18 Thursday, September 18th, 2008
Online Communities Are Rich Opportunities for Brand Managers
Has your online community become stagnant? Are you struggling with “resource poverty?” Perhaps you don’t have the capital to upgrade your forum software. Or your mods are burned out wasting their time fighting spam, breaking up flame wars and banning trolls for a dwindling group of participants.
Some forums should be closed. But before you decide to eliminate your online community, reconsider its benefits, even if it is struggling. Reinvestment may be justified.
- Forum Participants Are Personally Invested
People freely give their time to participate here. Knowledge is shared, there is a sense of community and authentic friendships are formed. Removing this data wipes out that collective investment.
People will be pissed when their investment is cavalierly wiped out. If you are determined to close your forums, at least make them read-only.
- Deleting Forums Weakens Communities.
You may notice that parts of your community swarm to new platforms like Twitter, Plurk, Ning etc. You will always have early adapters that dabble in new platforms, but chances are, you have regular participants + lurkers in stagnant forums.
We decided to take down the SQPN forums when they got overrun spam and one bad apple troll because the volunteer mods didn’t have enough time to deal with them. A few people migrated to other related communities, but the vast majority of members just went *poof*. In hindsight, we should have made those forums read-only until we had the chance to properly devote resources to them.
- Deleting Forums Alters Culture.
Building a new community is much more volatile than maintaining one. Salvaging a stagnant community with a safe inviting culture preserves the voice and culture. Creating a new community risks losing a notable asset. Read more about this group dynamic in the Online Community Lifecycle.
- UGC Is Gold.
Companies are knocking themselves out to encourage user generated content. Even a stagnant community has nurtured a rich garden of UGC goodness. The personal investment of individuals strengthens bonds among like-minded people and presents opportunities for promotion, search marketing and higher advertising revenue.
- SEO Opportunities
Your current forum content could easily translate to 100,000s of pages indexed by Google and other search engines. Every page, every keyword, every phrase, every misspelling, every link represents a long-tail opportunity to optimize free organic search results. SEO from your forums is a powerful way to attract more visitors.
- Lurker Conversions
Forrester Research has found that 80% of community members are lurkers. Most new members are naturally reserved. They want to discern the benefits of a community before they commit themselves. Once they become active participants, your brand gathers more free UGC.
Some community managers force registration to fight spam and keep trolls at bay. However, this policy misses tremendous SEO benefits. If this is your policy, you can assume that a large swath of fresh participants are dissuaded from ever participating.
- Donation Opportunities
If your website accepts donations, there is almost certainly a direct correlation between unique site visitors and contributions. All of your forum pages serve both as point of new visitor attraction (SEO) and a point of donation awareness.
- Advertising & Sponsorship Opportunities.
Each forum page represents an impression for which advertisers are willing to pay. This is a lucrative revenue opportunity that can cover the cost of forums. People will tolerate tasteful ads in forums if they know it supports the community and your brand.
- A Fresh Start
Resetting your forum is a good time to strengthen your moderator team and help alleviate their workload. A new forum is also a good reason to reach out to lapsed members to invite them back.
Today’s forum software has smarter ways to fight spam, can handle massive traffic loads & integrate advertising. You can almost certainly find a flexible, stable solution that allows you to migrate data from your current forum and preserve all of the rich conversations and connections of your community.