Tips and best practices for building a great forum community


We're building an online community which will have a very active forum with large user base. Please share your experiences and tips on building a large forum community.

What're the initial actions that we should take to build a quality forum that grows sustainably.


asked Nov 4 '09 at 08:50
388 points

4 Answers


building an online community which will have a very active forum with large user base

OK, but what is the purpose of the forum? If it's tech support for a product then one set of things are important; if it's a knitting community and the shared hobby is the point, then it's different...

In general I'd say:

  • Pre-seed the forum with some content. Get help from the startup community, bloggers and employees and avoid the "there is nobody home" feeling.
  • Pick the right forum form / engine for your user base. This one is hard -- the leading edge Web 2.0 crowd may love Get Satisfaction, but I feel the conversation gets 'fragmented', that I often miss previous threads about the same topic. Something like Vanilla which uses tags may work well. If your user base is more 'analogue' (not using the web that much) then something simple may work best. I'd say get creative here, but not too creative.
  • Be upfront about the rules. Have some sort of FAQ that sets the right community spirit -- I think the Stack Overflow FAQ does a good job of this.
  • Have a low barrier to entry. It should be super-easy to create ones first post; no lengthy registration process first.
  • Have good spam filtering. Use something like Akismet, or bayesian filtering, or a strict signup process (sigh), or human moderation to keep spam away.
  • Invest in the community. Make it clear who the site admins / company employees are, and make them very visible on the forum -- preferably with some fun and a 'human voice'.
answered Nov 4 '09 at 13:41
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Excellent points. It's not a tech community, so we'll try to keep the platform as simple as possible. – Boolean 14 years ago


In the case of this forum, we started by announcing on blogs where we know intelligent people were already hanging out, thus the culture was set by people who you'd want to be setting your culture.

The moderator has a difficult but important job. If you stifle too much, it's not a thriving community; if you allow anything and everything, it gets overrun by crap or worse -- ads.

Using software like StackExchange (which powers this site) helps because of the self-fulfilling voting system.

answered Nov 4 '09 at 09:39
16,231 points
  • I really like StackExchange, but it's too complicated for our niche. – Boolean 14 years ago
  • Good point! Especially with the OpenID stuff, right? We're hoping they fix that.... – Jason 14 years ago


Recruit someone to be the community manager. The most active and dynamic forums will have a community manager or two who interact with the community on a regular basis (weekly or even daily) Like any group of end users, they will appreciate the fact that someone in the company is there to engage them. It eliminates that distance that many large corporations have between themselves and their customers.

Anyone in the company can do this role as long as they are people oriented and well spoken. The key is they must interact regularly. If the role is changed, or the community interaction is few and far between, the community will not feel connected to your organization. Engage your users and engage them often! Show them that you care!

answered Nov 4 '09 at 12:00
277 points
  • I like the idea of a community manager. As you pointed out a person from the company will take this role. Thanks. – Boolean 14 years ago


Good advice from the others. I would just reinforce that Content (as always) is key. Don't invite the masses until you've got a decent amount of interesting discussion going on. As people start showing up one at a time and see the party is empty, they'll move on.

Plenty of great forums have built slowly and I expect you'll do the same, but start with something to keep their attention. It's hard enough to get people to your site, make sure you can keep them.

One other piece of advice, Forums are great for search engine traffic. Make sure everything is optimized to take advantage of it.

Oh, and keep out the jerks!

answered Nov 4 '09 at 19:40
892 points
  • Thanks! We'll definitely optimize it for search engines. – Boolean 14 years ago

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