Some time ago, I made the decision to start a community forum on Bike198.com. In all reality, the readers of review/tips biking blogs are not huge commentors. This is actually a reoccurring scenario across all niches as product reviews are typically the lowest commented on articles across the board. I was getting fantastic comment results from opinion pieces, but I really wanted the conversation to grow past my own thoughts and into a community atmosphere. The only real, natural progression for that is turning to a forum format to compliment your content. So…Community.Bike198.com was born.

At the time of writing this post (about 6:18pm EST on February 2, 2010), my new forum at Community.Bike198.com is less than a week old. How is everything going so far?

  • 19306 Pageviews
  • 1039 Posts
  • 214 Members

For those that don’t know, forums are not an easy thing to start without an audience. Luckily, I had a strong newsletter and rss subscriber base to pull from and I was also capitalizing on the new press surrounding the sites move and redesign earlier that month. So…before I even started, I had a leg up on the situation by having an attentive and interactive audience.

What I Learned In First Week Of Forum Ownership

As with any new venture, there are certain things I learned along the road to enlightenment. This is actually my first time owning a forum, so it was interesting to be on the outside looking in instead of just another member.

So what did I learn during my first week of forum ownership?

Paid Forum Solutions Are Worth It

For this forum, I ended up going with IP.Board 3. It ended up costing me $150 which sounds pretty steep when compared with free (and there are a lot of free options out there). I did this for a very simple reason. Everything I wanted in the forum functionality and future expansion was standard in the install. What I didn’t realize I would end up using was the 30 days of free phone support with each purchase. That was priceless as I continued to work out the bugs.

People LOVE Free Stuff

This shouldn’t be any surprise to you guys as I give away stuff on RobbSutton.com all of the time. To jump start the process on Community.Bike198.com, I am doing a giveaway for a set of hydraulic disc brakes from Shimano. All my readers have to do is sign up for the forum, start 3 topics and reply to 5 topics. Now…that doesn’t sound like much, but start multiplying it out and you’ll see how fast that can get a forum going. The whole point is to get the conversation going and it has. 99.9% of the forum members are blowing right past the requirement and really interacting on the site. My worry was that people would throw up just any trash to be apart of the giveaway, but the opposite has actually happened. All of the topics are quality and so are the responses. The ball is officially rolling.

I also made the giveaway last for 2.5 weeks. While this is long for most giveaways, it does let my readers and new forum members get in and get settled without feeling like they are in a rush to get content up. I think this contributed to the quality of the threads getting started as the beginning members did not feel like they were in a race against time.

Have A Great Relationship With Your Hosting Company

Alex at Sliqua and I have been on a first name basis for quite awhile. Kind of one of those “over the Internet” friendships that isn’t creepy. Over the past week, we have been working together on securities and speed. Through this work, I have a secure forum that is faster than all of my competition no matter what load it goes under. I would not have been able to accomplish this without the great relationship I have with my hosting company.

Be 100% Transparent

When I started the forum, I told everyone right off the bat that there were going to be some bugs as we continued to unwrap this thing. I even started a topic where users could post up what they found and we started knocking things off one by one. Generally speaking, people like the beta testing process and being apart of the site, so this was a great way to get people involved and help the forum at the same time. When it came time to throw up an ad or two, I put up a thread telling everyone the truth…

The subject of advertising and forums is a sensitive one…for me at least. I absolutely hate it when forum sites plaster ads all over the screen slowing down page load times and cluttering things up. However, there are costs associated with running a site of this size, so some revenue has to be brought in.

The goal with Community.Bike198.com is to create a high quality cycling forum…not make a million dollars. With that in mind, there are going to be a few, strategically placed advertisements on this forum. BUT…it is not going to turn into another one of those forums with ads plastered all over the place.

I hate that as much as you guys do, so I am not going to do it here. You are going to start to see several, non-invasive ads showing up to help out with the hosting and other costs associated with running a forum…so I just wanted to give everyone a heads up with the promise that this forum will not become an online billboard.

Thanks for all of the support!!

Robb Sutton
Bike198.com

The responses went something like this…

You have my support, great site. I won’t even use adblock when I come to your site so I can actually see the ads.

Cool. Id understand if you went the million dollar route also :D

So as you can see…don’t try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and they will support your honesty. Try to spam the crap out of them, well…you can probably guess what the reactions would have been then.

Get Involved And Interact

Do not expect to throw a forum up and not interact with your members. They want to hear from you as much as you want to from them. Start some sticky/pinned threads (ex. Mountain Bike Setup thread) that new members can post on with instructions. It helps get rid of the first couple of points on their post count and builds interactivity on your board right off the bat. Stay tuned into what people are talking about and reply with your opinion/input where you feel it fits. Your board will grow much faster with activity and some of that burden falls on the owner as well.

My final Thoughts On The First Week

I am extremely happy with where things are headed. I was really nervous about tackling an online forum on cycling as there are several other HUGE players out there, but…when done correctly…you can build an online resource that is valuable and offers something different than your competition. Most importantly, it gives your readers their own voice on your site. That by itself is worth its weight in gold.

In Problogging Is Dead, I talked about the natural progression of blogs that turn into money making machines. For many blogs, like Bike198.com, a forum is where things eventually head when you have the audience to support it. Listen to what your audience is telling you and deliver the goods. Valuable online resources are going to bring you success over time. You need to give your readers a reason to come back day in and day out. If you don’t deliver…they won’t.

Side note: By starting this forum…I now have more content ideas for the blog than I could ever imagine. I basically built an online topic brainstorming machine that is on autopilot. Good bye writers block for forever!