How to Manage a Forum Community

Way before Social Media entered the scene, forums were the big kids on campus.

Pretty much since the days of the AOL chat room in the 90s to gaming threads & news site message boards, online community management focused on these day to day. This is where online community management was born, and now with many social media platforms borrowing elements of forum behavior in things like threading or providing an open dialogue between users and/or brands, it’s gotten a little messy.

With quite a few of the largest communities out there still operating within forums we decided to see what makes these sites tick. What exactly is a forum these days versus forum software? How do you moderate one and keep it a valuable space?  Well, we had Patrick O’Keefe ( @iFroggy) join us for a discussion Community & Forums the week his new book came out, “Monetizing Online Forums.”  Make sure to check him out on www.managingcommunities .com, and see what he and other incredibly talented CMs had to say on the subject.

TheCMgr Q1) What counts as a forum? What role do forums play in a CMs daily routine?

iFroggy Forums are ubiquitous. At core, they are threaded conversation. That functionality is virtually everywhere. The features built around are what separates platforms. Forum-like functionality exists in many places. Of course, there is the idea of a traditional forum, which is great, but forums = bread – they’re flexible.

mbhahn A forum is considered an online place for people to seek help or post opinions on a website

JGfromOC If it is free of any brand influence & is truly built by the community, I call that a forum. As a CM, it pays to listen and learn

CountBracula  Forums are certainly hard to manage — too high of a barrier for entry with registration

amywhiggins  Forums can be any community that offers a place for feedback and discussion

hugeheadca   Communities drive the web and forums have been the engine of that drive for years. It’s a key nexus for interaction for CMs

ATT_Jam  Anything with categories/topics and threads where people can interact. Forums are 90% of my day.

pushingvision Forums are online places for people to talk. Conversations are grouped so you can follow without going crazy.

MaddieRuud A1 Many sites avoid forums because of the wo/man-hours required to moderate, but they are a fantastic resource for#cmgrs

alphamommie  Forums could be traditional, or Q&A based like or even some FB groups.

JPedde Forums are traditionally message boards, but I would think something like Quora is a modern day forum.

D4nLandau I work at a University and students use a “problems” hashtag as a forum to complain n talk about about probs at the school

iFroggy  Re: where forums fit in daily routine of a CM, most probably fit into one of 3 categories or mix of them. They have a forum or forums they are responsible for the management of and are deeply involved. They (esp. brand rep CM) might monitor and engage in forums managed by other people, which is powerful. They do nothing with forums, pretend they don’t exist & know only Twitter, Facebook & the latest trend.

apdolan  The threaded aspect of forums is important. Some commenting platforms have lost that order/organization lately via @’s

iFroggy When you do a Google search for a question, good chance you’ll end up at a forum. There is a reason for that.

TheCMgr Q2) How do you measure engagement in forums?

iFroggy  There are a lot of things you can measure. New registrations, active members, activity per member, so much. When you run a forum, you have direct access to the data, without restrictions, and can slice & dice it. For brevity, see these posts by @martinreed: & @RichMillington

jvanrijn  by the number and quality of the readers

SMContractors  Engagement is measured by activity, posts, and new users/amplification.

MaddieRuud  Measure new users, # of site users vs # of active forum users, total posts, avg # replies per thread, speed of staff replies

MaddieRuud  It’s extremely useful to measure # of reported/flagged posts over time and # of accurate reports, as well.

citylifematt   Page level Analytics, new threads over 30 day periods.

ATT_Jam  New topic/reply count, page/thread views and completed registrations are helpful to measure both active & passive engagement

jonjohns65  The community will decide what is relevant and helpful. Measure their approval. (See Reddit upvotes)

rhogroupee I also like to look at how frequently members return…good sign of engagement…

TheCMgr Q3) What are some “pro-moves” for CMs to know when managing a forum?

iFroggy  A lot can be said. Here are a few main ideas, which speak to 3 big things: quality, culture & appreciation. Always understand who your audience is & who you exist to serve. Vigorously pursue them in all you do. In other words, don’t try to be everything to everyone. Accept that your community is not for some people. If you cater to no one – you lose everyone. When you know who you exist for, create an awesome experience. Numbers are cool, but community is about culture, experience & environment. It’s not about being biggest. Everything you do helps create the culture. Be aware of that. Be a soldier of culture (thanks @kanyewest). Can’t always be the biggest, the numbers won’t always be on your side. But, you can always win at culture. Finally, appreciation is huge. Thank people, publicly & privately. Do it randomly, as you see great stuff. Share the spotlight, give great contributions attention. Appreciation is very powerful. Don’t neglect it.

DrunkyMonken If you haven’t already, train yourself to be an advocate for the users, and a facilitator of info, not just a moderator.

MaddieRuud In moderating forums, set clear rules and stick by them. Important to enforce impartially.

MaddieRuud Don’t only engage when there’s a problem. Be a part of the community, not an outsider/dictator.

apdolan Get brand ambassadors to learn/love/help enforce guidelines. Always lead by example. Never just delete “bad” posts

ATT_Jam   Publicly call out awesome things your community members have done. Reply to helpful threads with a “thanks!” or “great answer”

7Huck: Use data & optimize. Study psychology, esp group dynamics. Be a better storyteller. #cmgrchat pro-tips for forums


TheCMgr Q4) Where do forums sit in the age of social media? Why start a forum vs. use another platform?

iFroggy  Forums are a part of the backbone of social media. Forum-like functionality powers a lot of this. Focused forums host some of the most meaningful, deep engagement on the social web. Forums exist for all subjects & feature people passionately engaging around a topic. It’s very powerful.  When it comes to choosing a platform, the best thing that you can do is remember it isn’t a competition.  “Forums” learn from other platforms & vice versa and it all grows. We all get better from this. We should be thankful that we have the choices that we have and not look at it as a death match. Look at the platforms available, consider what they offer, what your goals are & pick what works best.

JPedde I think the big thing with a forum is you “own” it & control it. If social goes down ever, there goes your community.

ATT_Jam  Control. Forums owned by companies, FB/Twitter/G+ aren’t. The lack of control over content can be scary.

MaddieRuud  Focusing on an internal forum rather than social media keeps valuable content on your site.

rhogroupee   It’s not an either-or, it’s “and!” Forums and social media go together quite well!

apdolan  The Q & A element is best portrayed in a forum. Evergreen = forum fodder. Other types of interaction is fine on social.

jonjohns65  Coding – have them constantly upgrading the UX/UI based on forum members request for features.

terakristen  Sensitive topics are great for forum discussion. Illness, fetish, self-improvement…

Grovo Funneling community in forum affords greater control for managers and sense of comfort. SM can both be public and FEEL public

LNorvig  Agree with @scottmoore also higher barrier = better participants. Also organized topics make for higher quality discussions.

apdolan  Promote your forum via your social. Don’t cross-post everything though. Never auto-post everywhere.

jessicamalnik Forums are a great alt. for medical/support groups, where ppl may not be comfortable sharing in an open environment like FB.

TheCMgr Q5) Share some examples of really well managed forums!

Historian  Check out Vanillaforums dot org

AdamBritten  I love @wdwmagic#DisneyGeek#cmgrchat

ATT_Jam  I may be a tad bit biased, but pretty awesome. 🙂

jonjohns65 &

jonjohns65   Great example of inviting experts in to provide response + support:

iFroggy,, (@SueOnTheWeb) & are just a few 🙂

OfficeHooky #cmgrchat is one example of a really well managed forum

iFroggy There is Not Enough Time in the Day for Me to Tell You That Forums Are Not Dead:


TheCMgr We want to thank @iFroggy for joinging us! Find him on, and his ebook is “Monetizing Online Forums”


This digest was taken directly from the #cmgrchat transcript that took place on Wednesday, July 11th 2012. 


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About the author

Jenn Pedde

Jenn is a Co-Founder of The Community Manager and the Editor-In-Chief. She’s also an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. You can find her almost anywhere online, but specifically on #CmgrChat every Wednesday from 2-3pm ET.