Forums: How DO You Get People to Post!?

Running a web forum is no easy task. If you own one, you know how labor-intensive it is. You spent hours perfecting your forum. You thought up dozens of categories and topics. You customized the interface, set user permissions, sent out welcome emails. Tons of members signed up and logged in. Time for the payoff, right? Wrong. People log in to your forum daily, yet no one posts. Why?

1. People are lazy. They'd rather be entertained than contribute.
2. People feel shy. They're afraid of saying the wrong thing or initiating a conversation.

Don't get discouraged because nothing's happening on your website forum. The time has come to take matters into your own hands. How?

You're going to have to do some marauding as other people.

"What? Sneak around and pretend to be a random forum poster?"

YES.

As an experiment, I set up a posting forum "just to see what would happen." I chose to make it a rant and rave forum; everybody's got something to complain or cheer about, right? It took me the entire Memorial Day weekend, minus time out for evening social events, to set this thing up. Within two weeks of putting it out there, I had ninety members. NINETY! That's a pretty decent-sized group. You'd think there would be lots of chatter, right?

No! No chatter. Out of ninety, want to know how many people took the time to post? FOUR. One of them was a friend of mine, who I begged to help me out... and even she only posted twice.

So, that was when I committed the dastardly deed. I began logging in as other people, posting fake stories and perspectives. This got confusing after a while. Was Jenny the all-lowercase poster, or the girl with bad grammar? Was I logged in as Joe D., but telling stories from some girl named Mitsy's perspective again?

It didn't matter that much, as this was only a test anyway. But it did work. Once I got the conversational ball rolling, other people joined in. I even had to be controversial, pass some remarks that would incite people emotionally and jar them to action. That got folks posting as well.

Here's a related story, but with an unfortunate ending. A girlfriend of mine joined an online group of adoptive moms. The forum leader, an experienced adoptive mother herself, generously offered an information exchange forum where all the moms could converge and discuss.

A few months in, members noticed some weirdness on the forum, so they went snooping. What they learned was that the forum leader had multiple forum personalities! She would log in as one person, ask a question, log back in as herself, then answer it.

All hell broke loose. A mass of email back-and-forths ensued. The forum leader cracked under the accusations and started spamming every member, begging for forgiveness. It was utter pandemonium. My friend relayed the scandal to me.

"That's so dishonest!" she said of the marauding forum leader.

Dishonest? Well, maybe a little sneaky, yes. But in rating Shameful and Admonishable Networking Behaviors on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a sin is it to incite constructive discussions for the betterment of a group?

When you consider that, 1. the woman wasn't being paid, and 2. she only wanted to help other moms along in the confusing process, it really wasn't such a terrible thing that she did.

I pointed out to my friend that this lady had smartly tapped into a marketing and communication tactic that's widely used and really works.

Who do you think sought advice from Erma Bombeck, Dear Abby and Emily Post before they ran well-known columns? No one did... because no one new who they were yet! So with each new release of their respective publications, internal writers had to pretend to be advice seekers, fabricate dilemmas, and then solve them.

Now, if your public forum is clearly a conversational hot spot, yet you're still logging in as five different people because "you're becoming attached"... well, I'd say that's a problem. Consider getting out more.

But if things are totally stagnant on your forum, this is really your only alternative to get it going.

I know a woman on one Ryze forum who asks nearly every day, "Why aren't you guys posting?"

No one ever answers her. That's because she's not giving anyone an incentive. That incentive must be emotional, and it must come in the form of riveting conversation. If there isn't any existing conversation, well, you're just going to have to invent some.

I wish I knew that adoptive mom with all of her imaginary forum friends. Because if I did, I would tell her, "Hey! You did a good thing."

Who knows, I might even have hired her to run my web forum.

Copyright 2005 Dina Giolitto. All rights reserved.

Find out how crisp, targeted copywriting can make a world of difference for your business. Dina Giolitto is a Copywriting Consultant with ten years of experience. Visit http://Wordfeeder.com for free tips on branding, copywriting, marketing and more.

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