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Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up

Tips on how to wake up a tired forum.

Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up

Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up – Communities go through any number of cycles, so it is inevitable — the forum becomes stale.

Community Management Tidbits - Freshening Up
Screenshot of phpbb in use on a games forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a few things you can do. First off, try to see it coming before it happens.

Say what?

Yes, it’s possible, although it’s not necessarily reliable. How? Check your site metrics. Now, there are natural variations all the time. A bad day or two is not necessarily an indicator of trouble, even if those days come in the same week, or even one right after the other.

Time the Avenger

The real issue is a decline over time. The two main metrics you care about are time on site and the percentage of new users versus returning ones. There is nothing wrong with having a lot of returning users. It’s a forum, and people get comfortable and will to want to keep coming back if the comradery is good. However, you do need to get a relatively constant stream of new users. As for time on site, check the average, and see if it has been declining over time. This is over a significant period of time as in: over the course of about a quarter of a year.

Follow the Bouncing User

Hand in hand with both of these metrics is a third: bounce rate. Bounce rate is defined as a visitor coming to only one page prior to exiting the site. You’re a lot more likely to see a higher bounce rate if you attract a lot of new users (e. g. they see what they want immediately – or don’t – and then depart). A lower bounce rate is generally a more positive metric. Hence, as you can see, in this instance, the converse may be true.

Therefore you should have some notice when things stagnate. Even if you don’t track your metrics too closely, you should follow your users. Are they not making too many new topics of any sort? Or are they complaining? Are they leaving?

But once you know, and it doesn’t matter how you determine that the community is stagnating, what do you do?

Don’t Panic

Don’t panic. This is relatively normal. One thing you should do, though, is determine whether it is a seasonal issue. As the weather improves in the time zone(s) where most of your users live and work, they will go outside and — gasp! — go offline. In that instance, don’t worry, the users will come around again. But there’s no reason why you can’t practice a few of these techniques anyway, in order to be proactive. Fortunately, if that’s what’s going on, it’s far less dire.

So let’s assume that the weather and the season are not factors. Your percentage of new users is down and has been declining. Your users’ time on the site is tanking. They’re leaving. And the ones who are staying are bored, angry and restless. Worse still, they’ve taken to causing trouble in order to entertain themselves.

Techniques

Here are a few techniques for freshening:

  • Improve your SEO – attracting more users will help to replace the departing ones.
  • While you’re at it, target your SEO better. E. g. let’s say you have a forum about relationships, but not a lot of gay and lesbian users? Try adding keywords about, getting link-backs from sites that feature, and get listed on directories that cater to: gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

Purchasing Another Forum

  • Consider purchasing a smaller forum that caters to the new users you hope to add. There are plenty of small forums out there for sale. Look for not only a targeted forum at a good price, but also an active one. Prepare the forums by telling your original forum that new people are coming. You can even tell them which kind of community they come from. Ask your extant members to be welcoming.
  • As for the board you are absorbing, diplomatically tell them about the transfer. Do this in as many places as possible so that as many people as possible see it. If that forum has a blog or a newsletter, use it to communicate this. Expect consternation, and expect some people to leave without giving the other forum even a chance.

Avoid Duplicate Accounts

  • Check your database, to be sure that you do not bring in what the database will think of as duplicate records. Whether your primary key is username or email address, or something else, compare the extant member list to the member list of the community you’ve purchased. For any duplicates, give the members of the board you’re absorbing the chance to rectify the situation by asking them to select a new username or email account (or whatever else you may be using as your database’s primary key) in advance by sending them a private message. Do not tell them where they are going as you can end up with even more duplicate records if the absorbed users create new accounts at your currently existing forum.

So keep it on the QT. And, to make it easier on yourself,

    1. have a contingency plan for any records that are still duplicate (e. g. you tell the absorbed user and they fail to timely help you to fix the problem, and,
    2. keep the lead time short, as in less than a month.

Freshening Up With New Features

  • Add new features for more freshening. What kinds of features? Blogs, skins and groups are all great features to add if you don’t already have them. Spread them around and only offer one at any given time so that you have reserve magic rabbits you can pull out of your hat, or
  • Ask your users! Really? Yes. Send out a survey or conduct a poll, or just open up a topic or a blog post, asking: what would you like to see on the site? Some users will be flippant, but many more will take you seriously. And, most importantly, listen to your users! If you can implement any of the changes they request, see if you can do so over time. And if you can implement more than one, do so in stages (with the more important or more requested one being done first) so that the new features can keep coming. If you cannot, explain why. Your users will (mostly) understand. Some of them may even be able to assist you with implementation.

Freshening Up: The Upshot

Communities, like anything else, can become a little flat and need freshening. It’s like any other party. If a party gets dull, and it’s not yet time for everyone to go home, you bring out different foods, change up the music or even break out the board games or call other friends to come over.  You start freshening up the snack bowl. It’s not much different with an online party. You’ve got to keep it lively.

By Janet

I'm not much bigger than a breadbox.