In the past, I’ve seen forum owners and managers suggest that it was harder to grow their forums or their hosted community because of people spreading their time out across different forms of social media. I think that’s probably true, but I don’t see it as a bad thing.

What we’re seeing is platform diversification. Forums are fine. We just have more options, and we use the options that best fit a particular need.

But if you run a forum or a hosted community, you have to accept a simple reality: people will spend time on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms. Once you accept that reality, you can begin to utilize these platforms to offer community members more value and to engage with them – and others – with the idea of driving traffic back to your community.

No Strategy

There is a viewpoint that suggests that, as someone who manages a forum, you don’t necessarily have to use these services at all. There is only so much time in the day, and you’d rather spend that time actually on your community. This is perfectly reasonable.

It can manifest itself in different ways. Maybe you have a profile that you send people to so that you can build up a presence, in case you will eventually use it. Maybe you post updates occasionally when something noteworthy happens. Perhaps you use it as a way to communicate what your server goes down.

I see many people using their Twitter account to send an automated list of new conversations to people. While probably not the best strategy, if it drives some traffic, it’s not without value. Some people do use Twitter as a way to subscribe to websites they like. There’s no reason they can’t do the same with forums.

No matter what, you should go ahead and secure your brand’s username on these services, even if you have no intention of using it.

That said, I am going to assume you are reading this post because “no strategy” isn’t what you want. You want a high level strategy for generating traffic for your forums. You want to be proactive. Let’s do it.

Overarching Philosophy

Though the approach differs a little bit by the platform you are using, there is definitely an overall theme to the strategy I outline here. It consists of the following:

  • Create dedicated accounts/profiles/pages for your community.
  • Don’t be spammy or parasitic.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of using automated tools to fake popularity or mess with vanity metrics.
  • Don’t overwhelm people. Don’t post too much content at once. Think about when you see your feed dominated by one person. Is it a good thing? Space it out and make it count.
  • Publish quality content relevant to your community that fits the medium you are sharing it in.
  • Surface great stuff from your community.
  • Share great stuff posted by others.
  • Use native functionality. Don’t upload a video to YouTube and link to it from Facebook. Upload it to Facebook’s native video feature. This improves the priority of your content within Facebook’s algorithm. When you want to share what someone else tweeted, use the built-in retweet feature on Twitter, don’t quote the tweet or do some sort of manual retweet.
  • Talk, as a person, with those who you follow and those who talk to you. Identify who is speaking, if it is unclear.
  • Tag members of your community, when you share their stuff, and companies/people mentioned on your community, especially when it is positive (privacy settings permitting).

Where appropriate, I’ll dive into what these items mean for each individual platform.


Create a Facebook page for your forums. Use it to share important announcements (such as meaningful milestones) and really great conversations happening on your forums. Don’t just post a link, don’t just add a quote. Explain why something is great or give a summary of what has happened.

If you are creating videos for YouTube or pictures (and/or videos) for Instagram, upload them directly to Facebook. Don’t link to YouTube and Instagram. If your goal is to drive traffic to your forums, using the native Facebook function will substantially increase your chances of showing up on the Facebook News Feed of those who have liked your page.

Whatever you do, please don’t rip off videos and images posted elsewhere and post them on your page. That’s amateur garbage.

With how reach works on Facebook, it is much better to post fewer updates that actually resonate with people and lead to engagement, than to simply dump a ton of low quality updates on people. Low quality updates will lead to you not showing up for most of the people who like your Facebook page.

It may be tempting to start a Facebook group, but for most, it will simply duplicate functions already in place on your forums. It’s like having a new forum you have to moderate. At the end of the day, you want to drive discussions toward your hosted community, not to Facebook.


Think about what sort of pictures and short clips you can share, that relate to what your members are passionate about. For some, this may come very easy. For others, it may be challenging. But it’s hard to think of a scenario where it isn’t possible.

  • If your forum is about guns, you post pictures of gun stuff. New guns, antique guns, bullets, accessories. Visiting a museum with your family? Is there a gun in that museum? Take a picture and share it.
  • If your forum is about the hospitality industry, share pictures that demonstrate examples of good (and, if you want, bad) service. Let’s say you’re at a resort and the horticulture is on point: take a picture and post it.
  • If your forum is about golf, that means pictures of new clubs and shots from the course.

Only share pictures and videos that you have the legal right to post. If you haven’t taken the picture or shot the video yourself, you need ensure that you have permission to upload it. You do not have the right to post a photo on Instagram just because someone shared it on your forums. Get permission. If they give you permission, credit them by their username on your community and, if they use Instagram and you know their username, include it.

Links on Instagram work different from other platforms in that they are not clickable when included with photos. The only clickable link on Instagram is in your bio. I have been plenty of people say “link in my bio” when they promote something via Instagram. They change their bio link to reflect whatever they are currently promoting. That is an option, but it’s probably best used sparingly.

Use Instagram hashtags responsibly. Make sure they fit the photo or video that you are sharing. Be careful using them on anything that includes a specific plug for your forums. If you aren’t completely certain that a hashtag would be appropriate: don’t use it.

For the most part, your job is to share great photos that relate to the focus of your forums. This will allow you to be top of mind with your forum members who use Instagram and pick up some new people along the way.


As compared to Facebook, the messages you post on Twitter have a much, much shorter average lifespan. Due to this, there is a larger tolerance for volume, within reason. Dominating someone’s timeline is normally not a good thing here, either.

Like Facebook and Instagram, Twitter also has its own native video and photo uploading features. With the goal being to drive traffic and engage people on Twitter, you’ll want to use them. Retweet people where appropriate. Use the actual retweet functionality built into Twitter. When you retweet something by copying the text and sharing it, it’s less satisfying for the person whose tweet you are sharing. This is due to the fact that you are now taking credit for the retweets and favorites of the tweet you posted, rather than adding to what the original Twitter user has received.

When you share something great from your community, and you know the person who posted it is on Twitter, include their @username in the tweet. This not only tells them you think they posting great stuff, it makes it more likely they’ll share your tweet with the people who follow them.

It’s OK to use Twitter’s search feature to find people talking about the topic of your community. But only to have a conversation with those people. Not to send odd, off-putting invites to your community and not to send them a “relevant” discussion on your community. Similarly, do not inject your community into discussions. With the gun community example above, don’t respond to a gun discussion on Twitter with, “We had a discussion about that just the other day here: [link].” That is almost universally annoying.

There are some rare exceptions. For example, if a member of my community had a problem with a particular brand. I might send that brand a message on Twitter to make them aware of it and see if they can help. That’s not the same as generically seeking people out so that you can insert a link to your forums into their lives. Speaking of brands, when a brand is mentioned on your forums in a favorable way, you could tweet that out and tag them. They might share your community with their audience. It could also lead to a beneficial relationship between you and the brand.

I feel like Twitter, more than the other platforms mentioned in this article, is more commonly used with automated tools. Like following as many people as you can who mention the word “karate,” because you manage a karate forum. That just doesn’t work. Automation is OK in small doses (scheduled tweets, for example), but you have to be careful with it. I don’t care what anyone says: when you have an account with 10,000 followers and your tweets receive a few retweets/favorites on average, you look foolish.


There is a lot you can do with YouTube. There are plenty of reasons not to ignore it, but I’ll give you one big one: YouTube videos rank very well in Google search. If you create videos related to the topic of your forums, you’ll be connecting with a targeted audience that is interested in the topic, but probably hasn’t heard of you.

You can just grab a camcorder and take some rough footage. You can also put a little more thought into it, especially when it comes to video and audio quality (lighting, an external microphone, etc.). You can produce a regular video show. For a mature channel, check out AVForums on YouTube.

No matter what you produce, I’d definitely recommend that you not take audio quality or editing for granted. It makes all the difference in the world. You don’t need to spend a fortune for equipment or hours editing a 5 minute clip, but a few hundred dollars and a half hour can go a long way. If you’d like to know more about producing a quality show, I have written in great detail about how to build a successful YouTube show.

When it comes to driving traffic to your forums, YouTube provides numerous ways to link to your own website. You can do so in your profile, in the video description and on top of the video itself through annotations. During your video, you can also mention the forums and encourage people to visit.

Just like with other mediums, you can use video to talk about great contributors within the community and highlight interesting discussions. But the idea is to create compelling video content that stands on its own, that can be consumed without knowing what your forums are. If you are doing that, a lot of your traffic on YouTube will be from people who have never heard of your community. You’ll be attracting new people and introducing them to your community.

Other Platforms

There are certainly more platforms out there, but I believe that the strategies we’ve discussed here will apply pretty well, with small tweaks. Follow the overarching philosophy and you’ll be in a good place.

Test and See What Works

Experiment and see what works for you. I wouldn’t abandon efforts if you don’t see modest returns in a few months, though. These are long-term growth channels that need to be cultivated.

When it comes to measuring results, you can look at direct referrals from those channels and how they have grown since you began. More pageviews means more advertising revenue, if you serve ads. You can use Google Analytics’ Goals feature to see how many of those visitors register for new accounts. It is useful to be able to attribute X number of new registrations directly to a specific platform.

I would also look at what sort of traction you are building on the platforms themselves. Even if our goal for this exercise is to grow traffic, having a deeply engaged community on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube can open up additional opportunities for growth and monetization. In other words, the benefits can go far beyond the directly measured traffic. There will also be traffic you can’t measure, because they didn’t click your link and instead, went directly to your site.

You can use surveys to augment that data, i.e. asking people where they first discovered your forums. But even then, some people will forget. You have directly measured data, you have surveys, and you have the (possibly) massive amount of activity you can’t measure.

Get Started

Just because I may have mentioned four services here does not mean that I am suggesting that you start using them all at once. Make sure you have secured your community’s name, but beyond that, start small. Pick the one that you feel might work best and deploy your strategy.

Have you seen an online forum that has used any of these platforms really well? Do you have some data to share as far as your own efforts with your forums? Please let me know in the comments.

Thank you to Udo for the suggestion that led to this article. I’m sorry it took so long!