It’s an idea that crosses every webmasters mind from time to time:
“I should build a forum.”
Maybe you have an existing website with a lot of visitors and want to attach a forum to it so these visitors keep coming back. Maybe you own a ____Forum.com domain name, and want to build a forum covering that particular niche.
And hey, who wouldn’t? Done right, forums can be lucrative. No need to do the content – the users do it all for you. You’re able to get in touch with your visitors at ease, and in a lot more personal manner than via a mailing list.
As the owner of the forum you’re more respected, and more trustworthy. If you tell people they should “play at this poker room” or “purchase this book” they’ll most likely do it. You can even present generic affiliate links to the likes of Amazon, Newegg etc and request that if the community ever buy anything online, they do it through your links.
Hell have a big enough forum and you don’t even need affiliate links – media buys and adsense will do the business for you. You can even get companies to pay to sponsor your forum and run contests, all while increasing your bank balance.
As the owner of a forum I founded in 2002, and the moderator of a couple of big gambling forums, I can tell you that it is both very lucrative, and very fun.
Oh yeah and one other thing:
Don’t Do It.
Don’t. Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t!
I really wish I could just stop here, but I know you’re not convinced. So first let me explain to you why building a forum is one of the worst things you can do, and then if you STILL want to build your forum, then we’ll talk about how to do it, and how to do it RIGHT.
In your aim to build a profitable forum, there are two things you need to focus on: community, and profits.
Let’s tackle community first…
Building a Community
First, if you run a website already and are attaching a forum to it – you’re basically giving up affiliate income. Long-term it may pay off, but we’re talking LONG-term, and there are so many things that can go wrong, which I’ll cover in just a second.
What you can’t do is simply install vBulletin, attach a “forum” link to your websites navigation bar, and leave it at that. You have to work at it, you have to push your visitors from your website to your forum. You have to make it the main focus; and by doing that you’re going to have to STOP people from clicking your affiliate links.
No longer do you want someone to read that article on Mavs vs Heat Game 3 and click through to the sportsbook with the best odds on the game. No longer are you telling people how to grow a six pack, then try and push them towards your e-book. You now have to push them towards your forum, to “discuss the game” or “read others weight loss methods”.
If you want your forum to be successful, this HAS to be done. You need to make it the full focus of your website, to the point where you may as well not have any affiliate links.
You also have to kick-start your forum. If people click on your forum link and see empty forums or threads that haven’t been posted in for awhile, they’re going to leave. And even if these visitors return to your website they’re going to remember the “ghost town of a forum” and never visit it.
By kick-starting it, I mean devoting three hours a day at LEAST on your forum. Running numerous fake user accounts all having a discussion, starting new threads, replying to old threads, and making the forum look busy. Oh sure you can pay people to post – but have you ever seen the quality of these posts? “Atrocious” would be a compliment.
You could “run contests” on your forum, a tactic I’ve seen implemented many times. “Post 10 times on the forum and enter a draw to win an iPad”. That gets signups. That gets posts. But that doesn’t get you anywhere CLOSE to a community, because these people are not interested in participating in your forum. They’re interested in winning the iPad and as soon as the contest is over, they’ll go. And while they are active on the forum they’ll post nonsense in threads, just to up their post count.
To run a solid community, you need to have enough interesting topics that the people visiting your forum feel the need to register and discuss. No incentive at all except to discuss; that’s the trick to building a forum, and it’s bloody hard.
Of course you don’t need a website to push visitors and there are other methods; especially if you are running a _____Forum.com website. However this just means more work than ever. Now you have to focus on keeping the forum extremely busy while trying to build backlinks and start ranking in the search engines.
Sure, once the forum is striving and full of users you’re good; but until that point you have to be EXTREMELY busy posting with your fake user accounts, keeping existing threads busy while starting new threads on “hot topics” to hopefully appeal to any search engine users.
And these are just a FEW negatives about building a community – nevermind maintaining it. Once people sign up and start posting you have to KEEP them posting. People get bored and people get busy; you have to work to keep them interested and hooked, because your ultimate end game is getting these people to visit the forum at least 5x a day to participate in discussions.
Yet as your forum grows, there’s more work. Moderators are needed, and dramabombs will ensue. Oh, the dramabombs. They are constant, and you need to step in and be the voice of reason often.
You know those trustworthy members that you appointed moderators? Yeah 2 months down the road they edited or deleted a post, or closed a thread, and there’s a huge uproar. Then you need to step in and try and calm everything down without actually losing members, if you ever want to turn a profit. Yet as time goes on, cliques will grow, and the drama will continue.
Building and maintaining a community is extremely tough guys. Hell, even trying to deal with spammers is an uphill battle.
Want people to join your forum? You need to make it easy to register, but that just makes it easy for the spammers to register.
Want to implement various anti-spam techniques, like new user moderation, captchas and skill testing questions? Well now you’re just turning off the actual visitor, who is rarely going to jump through all those hoops just so they can comment on one thread.
Then of course there’s….
Profiting from a Forum.
Profiting from a forum community is also extremely hard. It’s okay to say “Well I’ll sell ads and run programs like adsense” but you’ll be lucky if that even pays the bills.
You realize to run a profitable forum, you’ll need a good sized community right? And if you have that good sized community, you’ll need a dedicated server? Forums are a nice resource hog. The one forum I own that has about 150 active members costs me $2500+ a year. That doesn’t count the amount of work I put in on the forum, both to maintain the community or from the technical side of things.
I wish I could say you could rely on media links, but there just aren’t that many companies willing to sponsor a forum, even if you give them a present on that forum. That’s not true for all niche, but it’s true for a lot of them. Whatever sort of forum you’re trying to build, do a google search for that phrase and open up the top 10 results. Most likely they either sell banner ads for ridiculously cheap, run Adsense, or have affiliate banners.
To run a profitable forum, you need to rely on affiliate links. Yet more than anything else, you need to earn the community’s trust and KEEP that trust. One bad move, and everything goes to hell. To run this profitable forum, the core of it is:
(1) Market a Product to your Users.
(2) Users purchase product.
Nice and easy, right? Except you can sell too much. Keep on promoting stuff to your community, and they’re going to realize you’re “only in it for the money” and completely lose trust in you. Therefore you can’t just keep pushing products on the users; you need to take your time, and utilize a lot of quality control.
What if you market a product to your users, and things don’t work out? For example; last year I promoted a US-friendly poker room to my players. I had spoken to this poker room about working on some amazing promotions, and sold the players on it. Yet the poker room completely dropped the ball, and didn’t follow through on any of their promotions. To make matters worse when players tried to withdraw, they were hit with huge delays and insulting responses from support.
You think next time I promote a poker room to this community, they’re going to blindly follow me? Of course not. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I lost the trust of the community and that’s something which took months to build back.
Remember when I mentioned dramabombs earlier? Well guess what; you’re not the only one to think “I can profit off this forum”. Your members will too.
What happens when one of your respected members or moderators starts posting affiliate links? How do you deal with that? Plus as silly as it sounds, forums often develop a “moderator vs users” mini-war. You try and stop respected members from posting affiliate links, or piss them off in any other way, and you have a possible rebellion on your hands.
Next thing you know, someone else has started a competing forum. That community you spent years building up? They’re now all jumping ship to this new forum, tired of your “nazi moderation ways”.
I love administrating and moderating forums; I really do. It’s a great feeling to promote a new poker room to the forum, and see 500 players sign up overnight. It’s amazing to log in to e-commerce affiliate accounts and see all these purchases just from your forum, and people buying stuff directly via your “affiliate links” thread.
Not just from a financial standpoint; but from a personal standpoint too. It gives you a great feeling inside, knowing that these people trust and respect you enough to follow you pretty much blindly, make you money and support your forum.
But the work it takes getting there? It really isn’t worth it. There’s no short cuts. There’s no quick ways to do it. There’s no outsourcing.
If you want to run a successful and profitable forum, you have to work your arse off while taking your focus off other things like…you know…..affiliate marketing?
Trust me on this one…….
Don’t Do It.
Still with me? Still reading? You don’t give up easily, do you?
Alright, so you actually want to do it? I’ve written 1900 words on why you shouldn’t run a forum, yet you’re still not convinced? You want to do it anyway?
Then let’s do it.
Let’s do it right.
Let’s build you that profitable forum.
But first we have to build you a community…