Does Your Forum Suffer ‘Toxic Forum Syndrome’?

As a student of human nature, as well as a long-time forum member and owner, I am in a good position to offer some general thoughts (call it a rant if you like!) and guidelines regarding ‘net based forums. I guess I am as qualified as any to comment from the user’s side of the … Continue reading “Does Your Forum Suffer ‘Toxic Forum Syndrome’?”

As a student of human nature, as well as a long-time forum member and owner, I am in a good position to offer some general thoughts (call it a rant if you like!) and guidelines regarding ‘net based forums. I guess I am as qualified as any to comment from the user’s side of the equation. Currently, I read or post to a least a dozen forums per day, some revolving around my line of work and others related to my hobbies and interests: fitness, health, bodybuilding, longevity, weight loss, audio-video, military, law enforcement, firearms-to name a few.

I can also comment from the owner’s side, as my two forums-Fat Loss Revealed and Bodybuilding Revealed-have over 10,000 active members. Not the largest forums on the ‘net for sure, but not small time either.

This article is not about how to market a forum to “drive” traffic or anything like that. Rather, this article is concerned with the culture of a forum, which directly impacts its long-term success. These comments are based on what I have seen and experienced, as both a long time forum user and owner, about the major downfalls and mistakes that ultimately lead to unhappy members.

Forum Culture

Every forum has its own culture. That culture always starts with the owner of the forum. It’s a direct reflection of what the owner does, or does not do, with their forums, such as the moderators (mods) they choose, how much power the mods are given, how much personal control the owner maintains, how active he is, and so on. The forum reflects the personality, values, goals, etc. of its owner. The “buck stops” with the owner of the forums, as he is literally the captain of the ship. As an owner, if you wish to run a successful forum long term, you should be on the look out for the following problems.

The Member Cabal

The member cabal is inevitable on any forum, but it’s not inherently a negative. All it means is that a group of long term “regulars” have formed their own clique. It can be a helpful, productive group that’s supportive of new people coming into the forum, or it can be highly damaging. It’s up to the owner of the forum and the mods to keep an eye out, and keep firm control over the member cabals that form. The type of cabal will be a direct reflection of the forum’s culture, which reflects on, as mentioned above, the owner of that forum.

“Beating up the new kid”

This is a logical transition from the above, because it usually, but not always, involves the member cabal. Many forums have a culture where every new person is “initiated” or generally hassled, simply due to the fact they are new to the forum. I recall one forum I visited regularly, which had a guy with an avatar that said something like “I sh&% on the new guy.” Mods, as representatives of the owner, should not tolerate this behavior, as-if not cut off early-it will only grow.

It’s the perfect way to assure a small group of people run the forum, and if it’s not prevented early on, the owner can literally lose control. New members looking to join won’t when they see the abuse, or else it will turn into one of those forums with a few active members and a bunch of lurkers, as few will actively participate due to the abusive member cabal. On the other hand, a friendly member cabal welcomes and accepts new people, and helps the forum grow.

On my forums, for example, my “regulars” are one and all friendly, helpful, and welcoming people. That’s because I have great mods, and make sure the forums are always going in the direction I feel they should, based on my overall guiding philosophy and principles.

The Moderator Cabal

Similar to the member cabal, but potentially much more damaging to a forum, is the moderator cabal. Again, it’s pretty much inevitable such a cabal will form when you have people working together, even if it’s a virtual work space. And again, there is nothing inherently wrong with it, but the owner of the forum needs to keep a very close eye on the moderators. Pecking orders, cliques, etc. will form, and unless the owner of the forum keeps a tight handle on his forum, it can quickly get out of control. I have seen forums where there was more drama behind the scenes with the mods than could be found on the forum! Like any office space-virtual or otherwise-the culture starts from the top down, so the owner must put time into the back end of the forum, as well as the front.

I know too many forum owners who have let their mod cabal essentially take over their forums, chase off members they don’t like, chase off, or generally harass, other mods they don’t like, and so on. The owner of any forum who takes a “hands off” approach will have a mess on his hands sooner then later. I spend at least a few hours per day on my own forums making sure they’re all running smoothly, supporting members and mods equally, and assuring the ship is heading in the direction it needs to, as reflected in the mission statement of the forums.

To finish my point, and continue with the ship analogy: big ships develop a great deal of momentum, so setting the course early, and making small adjustments, takes less energy and time than attempting to alter course once that ship has gotten it’s full momentum up.

“Mod as God” syndrome

As the member cabal section transitioned perfectly into the “beating up the new kid” section, the mod cabal transitions into this section. The “Mod as God” syndrome is, without a doubt, my personal peeve. It can be all the members of a mod cabal, or an individual, and it’s very destructive to any forum. This syndrome appears to start when a mod decides the section they mod, or the forum itself is their personal fiefdom. These mods often set different standards for themselves than for the members. Like the member cabal, they may insult, belittle, or generally hassle a member they have taken a dislike to, and if that member attempts to defend themselves or respond, the mods will ban them or use other penalties at their discretion.

This double standard is damaging to the morale of any forum and unacceptable behavior by the mod(s) in question. It’s also a very common problem on many forums where a mod has decided he or she has additional rights above that of the members, and their word is law, even if they are often responsible for the problems.

A similar issue is favoritism, where one member can say or “get away with” far more than others. Mods should be objective and fair; once they decide their word is law, they are no longer able to objectively carry out their jobs. Again, this comes about due to the owner of the forum not being the true overall guiding influence on the forum. The only word that is law on a forum is the owner’s-period. However, if the owner is not an active participant, and/or allows mods to abuse members, then sides with the mod (even when it’s obvious that mod is way out of line), he loses authority and credibility with the members.

The forum ultimately suffers. Productive members of the forum will leave, the cabals will stay and grow stronger, and the forum will cease to be relevant within its intended niche.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I have been banned from forums. A few times temporarily (though I will generally not return to that forum anyway), and a few times permanently. I’m not proud of that fact, but I am also not the least bit ashamed of it either. Whenever it’s happened, it was for one of the reasons I mentioned above.

Personally, I simply will not tolerate the “mod as God” syndrome as either a member of a forum or as the owner of that forum, and when a mod attacks me-or is clearly being biased or playing favorites-I will let them know it. I will not tolerate it on my own forums, and if I feel a member is right and the mod is wrong, I will side with the member. That has never happened on my forums, however, and that’s because I’ve stepped in long before it ever got to that point. I don’t put my mods in a position where they have to defend themselves, and they know I will deal with it well before that.

The members of my forums know I always take a fair and objective approach to the issue or dispute. It’s part of my mission statement, and is an essential component of a healthy, successful forum.

The Missing Mod Syndrome

There are also forums where you know there are mods somewhere, but you can’t figure where, or even who, they are. They don’t seem to do any actual moderating, don’t keep the forum running smoothly, and may show up to lock a thread after some flame war has been taking place for days or longer. These “hands off” mods and owners tend to end up with a ‘free for all’ type forum. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that if that’s what the owner wants and the members enjoy, and such forums have their own niche, but they are not for me and not what I recommend owners strive for. They are generally a big mess of flame wars, member cabals, and a waste of time for those people who actually want to talk about and read about relevant topics that such a forum pretends to offer.

Conclusion

One or more of the above pitfalls can produce what I call “Toxic Forum Syndrome.” The forum is sick and is in need of fixing. Obviously, prevention is always better than treatment, so it’s best to be proactive and “hands on” as the owner of a forum, rather than reactive. Members of forums will probably recognize the above categories from forums they visit regularly, which should help them decide whether to move on, or attempt to be part of the cure vs. the problem. I identified these problems over many years as a member and user of forums, so when I decided to start my own forums,* I was fully aware and prepared to avoid them. So far so good…

* = Access to my Fat Loss Revealed and Bodybuilding Revealed forums comes with the purchase of my ebooks under the same name.

Author Bio

Will Brink is an author, columnist and expert in the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences.

His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media , MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Exercise For Men Only, and numerous others.

He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published in JAMA. Will formerly trained high level Olympic athletes, bodybuilders and fitness and now runs seminars for (SWAT).

He is the author of Bodybuilding Revealed which teaches you how to gain solid muscle mass drug free and Fat Loss Revealed which reveals exactly how to get lean , ripped and healthy completely naturally.

4 Key Things To Start Your Online Forum Community

I know there are a lot of you who are have heard about the awesome power of having an online forum community. You have probably already been active in numerous forums and have begun to create a network of friends on these forums.

Next thing that goes through your mind is, “Why don’t I start a Forum of my own!” So you go ahead and begin to research on how to do it and realize that starting an online forum community is a lot harder than you thought!

Well, this article is about how to go about starting your own online forum in the easiest way possible. So lets here we go:

1. Establish Your Niche Topic for the Forum.

I have seen a lot of forums that I go to and they cover anything and everything in their forum. Now it is always good to have a “Chit Chat” or “Lounge” area of your forum to give members an opportunity to talk about anything. However, the success of your forum is to have a specific niche topic that will not only get your forum indexed by the search engines, but something that will attract your core audience.

This is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome even though it may seem the easiest thing to understand. Many novice forum webmasters see that they can add as many categories and sub-forums as they can in their overall website forum, and the main topic gets lost. In turn, when a visitor does happen to come the website, they are turned off by a ‘General’ forum.

2. Select the best Web Forum Script

There are so many forum scripts out there in which this is another huge major obstacle a novice webmaster comes across.

Your first tendency will be to use the forum script that the forum you are most active on uses right? Ha! I caught you!

Now there is nothing wrong with this, but sometimes these forums scripts are so modified and ‘hacked’ as is sometimes referred to modified forum scripts that it will be hard for you to create one just like your favorite forum.

I would suggest to start off with a free forum script that has the feature to ‘migrate’ forum information to another forum script. For example. Start off with the free forum script phpBB. This is by far the most powerful free script available. Even most web hosts have it part of their package that you can install on a single click (we’ll talk more about web hosts later).

Once you have phpBB installed, this is by far the best forum script in which other ‘paid for’ forum scripts have what is called ‘migration tools’ for. These migration tools is a script or tool that can transfer all of your forum information.

So for example, you website is successful and you wish to ‘change your forum foundation script’ to a ‘paid script’ such as vBulletin. vBulletin has a migration tool for phpBB, the process would be seamless and you wouldn’t lose any forum information.

The worst thing for a forum community is to have a lot of activity on the forum and then the webmaster decided to change the forum platform because the free one they started out with just doesn’t have all the features of other forum communities. So the webmaster changes the forum script and loses the forum information. I guarantee this will KILL your community.

So starting off with a wise plan in the beginning to grow is a huge step.

3. Selecting Your Web Host

The next thing after selecting what forum platform you wish to use, is the painfully hard decision of finding the right web host.

A web host is basically a company that ‘rents’ you space on their server for typically a monthly payment.

Now depending on your budget to start off with, I would say do a search on Google for the keyword: “Cheap Web Host”. You will see millions of results. Go through the websites of the top 10 results on your Google search and decide which one you need.

I URGE you DO NOT start a forum off in a ‘free web space’ or ‘free forum’ community. You are tied to that that web host and more than likely you will have tons of advertisements on your site that will annoy your members and more than that, it really screams that that your website is not a ‘permanent’ home for your members. Perception plays in key role in the success of your forum. If you forum looks and feels hard to use. No one will use it. Would you?

Please stay away from free forum web hosts!

Either way, you’ll be spending a few bucks a month on web hosting, but as you build your community you can slowly introduce your own Google AdSense or Banner Ad campaigns that will make you enough money to cover your web hosting costs and in many cases, enough to pay for your gas that month and more even more!

Select a web host within your budget, and make sure that the host you select allows you to have forums. Since forums consume a lot of what is called ‘bandwidth’ and web space, some budget web hosts have a maximum on how much bandwidth and web space to use.

From my experience, if you start off with at least 1GB of space and 5 GB of bandwidth. That is MORE than you will need until your forum community is large enough to pay for itself on a larger web host, or even lease your own what is called ‘dedicated server’. Do a web search on Google for what a dedicated server is to find out more.

A solid and reliable web host is one that answers customer support in a timely manner. Make sure that before you decide on a web host to contact that web host via their toll free phone number or support email. If they don’t answer quickly back to a potential customer how would they respond once they know you are a customer?

Do you homeword and make sure you are comfortable with the web host you choose because the last thing you need is to have to move web hosts and lose potential forum community information.

4. Driving Traffic to your Forum

Once you have everything up, you selected your niche, you found your forum community script, you installed it on a reliable host, you expect a flood of visitors to join as a member!

This is where the make it or break it part of the forum comes into play. If you have no visitors or members participating, your forum won’t grow.

My advice is to start off the circle where you began. Within your network of online friends. These days with so many forums and social networking websites, there are so many to choose from why should anyone join YOUR forum?

Well, you can use this network of websites to your advantage. Start off with the forums you are active in. If they allow you to advertise your forum or website, do it. Otherwise add a link to is in your signature. If you have thousands of posts your link on that forum will appear in thousands of places instantly!

Then go to other forums relevant to your topic and try to be active there with a link in your signature back to your website.

Announce your website launch to your friends in your Messenger systems.

Better yet! Try to do a marketing trick of giving away something to a random member once a week.

Above all, make sure YOU are active. Even if no one posts anything that day. Go in and post. Try to provoke a conversation with your posts. Once members join and are active give them the honor of being initial moderators of your forum. This will encourage them and make them feel like they are part of your forum community and will keep their loyalty to your forum. In turn what will they do? Tell THEIR friends about it. Now you are beginning to see what is called a ‘viral’ effect to driving traffic to your website.

Most of all, do not give up. Keep talking about your forum and inviting people to join. The more passionate and excited you are about your forum, the more others will see that in you and your friends and will be willing to spend time on your forum to build it up.

Once you go through these initial steps to starting your online forum community you are on the right track to have a successful community. Once this happens, you can easily think about even being able to earn money from your website that will cover your costs and place some ‘spare change’ in your pocket. This is all of course if you have the right niche, the right forum script, the right webhost, and the right methods to drive traffic to your forum! To your success!

Successful Affiliate Marketing With Online Forums

Posting to relevant online forums is a tried and tested way of successfully marketing a product or service you are promoting as an affiliate and remains a popular technique with people who are serious about their Internet business and establishing their online reputation.

Forum posting should be an integral part of your overall marketing plan.

Online forums are a type of social networking site, but unlike many such sites, online forums are places where people regularly participate.

Often this is two to three times a week and may even be on a daily basis. They ask real questions because they want a solution to their problem or they want to make a helpful contribution to the discussion taking place.

Why you should participate in online forums

As a marketer promoting a product or service as an affiliate, there are two main reasons for forum marketing:

The first reason for posting on forums serving the niche or market segment you are targeting is that your readers are already interested in your topic. They are a warm market, so there is no need to “qualify” them as you would have to with writing free reprint articles. Prospects from a warm market are much more likely to make a purchase than unqualified leads.

The second reason is that your signature can contain a link back to your website. This is the equivalent of your resource box in article marketing. Your goal is to get the prospect to go to your website. It is there that the selling is done, not on the forum.

Forum commenting to promote a product or service as an affiliate is free, but it does take time and some effort on your part as it must be done in a subtle way.

Each forum has its own rules and has an etiquette to follow. Most online forums are moderated. That means your post will

have to be approved before it is published. Overtly promotional posts are unlikely to be published.

Take a little time to view some potentially suitable forums to get a feel for them and check out their rules.

How to promote your affiliate product or service

Forum marketing takes time, not only to do, but also before you will start to see the fruits of your labours. The following five steps will set you on the path to forum marketing success:

The first step is to select one or more suitable forums in your niche.

It would be a good idea to only join one forum if you are just starting out in this type of marketing. You can join other forums when you have become established in the first forum. You will, however, need to follow the remaining four steps, but they will be second nature to you by then.

To find suitable forums, make an Internet search for your niche + “forums”. For example, “Type 2 diabetes forums”.

The second step is to sign-up and complete your profile.

Make sure your forum signature includes a link to your website. If the forum allows it, include a good photograph of yourself. Properly and fully completing your profile is important because many forum members will view your profile. Putting a face to your name will help you stand out from the crowd.

The third step is to introduce yourself to the forum.

Most forums will have an “Introductions” section, which is designed for this very purpose. Don’t just say “Hi!” or “Hello forum”, give it a bit of thought. Explain who you are and why you joined the forum (for example, to give and receive advice and offer assistance to other forum members).

The fourth step is to add value to the discussions in the forum.

You need people to notice you. You will need to post regularly for that to happen. If they notice your posts, it builds trust and they will also see your links. After you have created a great, informative topic or insightful reply, you will see your profile count grow and your signature URL clicks follow.

Establish yourself as someone that is there to improve the community.

Do not post unless you can add value to a conversation. This is where most people fail with forum marketing; they only post to get their links published. Spamming the forum will very quickly get you banned and all your posts removed.

The fifth step is to build up positive feed back.

Most forums have a feedback system. Give positive feedback to other posters. It will be reciprocated if your contributions benefit the forum.

Positive feedback helps to establish you as a reputable member

of the forum. Better still, if someone is looking for the product or services that you offer, they will come to you, over a new member with no reputation. So, don’t let this golden opportunity pass you by.

Don’t log onto a forum, make a post, and then stop posting just because you haven’t been successful in attracting visitors to your website. The key to successful forum marketing is to be regularly involved. Aim to post at least two to three times a week. This should start to build up your overall credibility.

Online forums are a good place to establish your expertise in your subject and to build a relationship of trust and confidence, not only with other members of the forum, but also with forum visitors. Adding value to the forum and receiving positive feedback help establish your good reputation.

People prefer to do business with people they know and trust and will follow the link in your forum signature. This, after all, is why you are doing forum marketing.

When the visitor reaches your website:

give them even more helpful information;
provide a cogent reason for them to join your mailing list; and
make sure you tell the visitor what you want them to do.

They may not buy the product or service you are promoting on this visit, but you can keep in contact with them by email to continue building your relationship with them.

Use your forum marketing to establish a relationship of trust and confidence,which your website and regular email communications further develops into a long-term relationship that benefits both you and your prospective customer.