Credit: ToddCC BY 2.0

When it comes to launching a forum, everyone faces the same challenge: how do I get things going? How you answer this question will help determine how successful that you become and how soon. You can either drastically help your odds or (to be a little dramatic) deal your new community a death blow. Or maybe something in between.

It’s not really that scary. It’s about having a process and not trying to skip any steps or take shortcuts. Recently, a Quora user asked, “how do I successfully kick start my forum?” Here’s my answer.

There are three big things you need to do: seed, curate and appreciate.

Seed Your Community (Honestly)

Your forums should begin as private. They should consist of you, your staff and people you invite. You can even give people an invite or two and let your pre-launch participants bring others into the fold.

Don’t just invite early adopters or influencers. Invite your friends, invite passionate people, invite those that can add value. Tell them what you are trying to do and how much it would mean to you if they helped.

This is how it should (virtually) always be done. Never launch with nothing or with just you. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. It is the “secret” to successfully launching an online forum and will dramatically increase your chances of success.

Please do this honestly. Don’t create multiple accounts or pay people to pretend to be multiple people. Please do not lie to your members. Once you cross that bridge, you may never make it back across.

Further reading: On Seeding Communities by Derek Powazek.

Curate Your Early Experience

During the early stages, look at yourself as a curator. Consider how your content is presented and where your focus should be. Guide people toward the types of contributions that you want and praise and feature the best of the best.

Make sure you are organizing your community in a way that best emphasizes the small base of activity that you have. Don’t spread yourself too thin and don’t ask too much from people. Make sure all of your energy is working toward people contributing via the forums and adding value there.

In other words, start small. When you have great, active forums, you will have the luxury of asking people if they are interested in doing more.

Appreciate

Being small is a gift because it allows you to really appreciate what you have. Since you only have 20, 50, 100 members, you can demonstrate to them how much you appreciate their participation. You can tell them directly in private and publicly on the forums. You can spotlight them. You can write them a handwritten note if you have an address for them. Whatever it is, having only a handful of members provides you with the opportunity to focus on what matters most: your members. All of them.

By creating a culture of appreciation, your members will take cues from you and spread the love. When one member is grateful for another member, that’s a wonderful thing. You can create or enable tools that encourage members to praise others, like award programs, like buttons, etc. Build appreciation into your daily efforts.

At the end of the day, that’s really how communities grow. You start with 3 people and you are grateful for them. They know they are appreciated and listened to, so they want to be a part of what you are doing because it is special. Their efforts bring in more people and the cycle continues.

No matter how small you are or how big you become, it always goes back to appreciation. When members don’t feel appreciated, they don’t stick around.