Subscription websites benefit by adding social networking
Your discussion forum could be the most valued feature of your subscription site. But if many members only lurk around, reading the posts but reluctant to make their own contributions, you could have a problem. Here are some ideas for stimulating more activity.
Some subscription website members are more proactive than others. In fact, some aren’t as interested in reading your online newsletter as they are in having direct contact, via your site’s discussion forum, to you and the other members.
Some members join simply because they want to ask direct questions.
Others want to show off how much they know to the membership.
And some simply want the feeling of participating in an online community with other enthusiasts who share an interest in your niche topic. It’s the feeling of belonging they value most.
But other members are lurkers. You know that they have logged onto the discussion forum, but they seldom if ever post a contribution.
A lively discussion forum denotes a healthy member site.
A tired or seldom used forum can reflect boredom or worse, drive frustrated members away.
The problem is most acute when your member site is new and you don’t have a lot of members yet. What to do? Take action.
Create a climate or website culture that encourages and rewards participation. Use a friendly, supportive voice. Short, clipped answers can sound harsh or judgmental.
Don’t let a question “hang” on the forum unanswered for an unreasonable period of time. Some new members will be embarrassed if their post goes unanswered and will regret having joined your group. If no one takes the bait, post a reply yourself, or invite another member to respond.
Realize that some new members may have the most fundamental of questions and may worry that their question will evoke criticism or mockery. Take the attitude that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Demonstrate your patience by constructing respectful and supportive replies (even if it’s a question you’ve answered a hundred times before).
Keep it simple. Not every response requires a long answer that uses 25-cent words. If you create a climate where long-winded answers with big buzz words are the rule, some members may feel that it’s too much effort to write an acceptable response.
Direct your posts to your members’ interests. This seems obvious but it isn’t always clear. If you’re writing too much about process issues, and your members are more interested in technical issues, you may need to adjust your content mix. Or vice versa. If you’re not sure, do a survey or ask specific questions in the discussion forum.
Don’t be reluctant to admit you don’t know. It’s better than attempting an answer that you are unqualified to make. Instead, ask someone else for help in replying. Give others the credit for assisting with the answer.
Show your appreciation for the value of other member’s posts. In a civilized online dialogue, a simple sincere “thank you” can be a much welcomed reward for participating.
Initiate your own posts to encourage online discussion. Cite newspaper articles, related websites, books, or other media, and request others to offer an opinion.
Send out an ambulance if a member becomes abusive of another member. Be a judicious moderator who is fair to all posters. Delete any posts that contain personal attacks or are libelous.
Be controversial but not outrageous! Take a stand on an issue. Play the devil’s advocate. Make a statement that provokes others to respond. “I think spammers should be jailed.” is more provocative than “When is the government going to start enforcing CAN-SPAM?”
Ask for opinions about the articles you post. Ask your members their ideas for solving a problem.
Promote your forum on your own site with links to it from every content page. Promote your site’s discussion forum on the forums of other sites. Promote your forum in your e-mail messages and weekly e-zine.
Use your forum to announce, summarize, or link to new articles or downloads, both on your own site and others.
Hold a contest for the best contributions to your forum on any specific (and perhaps controversial) topic. Pay off the winner with an item from your online store or a complimentary extension of the winner’s subscription.
Go on vacation and invite a trusted member to be the guest moderator for a week. The new voice may resonate well enough to encourage first-time participants.