Forums – How to Expand Your Blog #1

Posted By Darren Rowse 10th of September 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Yesterday I share with readers an exercise to brainstorm 10 ways that they might expand their blog in the coming years.

The reason I suggest the exercise is not that there’s anything wrong with being ‘just a blog’ but because as I look at a lot of top blogs going around today it strikes me that many of them have evolved in different directions and now also include other mediums, areas and features that wouldn’t normally appear on a blog.

By no means is it essential to grow your blog in this way – but it certainly is a trend among many successful blogs.

Over the next few days I want to explore some of the ways that I see blogs being expanded. Hopefully in doing so it’ll give those wanting to grow the potential of their blog a little inspiration in how they might do it.

Expand Your Blog with a Forum

Lets kick things off with a way of expanding a blog that many bloggers will be quite familiar with – adding a forum to your blog. This can be done either as a free area or a paid or premium area where members pay a subscription to join it.

Examples of Blogs and Forums Working Well Together

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.12.00 PM.png1. Ars Technica – Major Tech blog Ars Technica has had a forum area operating for some time now.

I’m not sure how many members it has but as I write this it has over 700 signed in members on the forum and over 3500 guests viewing it.

Discussion areas cover most of the topics that the blog covers and in many areas there’s a lot of action (literally millions of posts).

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.11.41 PM.png2. Digital Photography School – I quickly added a forum area to my own photography blog not long after I started the site as I began to hear from readers that they didn’t want to just respond to what I had to say – but they wanted to start conversations, ask questions and share what they were learning themselves.

This forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors as the blog area on DPS but it does drive a lot of page views. It also converts pretty well in terms of advertising and over time has been picking up speed as more and more members join and as the site begins to grow in it’s search engine ranking.

Other Examples include:

There are of course many others – feel free to suggest more in comments below.

Advantages of Forums

There are many advantages of starting a forum. Here are four that come to mind for me (and they just scratch the surface):

1. Increased reader engagement – one of the things that I noticed after starting the forum on DPS was that it seemed to hook people into the site for a longer period of time. Most blogs have a life cycle in terms of new readers where the average reader will eventually move on from the blog as their interests change, as their knowledge grows, as they master the topic being explored. However starting a membership or community focused area gives those who might move on from your blog a reason to stay connected – the relationships that they form. I know I have a few members of the DPS community who for one reason or another moved on from being blog readers but who are still central members of the forum.

The key thing is that forums require people to ‘sign up’ or become a member. This requires people to ‘buy in’ or invest a little something into your site which gives you a point of contact (you get email addresses etc) but also creates a point of connection and sense of ownership of your site in your reader. This extra engagement often leads to long term relationships and loyalty.

2. User Generated Content – one of the things I’ve been experimenting with in the DPS forum is to set up a ‘photography tutorials’ area. In this area we encourage readers to share what they’re learning about photography. It’s been a successful area of the forum for two reasons – firstly it creates useful content that other forum members enjoy but secondly it also has created content that I then can use on the blog.

Example: today I put together this post – 21 Great Reader Shots [And How They Took Them]

3. Increase Page Views – as mentioned above – my photography forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors to it as the blog area – but it does drive a lot of page views because each visitor who comes tends to view more pages per visit. This is fairly typical of forums as the way they’re set up tends to drive people to view multiple threads and view a thread multiple times as they interact with others. This can be a good way of making money via impression based advertising (although it can decrease the overall CPM rate if you’re using AdSense as someone viewing multiple pages is probably less likely to click ads).

What I find with having both a blog and forum is that there are some great cross promotional opportunities. In blog posts I’m constantly referring to threads in the forum that have examples of what I’m talking about or that I set up for people to share photos on the topic I’m talking about. Similarly in the forum we often point people with questions to tutorials in our forums. While some people tend to stay in one or the other of the areas – there’s a fair bit of cross over.

4. Appeal to a Different Type of Reader – I discovered a month or two into DPS forums that quite a few of those joining never read the blog area and that quite a few blog readers had little interest in using the forum. While some do use both areas it became evident to me that quite a few people preferred one medium over the other and that the two sections were appealing to two different types of people. I’m not sure if it’s to do with personality, demographic or learning style – but I guess we each find different mediums more appealing and starting a forum gives another option for people to connect with your site.

Challenges of Membership Areas

1. Moderation – most bloggers understand the challenge of moderating comments and protecting their blogs from spammers. On a blog comment moderation can be enough for some bloggers to give up and close comments – but on a forum there’s no such luxury because closing down comments kind of kills the whole purpose of a forum.

There are lots of tools and features of most forum platforms to help with this but in the end moderation takes a lot of time and effort. At DPS we have a growing team of volunteer moderators (lead by a paid community manager) to tackle this challenge. Much of their time is taken with dealing with spammers or trolls.

2. Community Building – our moderation team is not just there to police the negative stuff happening on the blog but also to grow/build the community. Building community doesn’t just happen – you can’t expect to just set up a forum area and automatically have community – it takes work, creativity and time.

3. Critical Mass – one of the biggest challenges with forums is having enough critical mass to be able to kick them off and attract other readers. This is why I didn’t start a forum on DPS immediately – I wanted to grow the blog’s readership first. I also started a Flickr group before the forum to grow a community there that I could then transition into a blog.

The other thing I did to get the forums active before going live was to invite a smaller group of my key commenters from the blog and long term newsletter subscribers to get early access to the forum so there was some activity there when the site went live.

Concluding Thoughts on Forums/Membership Areas

Forums are not easy. While they have many plusses they take a lot of work and time to build. They’re probably best suited to blogs with an established readership or list to help kick things off but also where the topics lend themselves to discussion, sharing of opinions or sharing of something else (eg. pictures).

Further Reading from the ProBlogger Archives on Forums

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. I learned the hard way that a community just won’t appear after creating a forum on a previous website project. My current website will hopefully have a forum one day, but I’ll be waiting a year or so to continue building the readership.

  2. Great post.
    Looking forward for http://www.problogger.comMUNITY

  3. Ok, so how many readers do I need before starting a forum? Don’t laugh, please! haha. I know I don’t have anywhere close to the number of readers right now. I’m just wondering how many you would suggest. Even if it’s not a hard number, what is the point where you think a blog could support it?

    Just curious. Thanks!

  4. Having a Forum along with a blog is really a great way to expand the community of any blog but it is really tough to looks on both personally. I thought about opening it but threw that Idea into dustbin as it will require lot of my time..

    Regards,
    Typhoon a.k.a Sushant
    http://www.smartbloggerz.com

  5. Sorry I missed the space between .com MUNITY
    http://www.problogger.com

    Problogger.Community

  6. I have to admit a forum would not be near the top of my list at this stage, I’m still trying to get the hang of simple things like Twitter for bringing in traffic.

    But perhaps someday when my critical mass is really kicking, well — a word that rhymes with mass…

  7. Darren,

    I suspect that in order for a forum to work successfully, one needs a large audience, as you point out. The difficulty is what is that critical mass. Where is the line? When do you know when it is right.
    I have forum software waiting in the wings, but feel that it is still a while before I could use it to it’s full potential.

  8. I think this is a good idea to get more traffic but this forum will

    take all the time and it may affect the blog management so the

    blogger ourht to appoint a manager to manage the forums.

    Thanks,
    Dreams` Box

  9. I tried this but quickly aborted the idea because my readership wasn’t big enough to have a successful forum. However, I’m working on building a big enough readership and then definitely reinstating the forum, because I really feel it would work great for my blog topic.

  10. From my experience, forums can bring nice traffic and build your reputation, but they consume a lot of time.

    Question: If you start off with a blog, is it a good idea to add an accompanying forum?

  11. I think it depends on the topic of the blog and the target audience whether or not one should start a blog. And I also think that it’s essential to build up the blog traffic first, as the title says, this is about expanding. Trying to expand when you really shouldn’t be expanding and the forum will probably make it worse (more work for you for little results).

    If you do have the traffic and the audience, forum is a great way, just like pointed out in the post, and the DPS forums is a prime example of it.

  12. Yes, starting a forum can be the next step to expanding the blog.

    It must at least have a certain readership in the blog first before it can be started.

    You can start a tread by asking questions on a particular topic, and then expand it on a blog post, or the other way around.

    It’s actually strengthening each other in areas of weakness of blog and forum.

    Great post there, Darren. I learned something from you, and looking forward to the next post.

  13. Nice article darren. I’m gonna try it on my own blog as well and see how it works. Which forum software would you recommend ?

  14. Great post, as always Darren!

    I have a successful affiliate marketing blog and forum. To some degree they feed each other and one keeps the other active with participation.

    But additionally, it seems they each have lots of their own readers that don’t cross over. Some only read the blog and others seem to prefer the interactivity of the forum. But all in all they compliment each other.

    I can tell you though that a forum requires A LOT more work!

  15. Not yet in my to-do list. Simple.

  16. There’s a great forum at Blogcoach.org where we ask each other questions, share info about affiliates and monetizing, and share our successes.

  17. The big question is: what size does your critical mass have to be in order to dive into the new adventure of a forum…

  18. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for the well-written article. I’m not planning on doing a forum right now, but it’s good to know the pros and cons on forums in case I decide to do one later. I sent your URL to a friend. It may fit with the new Web site he’s planning.

    I’m working on signing up for affiliates. What an interesting process.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide
    http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com

  19. My experience with forums is that they are difficult to run. It’s really helpful if you can attract a few people that sort of “take over” as the local forum personality. Otherwise it’s so time consuming maintaining it, commenting, etc.

    This probably means I don’t have enough experience!

    7/100

  20. Darren,

    The problem I’ve always had with forums is how to get people to participate. In the past I’ve tried content contests, posting contests, starting discussions on my blogs, and more, but all with limited results. At the moment I don’t have a forum because I feel like if I did, it would simply sit there like an empty cupboard mocking a starving man…

    Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. None the less, my previous forums have felt like a torture. I like this idea of a critical mass, but what is it that gets people to engage in discussions and keep going…

    Unfortunately, I’ve learned that it is the nasty people who tend to have more to say and then everyone with anything positive to say simply goes somewhere else.

    thanks…and when are you going to get around to reviewing my blog ;)

    All the best,

    R.W. Jackson

  21. I have almost decided to put a forum on my blog – http://bikeadvice.in – Only thing remaining is that I have to pull out my credit card and be ready to spend $180 for vBulletin!

  22. I think forums are a great idea. I thought about putting up forums but I just started my blog and I feel like I should wait for a while. Is it a good idea to have forums immediately with the start up of a blog?

  23. Its really great that you suggesting ideas to build similar things you have done or doing to have a great blog.
    I really like the ideas of having an interactive community to flourish blogs and also waiting for your community of this blog.
    thanks

  24. At other blogs that I’ve run, we started forums early and it really paid off. I even have a site where the forums are still active, even though the blog no longer receives new posts. (husbandsanddads.com)

    A forum doesn’t have to be really active at first. You can start with just a limited number of topics (3 – 5) and grow it from there.

    I’m lucky that in most of my endeavors I have taken the time to partner with enthusiastic members of the community to get things up and running. Quite often I end up running the blog, and doing the technical work on the other community aspects, while community members do the policing and community building.

  25. I really agree with the different styles of communication and to have them both is ideal. I do not like forums, but enjoy blogs because they seem to be more thought out.

  26. I’ve been contemplating putting in a forum on my pages. It seems like alot of extra work, I was afraid no one would use it.

  27. Darren, are you trying to take over the world now? I already spend hours a day on your site, now you’re going to have a forum! I can’t wait.

  28. I don’t think starting your blog off with accompanying forums is a good idea at all. For the most part, the discussion can take place in the comments. Only when you get a really large user base (hundreds, if not thousands) do forums become effective; if your forums appear dead, people won’t use them.

  29. This is a fantastic idea. Do you have any forum applications to recommend? How does one go about building a forum page?

  30. @HazardousPaste

    I thought the same thing. I thought I would add forums later on when there are more people participating on the blog.

  31. I can see the pluses of having a forum (I’ve had a couple in the past) but there are also some negatives as well.

    Running a forum can be a time-intensive job at times, dealing with spam and managing the forum itself. One possibility in dealing with this is to outsource the forum management. But this would only be cost effective if your forum generates enough money to cover the cost.

    I would suggest if your blog has enough traffic to possibly sustain a forum AND you have the finances to outsource the management of it if it reaches a level where you are finding yourself overwhelmed with managing it- then go for it!

    If not…

    Wesley Craig Green
    The Geek Entrepreneur

  32. I have thought about that. If I get a site with good traffic, I would experiment to see how a forum would be on the site.

  33. One way to handle forum spam is to get a forum plugin and install it on your blog instead of an actual stand alone forum. Theres a new version of WP-Forum that works with the new wordpress. This will eliminate all the set up and users will have to register to comment if you require it etc. Also if you already have the WP-SpamFree plugin installed, this should eliminate virtually all spam.

    New Plugin page for WP-Forum: http://www.fahlstad.se/wp-plugins/wp-forum/

  34. Hi Darren,

    This is a great post on the benefits of adding forums to a blog as another way to engage readers. As you mentioned, there are lots of great ways to add forums (paid and free) and I wanted to point out one that many people might not know about. TheBlogFrog (www.theblogfrog.com) offers social widgets for blogs. The Community didget lets bloggers add an instant forum to their site. It lets readers ask each other questions, discuss posts, start off-topic conversations and even see each others blog posts and tweet streams.

    Bloggers can also customize to match their sites and the forum is integrated with their blog. When someone replies or starts a discussion, that person’s profile and blog posts show up on the home page widget. This tells visitors what conversations are going on in the forum (and who is commenting) and motivates them to participate.

    A growing number of blog readers are also bloggers themselves and most forums don’t serve readers as bloggers, too. But if your blog posts and tweets showed up every time you participated in a forum, it exposes the reader’s blog, too, and everyone wins.

    Blog owners are also given moderation tools so they can manage the culture and rules as they see fit. This is all free via the widget. Feel free to check it out – I’d love to see what you think!

    Holly (co-founder TheBlogFrog)

  35. I love the idea of having a forum associated with my blog, but at the moment I am going to direct my attention to building my reader base and mailing list so that I have a better chance at a successful launch!

  36. I had a forum first, then a blog – both follow the 1/9/90 rule
    1% generate new content
    9% comment
    90% passively lurk

  37. I personally love running forums, but members are the most important part (especially contributing and engaging ones) so critical mass is probably the most important factor when considering expansion.

    Once a forum does get going, it adds intrinsic value to both parts of the site, and fuels posting ideas as well as forum discussion ideas, in a synergistic cycle.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this advice and providing some awesome examples.

  38. I am interested in the idea of a forum. Do you have a suggestion on a software I can use which will interface nicely with WordPress?

  39. I would have said forums make sense only after the blog has enough readers, but then the very successful http://www.pagalguy.com/ in India started as a forum, went on to be a blog/website and is now a successful company with other product offerings. The forum was based on preparation for MBA – which lends itself to discussion and sharing very well, and the target market (in India) is huge. Also, as you say above – forums appeal to a different kind of reader. MBA aspirants have individual questions and want to discuss with other aspirants and share experiences and many successful forums around the world are based on exam preparation.

    Coming back to using forums as an extension to a blog, it just depends on the blog subject and type of readers as to when the right time is. My blog is to mainly promote my offline business, and I already get leads from there. But once a lot of my customers/followers start reading the blog, a forum would be great to help them engage with each other and share tips. But I still want to build readership before I venture into this…

  40. Bryan – very true, unless you’ve got some way to kick it off it can be a hard start

    Dan – tough question but I think even a forum with 100 or so committed members could be quite useful if they’re mainly committed to being active, welcoming and engaging.

    Robert – one thing I did before starting my forum (and I did it when I had about 1000 readers a day on my blog) was actually poll my readers. I started a ‘group’ on flickr to give people a taste of it and to identify who was into that kind of interaction and then before launching tested the idea of the forum with the wider readership. From memory I had about 30-40 positive responses plus 200 or so flickr group members. It wasn’t massive but it was enough to get started.

    Yohay – if you have some traffic already on your blog yes – but if you’re starting from scratch my preference would be to start with a blog and then add the forum. It’s possible to start a form from scratch (it’s been done) but having some readers to kick it off will help.

    problogger fan, Lorraine and Ms Freeman – I use bulletin on my forum – it’s a little clunky at times but is solid and works well

    RW – it’s a challenge. I found that I was starting a lot of topics, running polls, asking lots of questions myself in the early days. i.e. I modelled the behaviour I wanted and stimulated a lot of interaction. Not easy though

    Carl – world domination is not part of my goals but would be a nice bonus :-)

  41. Forums are great if you have enough active members.

  42. Maybe the solution is to start a forum just for spammers and trolls.

  43. I have joined two Internet marketing forums, and I have posted three posts on both of them. Guess what?
    Many people discuss with me, that is so sweet. I was worried about nobody would notice me, but it really made me good days during in forums.
    Although I didn’t get many traffic, but I think that I am too new in forums. As long as I stay in forums, I believe they will send me tons of long term traffic, wish it will :).
    Thanks for your tips, I try to use them in forums.

  44. Forums are better for those blogs which already have a high traffic and brand name. But still evolving bloggers can also take the advantage of forums . But make sure that it’s spam free and Moderated properly.

  45. I don’t know…but I think forum takes a lot of your time, except you have active readers or forum participants that actually have the knowledge and willingness to share and help one another.

  46. Wow.. I don’t know if I’m ready to make forum ..
    Maybe if my manga blog is already established, I will build a forum..
    Now, I just an active forumer.

  47. im just three months started in blogging world,,this is a good idea for me to promote my blog as well..thank you..

  48. If you have an established blog with lots of readers, a forum would be good. You could also make global moderators for the forum to take some of the work off your shoulders. Maybe make some of the frequent comment users global moderators to show appreciation.

  49. I’ve thought about this, but I’m not ready to create/moderate my own forum. I’ve written a series on using forums for blog promotion:

    <a href=Beginner Blogger Tips: Using Forums

  50. Woops–something went wrong with that link. Sorry. I’ll try again:

    http://www.beginnerbloggertips.com/search/label/Using%20Forums