Is your membership forum a virtual ghost town?

Lori Halley 22 May 2014 0 comments

Is your forum going like gangbusters or a virtual ghost town?

We’re in the midst of reviewing the responses to our 2014 Small Membership Survey (the report will be available soon - you can sign up for a copy here). In looking at the top priorities, we weren't surprised that membership engagement ranked as the second most  important priority (after increasing membership). In addition, when asked what they wanted to know from their small membership peers, a number of respondents wanted insight into managing member forums. Here are a few examples of our respondents' questions:

  • How are you engaging members to participate in forums? Our forum participating is dismal!
  • How to keep forum comments active and useful
  • How to provide a better website experience for members e.g. member forums, blogs, etc.

A forum can be a great way for your members or supporters to congregate virtually. Since networking is often the key reason members join associations or clubs, a forum can help enable networking among your members. It offers a communications channel for members to post messages, ask questions, start conversations, offer and receive information from their peers. It can also provide an opportunity for members to connect with your organization – your board or staff.

"How Do You Maintain Lively Member Forums?"

Creating real engagement in a membership forum can take a lot of work, especially at the beginning, since it may be difficult to get people to start posting and sharing their thoughts.  As our survey comments suggest, getting members to participate and keeping forum conversations active and useful can be challenging. A recent blog post on Webbright Services’ Association Blog offered “several tactics you can employ to keep things lively” on your forum, here are three of their suggestions:

  • Seed the forums - This will require the help of board members and others who are already active in the forums.  Pose some questions for the assembly by getting board members to post the questions. Seek out other active members to comment and get the ball rolling on discussions. This should help get regular members interested in the dialogue and hopefully join in and post comments in the forums.

  • Produce a roundup report - Once every week, or even every other week, have a forum moderator or administrator go over the most relevant and valuable topics and discussions in the forums. Compile and send them in an email to all members of the forum, or even the entire group membership. Make sure to begin the email with a statement such as, "Being discussed by our membership ..." and then put forth the pertinent information. This may help drive members to the forums.

  • Moderators make a big difference - To keep the discussion going you may need several moderators. These members can post entries and interact with others to keep the action flowing. The more a forum is active the more lively it will be. Moderators can keep things going when they start to wane.  

Just getting started with member forums?

If you are just getting started and think a forum might help you meet some of your communications goals, the first place to start is the technology.   Wild Apricot users can easily create or add forums as part of your Membership Management Software. In fact, with our new Version 5, creating a forum simply involves dragging the discussion forum gadget onto a site page and choosing the desired settings.

Empty forum = crickets

But launching and maintaining a successful forum involves much more than just setting up the technology. Like your website, your forum is only as good as its content. If you manage to get your members to visit your forum and they find that it's empty or has only old dead discussion threads, they likely won’t bother coming back again.  Good content – on your website or your forum – starts with knowing what your audience is after, then finding ways to get conversations started and keep them active and interesting.

Here are some tips for starting a forum or refreshing an existing member forum:

Identify member-focused topic(s):

What’s the hot topic that members want help with? What questions are they dying to ask their peers? Identify some key issues for your members and then start a discussion. This may be the only networking opportunity for your members to interact with and find out about what their peers are doing.  If they are finding valuable information; a sounding board; validation of their ideas or actions – then your forum just might become a huge member benefit!

If you need forum discussion ideas, check out an industry blog post or article - offer a link and ask a question based on that piece.  See what’s trending on your own or your sector’s Facebook page or Twitter account – is there an interesting snippet or question that might be a springboard for a forum discussion?

Start the conversation:

Once you have some hot topics identified, to get things rolling, share them with your board of directors, communications and events chair and committee members. Ask them to post questions and join the discussion by posting comments.

Develop a community atmosphere:

Maintaining an inviting environment is crucial to the success of your forum. You know your members and understand their expectations, so armed with that knowledge, as the forum manager or administrator, you need to set the tone for this forum. To encourage conversations, keep communications friendly, warm and genuine. And be sure to check in on the forum regularly to monitor conversations and to ensure your members' questions are answered.

Make it the “go to” destination for member insight and networking:

This starts with the right subject matter and lots of discussion points. But what keeps your forum fresh and inviting is responding to posts on a regular basis and acknowledging contributions in order to build engagement and loyalty among your community.

As the Webbright tips above suggest, to keep your forum active and useful, you need to ensure it is visible in your community.

  • Promote the forum in your newsletter – offer clips from active conversations.
  • Make it visible on your website for new visitors or members.
  • Create blog posts based on forum topics – where you can expand on quick comments with insightful research, data or resource links.
  • Mention the forum in board and committee meetings to remind key volunteers to remain active and follow the forum conversations.

If you’d like more information on forums, here are a few resources available in our Membership Knowledge Hub:

Is your members’ forum like a ghost town?  If not - can you share some tips for keeping forums active and engaging?


Image source: Black and White Old Ghost Town - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 22 May 2014 at 8:30 AM

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