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Support forums exist for seemingly every form of popular technology and even for most forms of less popular and mainstream technology. They can be dedicated to specific trades or areas of knowledge, to specific brands and products and more.

From web hosting to consumer electronics, from official communities to unofficial ones, support forums often represent the greatest collection of concentrated knowledge aimed at whatever it is that they cover.

I’ve participated, at various levels, in a number of them over the years and have run phpBBHacks.com for 10 and a half years and PhotoshopForums.com for 8 and a half. My experience has led me to believe that truly great support forums often share 3 specific principles.

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Puzzle macro
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Steve Magruder asked: “How [can you] motivate users to see the value of your board when many of them don’t seem to “get it?” I sometimes wonder if my site’s mission is lost on people, even though I have striven to make it as plain as day.”

“… How can I get people to appreciate that they have an open discussion space for discussing local issues (or any subject as it applies to other sites) and the power that lends them? It seems like so many are lost on the power of public discourse.”

Thank you for the question, Mr. Magruder. The truth is that you don’t get a lot of opportunities to communicate the value of your site because that isn’t generally what people are looking for. They judge your community based upon it’s content, features and activity.

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How Many Forums Should I Have?

Posted by Patrick on September 22nd, 2011 in Developing Your Community
Forums!
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Steve Magruder asked: “Is it worthwhile to promote individual forums within a board, and make at least one very popular, even if the other forums don’t get as much attention?”

Thank you for the question, Mr. Magruder. This gives me an opportunity to dig into the topic of forum structure and how to select your individual forums and then I’ll come back around to the crux of the question.

There is an old, oft-repeated piece of advice that says that you should start with as few forums as possible at the start. This is a good guideline to follow. You should start with as few forums as possible while also having a reasonable structure that fits your community.

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There are a number of ways to tackle the index page of your community. It’s about showcasing your content and your members and that can be pretty flexible. Different approaches have different benefits and work well, depending on your audience and situation.

The traditional list of forums can work well. Another popular one is showing some of the recent topics or some featured topics. That can work, too. Options are a good thing and I’d love to see activity streams become an option for more platforms, either as a default feature that you can turn on or off or as a hack or add-on.

By an activity stream, what I meant is a stream of popular or relevant content, tailored to the individual viewing it based on numerous factors, including the popularity of the content within the community, based on views, replies and likes or some other measurement and content that has been interacted with by community members that they have chosen to “friend” or “follow.”

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Josh Barraza asked: “How [do you] transition [a] community after an acquisition?”

Online communities, like any website, can be very valuable. They take a great deal of time to run and manage and, in that light, can be looked at like any other venture or full time job.

Everything must eventually come to an end and there will come a time to close the community, to pass it off to someone else or to sell it.

But, they can also be quite delicate. In most cases, a portion of their value is tied to current activity and, if you go in with the wrong mentality, you could erode a substantial amount of value by making unfavorable changes or lacking the proper sensitivity when you first enter the community.

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Do you want the secrets to building community online? I’ve got them. Meet me in this back alley over here and I’ll give them to you for a price. But, let’s keep them just between us. We wouldn’t want the common people to know.

If anyone ever tells you this, run away from them. There are no secrets. There are just things you haven’t learned yet. Are those secrets? I don’t know.

I receive emails, regularly, from people offering to improve my search engine optimization (SEO). They promise that they have the SEO secrets and that they’ll hook me up. Generally, we regard these people as spammers that lack credibility and are looking to take advantage of us. Why should online community be any different?

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Memories
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I’ve been hearing the word influencer a lot lately. People (companies) want other people, with big audiences, to talk about their stuff. There is nothing wrong with that.

Just don’t confuse your pursuit of influencers with community building. There is some overlap, sure, but if you focus on “influencers” at the cost of “normal” people, you are not building community. That’s PR – that’s outreach. It’s a crucial, important difference.

Some people want to convince themselves into thinking that if they email the person with the most followers who talks about their industry the most, they are building community. But, they aren’t.

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Back in June, I wrote about Turntable.fm, the social DJ service and music community. Since then, I have spent countless hours playing music on Turntable.fm and have accumulated a good number of points and fans. 1,550 and 137, respectively.

According to ttDashboard, a site that tracks some interactions with the site, that places me 1,756th and 345th in those categories overall. From my time spent on the site, I know I have an abnormally high number of fans for my point total. I’ve seen DJs with double my points that don’t have half my fans.

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How to Get More Replies on Your Forums

Posted by Patrick on September 1st, 2011 in Community Cultivation

Shopmaster asked: “What are some good things you can do to get people to post or reply to topics in your articles?”

Thank you, Shopmaster. The act of simply getting people to reply to you, whether it be to topics you start in your forums or articles you write on your blog or elsewhere, is a common challenge that people face.

Sadly, there is no golden secret that ensures success. But, there are some things that you can do.

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