03 November 2005

How unique is your community?

There are a hell of a lot of forums out there. How many rivals your community has depends on what your forum's about - obviously, there are loads of webmaster communities (e.g. WebMasterWorld, Sitepoint and Digitalpoint) but fewer about knitting.

It's safe to assume your newly-made board will have its fair share of competitors, often bigger and more popular than yours. That can change though - the biggest forums aren't always the oldest ones (though it helps).

If you want to succeed and get up there with your rivals (who knows, maybe even beat them!) you're going to have to focus on making your site stand out from the crowd. Improving the quality of posting and community spirit are important factors in getting people to stick around once they sign up, but you have to get them to sign up first!

Getting features unique to your site has several advantages:
  • it'll make people talk about your site, so you get increased word of mouth referrals
  • it'll give visitors something to remember your site by, so they're more likely to return
  • existing members have something here they can't get anywhere else, so stick around longer
  • it enhances the reputation of your site, helping to make you the authority in your niche
That last point is important: you can really show up your site as a heavywieght in the category when you've got some exciting, original and good looking features on your board, when your rivals still have the default skins installed, perhaps have added an Arcade mod, and an offtopic forum that's just full of typical post games like the Neverending Thread and the Three Word Story.

This highlights another thing - standing out doesn't just limit itself to getting a unique look skinned and some new features coded. You can stand out with competitions and fresh new ideas for threads - maybe you could encourage your members to make threads that are effectively 'blogs', each member having his own... I dunno - you know your own community better than I do. I'd be interested to hear what you guys have done to make your forums stand out amongst your competitors (you can add comments below).

The reason I was prompted to write this was that I've just finished coding a new feature for my own forums. This uses an RSS parser to pull data from the profiles of members on my site that use the excellent Last.fm and then show it on their profiles, e.g. to show the last five songs they've listened to. When I say finished, I haven't really - I want to add lots more details (top five tracks, most played songs, favourite artists, etc). I've also added a link to people's last.fm pages just above their signature. Obviously, this only shows up if they've put a Last.fm ID in their profile. The next step is to totally rework the profile page so it's a lot more inviting, and getting away from the standard Invision profile page look. The theory behind this is that if I can make people use the profile pages more, I can get a stronger community spirit on my board, the advantages of which are dicussed here.

You can see the new feature in action on my profile page over at Rockforums.net and on threads like this one - note the 'What I Listen To' button under the second post. Another feature I've added, which is in part designed to increase clicks on Adsense banners, is the trivia/board tips/google adsense banner rotation in the top right corner, which shows something new each time you refresh the page/go to another one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice article. Something unique that I've puted to my are my bots. Those bots are creating automated posts to the forums, which are mostly from RSS feeds

Thursday, November 03, 2005 12:42:00 pm  
Blogger Phil B said...

that RSS posting thing ain't so unique now that it's a feature included in IPB 2.1!

Thursday, November 03, 2005 1:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Jeffrey Hunt said...

I don't mean to go off-topic from the post, but I want to point out that the automated RSS posts are a little... weird.

I looked around at Anonymous' forum and noticed that a few forums contained nothing but article bot posts.

If this gets out of hand, it could push the "real" threads out the bottom, where nobody will find them. And it just looks kind of strange to see 30+ threads with < 10 page views and zero replies.

It almost makes the forums unreadable. Something to think about...

Monday, November 21, 2005 11:21:00 am  
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