Today I am excited to announce the release of our Lemodus business forum. We built this forum so that we can have more intimate community based conversations on all things business.
The forum was built from scratch by us and is in its most minimum viable form. We wanted a simple modern and elegant solution for discussions to take place and this is what we have come up with.
I realise that this was not discussed in our last monthly update but was a fun little side project that we got rolling quicker than expected just this month. We will be sure to talk a bit about it in the next update.
The forum sits beside our blog article posting strategy. Every week we will be posting some smaller bite sized insights in the forum and aim to grow a strong business community around it.
So in the spirit of forum discussions, this is our process on how to start a forum.
What is a Forum
Before we jump in, its important to understand what a forum is.
A forum is an online medium where discussions take place in the form of written messages. It is like an online community where like-minded people come together to discuss specific topics or niches.
Forums are used to discuss peoples ideas and opinions online about things they care about and are also involved with off-line.
Forums are usually moderated by an administrator and is governed by a set of rules to make it fair and safe for users to share their opinions.
How to Start a Forum
Starting a forum can be very easy or it can be very difficult depending on how you go about it.
You can be up and running with a forum in 5 minutes flat if you are using the right software. There are a number of industry leading options. We will cover the top 3 options in a moment.
Before you begin though, you need to ask yourself: why do I want to start a forum and who is it for.
Why Start a Forum
Every community is based around a specific set of demographics and interests. A forum is made up of a community of people that have come together to discuss their topic of interest.
Forums revolve around an idea or niche. When starting a forum, you want to make it based around your chosen niche. Having a forum that is too broad in topics will likely confuse the user and make them not have a good experience.
Since you are starting it, you will want the forum to be based around something you are knowledgeable about and have interest in. There are likely already thousands of forums created for your industry. Yours needs to stand out and be very specific to what people are searching for.
You will be spending a lot of time building conversations and communities in your forum so you better be committed to the idea.
When you have a well defined and solid community of discussions taking place, search engines will pick up your content and (hopefully) rank it in their search results pages which in turn will bring more like-minded users to the conversation.
Businesses can benefit from forums in a number of ways. It helps to boost brand awareness, allows you to talk with your customers (or potential ones) and can lead to even more sales.
Choose the Right Forum Script
Forums are built using software hosted on a web server and accessed by going to a website.
The most commonly used forum scripts are free and easy to use.
There are two options you can go with. You can either choose from an existing forum script or you can build your own forum. Unless you are a developer, you will need to choose option 1.
All online forums require you to install it on website hosting so that it can be accessed.
Chances are you are one of the 33% of users who has a website built on WordPress. If so, you are in luck and can integrate a forum into your website via a plugin. It is super easy to install a forum on your WordPress website. The most popular forum plugin for WordPress is bbPress. It will integrate perfectly into your existing websites pages and look like it was made specifically for it.
If you are the other 66% of the web not using WordPress then you can use other software. Whatever you use depends on how you want it to integrate into your existing website.
Forum software can be installed using installer packages on your hosting server. cPanel (or similar) is hosting management software that comes with any hosting server you purchase. Once you log into the server, you will be presented with options in the software section to install a forum.
A word of warning, forum software comes with its own design and layouts and will very likely not look pretty. You might be able to find a design that fits but chances are you will need to do a number of tweaks to get it looking just right.
Or like I said, if you are a software developer then it is simple enough to build your own forum from scratch. That is what we did so we can have it looking and functioning exactly the way we want.
Setting up a Forum
Once you have installed your desired forum software, you can begin building it out.
You will be set up as the administrator of the forum allowing you to have full access to control all areas. Users who sign up will have limited access and may even be required to pay to access if that is how you have set up your forum.
A forum generally has one main topic or niche and several specific topics or categories around that niche.
Aim for 3 – 10 categories that are broad enough for a lot of discussion to take place but small enough that they are not to wide reaching that no one can connect on a single topic area. You don’t want to confuse your community.
Also limiting your categories helps you to remain focused and does not spread your forum too thin.
With the Lemodus forum, we have centred the topics around small business. There are many areas in a business from sales to finance to operations. You may find you are wearing a number of hats in your business when you just begin.
The forum is designed to help in all areas of small business but categorised into specific areas.
Building the Forum Community
If you are not technical then the first hurdle is installing the forum software. The second and arguably the hardest part of building a forum is building the community.
A forum works if there are discussions taking place. When no-one knows about your forum, it makes that task a pretty hard thing to achieve.
That is why you need to advertise your forum. At the same time, you (or someone in your team) needs to be constantly in there creating content for people to discuss with.
Advertising a forum and be done through paid means or it can be done for free. Both methods will bring differing results. Usually paid advertising will see more immediate results whereas free methods will see longer term returns.
There are literally hundreds of ways to advertise your forum to the world. Here is a quick list of ideas to get you started:
- Post links to your forum on other websites. This is called backlink building. This may sound obvious but when there are other discussions happening online, mentioning your forum or a post on your forum will help to bring already motivated business owners to your discussions. You can either mention it in your discussions or add links to your forum on other websites profiles.
- Get Social – Forums are communities of people. Posting discussions at other communities about content in your forum will help attract people. This includes posts on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Pay Google or Facebook – Paid advertising will get your forum in the eyes of many people. You pay to display your ad and your ad reaches targeted people from all around the world. Generally I recommend only paying for ads if the results are justified by a positive return on investment. It is also a good idea to have exhausted a lot of the free options available.
- Talk about it – Whether it be online or offline, people need to know you exist. Talking about your forum and, without being too pushy, encourage people to sign up and participate. Lean on the people you know.
No matter how much you advertise your new forum, you need content to be created on there for people to initially want to engage in it. It is your job (or someone else in your teams job) to be making posts in there all the time.
Conversations need to be created and when other people are creating conversations, reply to them with answers that will provoke more conversations among your forum members.
Incentives can be created to make users want to stick around. Benefits can involve recognition or achievements and badges that are earned through activity.
The initial focus of the Lemodus forum will be to add value to business owners so that they will want to use it. My prediction is that it wont be until we have added enough value that people will notice and want to use the forum.
The growth of the forum will help play a part in the overall growth strategy of the company. It will be important that we attract the right users to the forum.
We know Lemodus is a marathon effort – not a sprint. I fully expect this to take many months to gain any meaningful traction.
The key is to just keep going and make it happen. That is what we will be doing with our forum.
Will you be one of the founding members on our forum? Join Lemodus for free and lets get discussing your business today.