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Thread: Starting your own forum. Good idea?

  1. #1

    Default Starting your own forum. Good idea?

    Hey guys, I disappeared for a while but found this site so helpful and enjoy helping fellow business owners too.

    But for now a question - have any of you thought about creating your own forum? How much would it cost to set one up? Any experience running one?

    Most importantly---is it worth the cost and management to help your business?

  2. #2
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    Depends. It's a lot of work and commitment. Vangogh will definitely have some thoughts for you.
    Are you doing it as a customer support thing, or trying to build a community around a certain niche?

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    I was actually watching this thread, waiting for Harold, or Vangogh to reply.
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    I have my own forum that deals with the industry I work in. As far as cost you usually need a little better hosting than you need for a static web site. Still I only pay $ 250.00 a year for my hosting. You can often get by on cheaper hosting unless the forum goes crazy.

    Forum software can vary a little in Price. This forum uses vBulletin which is an excellent software. I used it for a while about a decade ago but quit using it about 8 years ago. vBulletin initial cost was somewhere in the high $ 200 range if I recall correctly and they would install the forum for a small fee. Then it runs 80 or so a year for support and upgrades. The one I have been using for the past 8 years is called "Simple Machines". It is free and there are people who will install it for next to nothing. It is also easy to install. There are another half dozen or more kinds of forum software and most are good.

    Running a forum is not that easy. Probably 80% die for lack of members and posts. Spam can be a major problem. I use two security measures on mine and don't get much more than a spammer a month but if they find a way through I can get hundreds a day until I find what went wrong.
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  5. #5

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    I think a good forum is going to be very hard to create in the current environment. This forum was created in 2008, while social media giants like Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy and others like Instagram and Pinterest were not even conceptualized. Even though there was an established core of users in 2008 (from a predecessor forum that was being unresponsive to its members), it took a major effort -- thousands of posts, mostly by vangogh -- to establish the critical mass necessary to build a sustainable forum. And it still takes a lot of work to both keep conversations going and to keep the spammers at bay.

    Today, there are so many alternatives to forums that I think building a general business forum would be nearly impossible. I have participated in a number of forums over the years and I estimate that 90% of the ones I have participated in are either dead or moribund.

    There are still niches where a new forum might work, although I know a person who used to own a lot of niche forums mostly focused on specific hobbies and he has sold most, or perhaps now all, of them and has moved on.

    I do see support forums popping up where a company with an established base of users relies on experienced users to help newbies. One company whose software I use in a hobby was able to have its devoted users handle the vast bulk of the support issues, with the owner/senior developer only popping in on rare occasions. In that case, it probably saved the company a lot of money on having a help desk, which it probably couldn't have afforded anyway.

    Today, I've seen other companies using their company Facebook page or Twitter handle to a very similar result.
    Last edited by Business Attorney; 02-24-2016 at 10:10 PM.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    Depends. It's a lot of work and commitment. Vangogh will definitely have some thoughts for you.
    Are you doing it as a customer support thing, or trying to build a community around a certain niche?
    To build a community. It wouldnít be really for customers but others that are in the same business as I am. Kind of like this forum or forums that bring together a group of professionals. Iíve seen some good forums for realtors that work well. I want to do the same for people in the pet industry. I also think it would spur business if the forum gets larger because clients would come to appreciate the hard work we do. Most people tend to think working with pets is easyówhich is certainly not true! And thus they undervalue it. Iím sure some other businesses can relate.

    Quote Originally Posted by turboguy View Post
    I have my own forum that deals with the industry I work in. As far as cost you usually need a little better hosting than you need for a static web site. Still I only pay $ 250.00 a year for my hosting. You can often get by on cheaper hosting unless the forum goes crazy.

    Forum software can vary a little in Price. This forum uses vBulletin which is an excellent software. I used it for a while about a decade ago but quit using it about 8 years ago. vBulletin initial cost was somewhere in the high $ 200 range if I recall correctly and they would install the forum for a small fee. Then it runs 80 or so a year for support and upgrades. The one I have been using for the past 8 years is called "Simple Machines". It is free and there are people who will install it for next to nothing. It is also easy to install. There are another half dozen or more kinds of forum software and most are good.

    Running a forum is not that easy. Probably 80% die for lack of members and posts. Spam can be a major problem. I use two security measures on mine and don't get much more than a spammer a month but if they find a way through I can get hundreds a day until I find what went wrong.
    Yikes. That is a little steep but I guess over the year is not so bad. I did some research last night and find that spam is a major problem. Thatís why so many forums I want to join are super strict with allowing signatures and links. I find the forums that wait until the post number is over a 100 or so, to have links work well to avoid this. Thank for for the suggestions. I also heard good things about vBulletin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Business Attorney View Post
    I think a good forum is going to be very hard to create in the current environment. This forum was created in 2008, while social media giants like Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy and others like Instagram and Pinterest were not even conceptualized. Even though there was an established core of users in 2008 (from a predecessor forum that was being unresponsive to its members), it took a major effort -- thousands of posts, mostly by vangogh -- to establish the critical mass necessary to build a sustainable forum. And it still takes a lot of work to both keep conversations going and to keep the spammers at bay.

    Today, there are so many alternatives to forums that I think building a general business forum would be nearly impossible. I have participated in a number of forums over the years and I estimate that 90% of the ones I have participated in are either dead or moribund.

    There are still niches where a new forum might work, although I know a person who used to own a lot of niche forums mostly focused on specific hobbies and he has sold most, or perhaps now all, of them and has moved on.

    I do see support forums popping up where a company with an established base of users relies on experienced users to help newbies. One company whose software I use in a hobby was able to have its devoted users handle the vast bulk of the support issues, with the owner/senior developer only popping in on rare occasions. In that case, it probably saved the company a lot of money on having a help desk, which it probably couldn't have afforded anyway.

    Today, I've seen other companies using their company Facebook page or Twitter handle to a very similar result.
    Not to be overly optimistic but I think my ďnicheĒ would work very well. I searched for the type of forum for pet service professionals only and couldnít find one. The few I found are private and run by national/professional organizations (like PSI - professional sitters international). You need to join their organization and become a member first in order to use the forum. I donít think thatís fair. It also limits other people that are in the industry other than sitters.

    There are many forums for pet owners that I joined which is helpful. I really like discussing animal behavior, training, etc. Most of out the advice is BAD since yes, itís these are owners not professionals. It would be a forum for professionals but can also have a section for owners looking for advice. Iím a bit worried to allow service prices be thrown around on the forum. Of course I realize I may be opening myself up to competitors joining the forum but I think there would be greater benefits than problems. What do you guys think?

    Anyway if anyone know of a forum like this already, Iím all ears! Or if you want to make a go of it and create one, go ahead. Let me know and Iíll be your first active member!
    Last edited by Amber; 02-25-2016 at 01:55 PM.

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    Getting one off the ground seems to be one of the tough parts. When I first started my I pretty much talked to myself for a while and I can still remember the surprise when I had my first member join and post. From the above posts it sounds like this one started out with the same challenges.

    Spam at time has been an issue with mine but lately it is close to zero. This forum could be tough because it could be pretty hard to know an introduction post from a spam post. There seem to be a lot of people who make an introductory post with link and vanish into the woodwork but I am sure the best course is giving them the benefit of the doubt. The big problem is bots and if you don't have good security measures it can drive you crazy.
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    I'm guessing people are waiting on me to chime in.

    First thing you want to ask yourself is why do you want a forum? Growing a community is difficult. Even 8 years ago when we started this one it was already difficult. Most people will sooner go to Facebook or Twitter or whatever social community before a forum.

    It's challenging to start a forum. You need a core group of people who will visit the forum daily or close to daily to keep it going. This forum started from the remnants of another small business forum and we were able to launch with about 20-25 people who we could count on to be that core group. Even then I was posting a lot more than anyone would expect someone to post. In the first week, I think I was averaging about 60 posts a day. Yes, 60 a day. After a month or so that was down to 30 a day.

    If I remember the first week this forum was open I spent the entire week here posting just to fill up all the forums and make the place look more active than it was. It was several years before I really pulled back from posting though.

    The cost of forum software is minimal. I wouldn't go with vBulletin anymore. I'd go with Xenforo. The developers of vBulletin sold it years ago to a company that doesn't seem to care much. Some of those developers are behind Xenforo. There's a good chance this forum will move to Xenforo in time. I think the price is about the same for both. $150 or so and then $40 annually for upgrades. You can probably start with inexpensive hosting ($10/month), but once you build any community, you'll probably want to upgrade your hosting. It's not expensive to run a forum, but be prepared to spend a few hundred a year for the software and hosting.

    Many forums make money plastering ads everywhere. This forum doesn't. There are a couple of ads and the revenue they bring in pays for the hosting. While I like making money, that wasn't my goal when I started this forum. It was more to keep a good community together.

    Spam is definitely an issue. I have some automated things set up to catch most of it and I easily spend an hour a day clearing out spammers. Without going into too much detail, I check the profile of everyone who registers in an effort to try to catch spam before it happens. I'm not the only one here catching spam, of course, but I think it's fair to say I catch most of it.

    Again I'd ask why you want a forum? What do you think it will add to your business? I think building a community is a great thing and it can help some businesses, but it's a lot more work than you probably think, assuming you want to keep a spam free forum.

    I don't want to discourage you from starting a forum. Just be aware it's going to require a lot of your time, especially in the beginning. You really have to be there posting every day even if you don't have anything to say. Even now, if I see a thread go unanswered for a day or two, I'll jump in to say anything to keep the thread going and make sure people get some kind of reply.

    Having said that, it's not that hard to set up a forum and give it a go. You can find free forum software and in the beginning you probably won't need anything other than inexpensive shared hosting. Just know it's a lot of work, especially in the beginning.
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    I've heard from a lot of sources that created a forum now will most likely fail.

    This is because of facebook groups and the fact that you have to already have a decent sized audience to keep interest. It's a fun idea but not sure if it would be worth it in the long run.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FireFly View Post
    I've heard from a lot of sources that created a forum now will most likely fail.

    This is because of facebook groups and the fact that you have to already have a decent sized audience to keep interest. It's a fun idea but not sure if it would be worth it in the long run.
    I will agree that it's very difficult these days, but also that it could be worth it if there's a community or niche with a need that will help support it. Facebook groups are not as good as a solid forum with good members. The format is also very limiting. It's really about choosing the right medium that fits what you want to do.

    I used to belong to probably 10 or so forums, most are all either defunct or have been run down, but I do frequent 2 or 3 forums that are still lively and run well.
    This one, and an Android forum are probably where I'm most active.

    It can work with the right niche and community. It's just a lot of work and takes time to build.

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