key is to just appear to be a regular member of WidgetForums that occasionally finds something of interest at WidgetTalk, and share it with others in a natural, non-spammy way.
Also please remember that spending more time at other forums (posting, doing post exchanges, spamming, etc...) instead of creating great content at your own forums does you absolutely no good at all. If you don't have something unique and enjoyable at your forums, a link on Google's homepage wouldn't do you any good. You've gotta have some good content before you can expect to get any active members from your advertising efforts. Advertising an empty, boring forum will actually kill your chances of ever getting those people to come back if you ever do create something worth checking out and sticking around for. So not only are you wasting your time, you're adding a list of people who have visited your forum, seen nothing of interest, and will never come back.
Now here are some common myths I've seen suggested a lot, even here on TAZ. I feel I need to show these in a more realistic light so that you can better determine how to spend your time.
Myth #1: Advertise your new forums and the new members will start generating content for you.
Wrong: Launching a forum and making it a place that people want to join takes a lot of hard work, and at the beginning it's up to you to get it to that level. People won't join an empty forum anymore. Back when forums were new, people would be more likely to do this because the concept itself was so new to most that curiosity drove a lot of them to jump in and try it out. Now that forums are commonplace, and many people already spend a lot of their time at one, you have to provide something they can't find at every other site they visit. So get the idea that forums magically hit critical mass by themselves out of your head, and realize that creating content is very time-consuming, but it's worth every minute. Avoid advertising until you have enough content that most people will find a cool discussion they'll want to join in and share their thoughts about.
Myth #2: Post a lot at your competitor's site (WidgetForums.com) and put a link/banner in your sig at their site.
Wrong: This is like grabbing a bullhorn and announcing that you're the admin of your site. This will only get attention from the mods there, scrutiny from the forum regulars, and nobody will take you seriously if they're nice enough to not ban you. Any forum that allows spamming of other sites probably is so small that you're probably wasting your time to even register there. If they have a whole forum just for blatant advertising, then they're probably so desperate for members and activity that you'll never get a click from them. Move on.
A more natural way: Try posting a link to your site in your sig, but post a couple other links to non-related sites like msn or google. Make it look more like a list of sites you enjoy, not sites you own.
Myth #3: Posting your site's content at bigger forums will get people to join your site.
Wrong: Remember a couple of things here. By taking an entire article that you've spent time coming up with for your own site, and copy/pasting it at a larger forum, you're opening yourself up to a few things. If the larger forum gets your unique content indexed first (which is the likely case if your forum is new and isn't constantly spidered deeply), thus possibly giving you a duplicate content penalty if the same article at your site gets crawled. It's quite possible for the article to show up at your competitor's site, never show up at yours, and you may be penalized for trying to post duplicate content despite you being the author and you posting it at your own forum first. Also in most cases it will tip everyone off that you're forum-spamming, and your goal is to blend in and make everything look natural.
So how many times have you seen people bring up things they've seen on forums, quote a couple sentences from an article, and link to where they found it? I want you all to take a close look at things like this. Study what looks natural (obviously if people are quoting big sites that they don't own, they're not forum-spamming their own sites), and what doesn't. Take notes if you must, but observe what people do when they want to share something cool they found on another site. This happens everywhere you go, and the more you learn how to assume the same posture when linking to cool stuff on your site, the more it will work for you. But despite you now having a better way to look at advertising on other forums, there is still much to learn to make it work. If you try this approach but don't have anything worth linking to on your site, you're stuck. If you aren't believable, never post any links to anything other than your site, or do it too often...it'll be obvious what you're doing. So you gotta keep all this in mind and I promise your advertising efforts will work 100% better on other forums. Just keep it natural looking.
Myth #4: Exchanging posts and threads with other forums is a great way to boost activity at a new site.
Wrong: I'm sure some people will disagree with me on this, but hear me out. I'll point out some reasons why people decide to do post exchanges and tell you why each are a waste of time.
"They help me get more members."
If you're a new forum, you need content before you need members. Using exchanges to get members will just get you a few members that post for a bit and then leave. In most cases they'll post absolute rubbish that adds nothing to your content, just chit-chat. So while your board is being spammed, you're off at their site fulfilling your obligation to their forum. When all that time you could have been creating content at your own forum, content that helps your forum rather than hurts it.
"They help me get more posts"
Again, why in the hell would you want strangers quickly spamming your board and then never returning? The key to growing a new forum isn't postcount, it's quality and relevance. You want to get discussions that people can learn from and enjoy, not read and think "What a noob, I'm glad this spammer is gone now."
"They make the forum look more active"
If you want to make a forum look more active, create gimmick accounts and have discussions with yourself for a while. In 8 hours I could create 10 gimmick accounts and create 25 threads with some good conversation. If that takes you a week, who cares? At least you're controlling the quality of content rather than allowing spammers to make your forum look like any other junk forum.
"I can't think of anything to post at my forum."
If you don't have anything to talk about at your own forum, then why did you start the forum in the first place? If you can't be bothered to put out the work it takes to start a forum right, then you probably won't ever be successful or have any fun with it. If you find that you've created something that you don't enjoy or take part in, you shouldn't necessarily quit forums altogether, but finding a topic you're more passionate about isn't such a bad idea. And for those who make forums just for money, I'm crossing my fingers that you won't find this article. But for those who truly want to create a thriving community that has a lot of fun together, I hope this helps you get you going in the right direction. Forums can be so rewarding, and if your heart is in it, I'll do my best to help you see that for yourself someday.
The bottom line with exchanges is that anything you could possibly gain from doing them, you could do yourself, be spending your time more wisely, and get much better results. The only way doing exchanges could benefit you is if you are a lazy slime bag that always demands more than you're willing to give in return, and if that's the case then I hope your forum dies in a fiery car crash. Avoid exchanges like the plague if you want your forum to be special.
That's all for now, I'll try to post more when I can.