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Developing a new forum through differentiation

Differentiating your forum is a critical step to its success. People are exposed to tens of thousands of new forums every year. Why should they join yours? If your forum is for a small/private group, differentiation is probably not of your concern. For those of us who are trying to appeal more to the masses, it is important we have some characteristics that make us stick out from the crowd.

The first thing you need to do is establish your USP (unique selling position). Essentially, what makes you different? If you can't think of anything, your users won't be able to either. Try to list three things that make your forum unique within your industry.

Possible USPs:

If your forum is just starting out, you'll likely have to rely on generating unique content before you will benefit from any of the other sample USPs.

Unique content is one of the easiest ways to differentiate your forum because it is, well, unique. Unique content has another special quality, it helps to build credibility. Credibility is just another way of measuring industry expertise. If a user is looking for tips on learning the bagpipes and reads through your article on "Bagpipes for Beginners", you've just instilled an image of industry expertise on this reader. Assuming they are interested in joining a community for bagpipes, whom do you think they'll choose? You, of course. You've just proven that you know a little something about bagpipes and that this reader stands to benefit more by joining a community with you at its helm.

Activity is also an important factor of differentiation. If given the choice between a forum with posts every week, and forum with posts every hour, a user will probably choose the latter. Activity is important because people join forums to interact with others, not themselves. If you don't already have activity, you need to find some. If you can't find creativity, an alternative is to create creativity. New forums are often caught in the catch-22 of needing activity but not getting it because their forums are so inactive no one wants to join. Forum administrators often bypass this beginning hurdle by creating the activity themselves or with the help of close friends. Getting two or three people to creative a couple accounts each and post a little bit on each account will give your forum the promising glow of a budding new forum. New users will arrive seeing an opportunity for camaraderie and join you in creating building your new community.

Once you see new members joining, your job is now to make them feel at home and most important, welcome. Forums are most certainly communities, and in all communities there are members who are more seasoned than others. It is very important that senior members welcome new members with an understanding that they are new. It is tempting to put up a rules page with a capitalized title "READ THIS BEFORE POSTING!" and expect anyone with common sense will heed your warning. The reality is not everyone does, and their reasons may be forgivable. They may have seen or heard of your community and were so eager to join and introduce themselves before running off to work that they didn't even see your warning. Encourage your senior members to give new members the benefit of the doubt and only scold when offenses are truly scold-worthy. This individual came to your forum to be a part of your group and the quickest way you can make them leave is to call them out and embarrass them on day one. Forums that make the effort to welcome new users will reap the benefits of more loyal and active members, and an exponential increase in long-term growth.

Lastly, one way to differentiate your forum is to offer a freebie that other forums don't, and preferably can't. Have you written an ebook? Do you offer special training? Do you have special gaming strategies? The more specialized and unique the offer the less likely it is to be duplicated by a competitor.

When all the dust settles, how your forum differentiates itself will directly relate to how well it will attract and retain new members. Administrators that don't make an effort to differentiate their forum are risking being lost in a sea of other undifferentiated startups.

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Author: Chris Davis

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Link & description: Developing a new forum through differentiation - What makes your forum different than the other forums competing for the same users? If you can't list at least 3 ways your forum is unique, it isn't.

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