How do I bring back my community that was very active 10 years ago?


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #1

Hi.
Quick version: we have a niche sport French website and forum for almost 20 years.

We have reworked both the site and the forum. Migrated from pluXml to Wordpress and from phpBB to Discourse. They are launched since yesterday.

Longer version:

We think that our community gradually left the forum because, among other things, Facebook groups which are very active.

Here are the posts stats of our forum, which has about 3000 members and 180000 messages:

Any advice to get more activity back?


(Jeff Atwood) #2

I would start by recruiting maybe 5 power users and getting them to post amongst themselves every day. One of them should be you of course :wink:


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #3

Thank you for your reply. I hope my question isn’t weird, but can you explain me briefly by which social mechanism can this bring back activity from other people? Eeeh… like, monkey see (people talking!), monkey do (I talk too!)?


(Jeff Atwood) #4

You email them directly with the elevator pitch. You may also need incentives like gift certificates to relevant stores for encouragement. It helps if they become part of the power structure (moderators, TL4, etc) of the site later too, which makes sense if they are helping reboot it.


(Christoph) #5

I think you were asking for the mechanism that will turn five very active users into many active users.

The answer to that is simply: it (hopefully) breaks the vicious circle of user activity and turns it into a virtuous one: The assumption is that people who look at the forum see that there is not much happening there so they have no reason to come back (that is where fb has an advantage: people always come back). If they don’t come back, they don’t post, which means there is not much happening on the forum. And so on (or rather: not).

So if those five users post every day, people coming to the forum will stop thinking there is nothing happening and they are more likely to come back. If people come back, chances increase that they will post something whicb means there will be more happening, which means… You get the idea.

From this model, a second advice can be derived (in addition to: generate activity): generate content that encourages replies. That is easier said than done, but it you might keep it in mind while discussing stuff with the other four people, not the least because when five insiders talk to each other, chances are that their conversation 7 gets esoteric or otherwise disengaging for others.


(Cameron:D) #6

They also always come back because FB always shows something new at the top of the home page.

The same probably needs to be true to encourage users to use a site.
If the site has been around for 20 years that means there are topics that old there. Keeping them around is okay, but I don’t think keeping them active is a good idea. Push discussion to new topics rather than having new users walk into a topic whose first post is from 2005 (even if the topic may still be relevant, that’s a lot of old discussion to wade through to get to the new stuff).


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #7

Thank you for your replies :slight_smile:
The forum is old, but old topics won’t be particularly visibles. My home page shows the last active topics and we merged a lot of categories from the old phpbb forum (some categories had no new messages since a few years!).


#8

It’s not far off the kind of advice you need starting a completely new one by scratch, except at least you have the emails of a few active users - let’s hope they are still into this subject matter and haven’t moved on.

I’m about to start an experiment in forming a new community with some partners. I will try Jeff’s advice about getting several experts to start talking together online and hope a drip feed of referrals and Google search will do the rest …


#9

Hi guys, I’m in a very similar situation: In September of 2003 I launched a forum on phpbb from scratch by creating five virtual characters who I had talk amongst themselves. It got to a point where I would wake up in the morning, read what one of my virtual characters had posted and getting excited about his response until I realized I had posted that message myself. Anyway, a couple of years ago the sign up feature broke and couldn’t be fixed so we had no new sign ups for a very long time but the forum still survived because a few of the users were very active posting almost every day. Then, about two weeks ago we finally managed to move the forum to Discourse and onto a new domain and ever since that point user activity has been lower although the number of new sign ups went up (up from zero, that is). So now we are also looking for ways of increasing user engagement and rebuilding the community more or less from scratch. I have quite a few ideas for this and look forward to hearing yours as well. Many thanks for your support.


(Robert McIntosh) #10

As @merefield points out, advice for growing a ‘quiet’ community is pretty much the same as starting a new one, but at least you have the possibility of interacting more with existing users.

First, you need to create engaging content by getting your more motivated regulars and ambassadors to talk to each other, to demonstrate the value of the topic that lies at the core of your community’s identity.

You also want them to model good behaviour, so others can see what they are supposed to do and how they too might get involved.

I’ve found that regular events where you get members together online at the same time, for an AMA type event or Q&A, gives some added vibrancy to the community. Not only do you create good content, but it is easy to follow for others since it will read more like a social chat than a series of pontifications by experts.

Resist the call to post very general ‘social’ content - like “Who will win the World Cup” (unless you are a sports community) because it is something they will already be seeing in many other places they may currently have stronger relationships with. Try to keep things fun and social, but on-topic, at least while establishing THIS community.

When re-engaging previous registrants, don’t take them for granted. Make special effort to communicate to them as personally as possible to explain the reasons and benefits of the new platform. Offer to remove them or to help them get set-up their new profiles. A community emerges not just from shared identity, and engaging content, but from the tools & processes that are used to interact. I do believe Discourse is a wonderful platform for this, but if they are already used to something different, there will be some resistance, so be open to feedback.

Lastly, do think carefully about how you set up the incredibly useful digests. Email is still one of the best ways to get repeat visits - at least until they become properly engaged and make the community a place they monitor actively (such as by putting the app on their mobiles and getting notifications).

Make sure that the interval you select as a default is suitable to your community. There’s no point sending a daily email if new content is only posted weekly, and vice-versa, it is a waste to send a two-weekly email if there will be great content posted every day that might be missed.

Let us know how it goes


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #11

Thanks for your replies guys.

Here are the posts per day stats for the last two months, pre and post Discourse:

The new forum was launched in June 24th, hence the peak.

It’s growing slowly, let’s hope it keeps going up.

I added this plugin yesterday:

As a user, I like it when I see that there are actually people on the forum, even if they’re not currently writing posts. It tells me that the community is here and I think it can help growing a small community, because it tells users: “there are currenty people here that’ll probably read if you write now”.


(Christoph) #12

The problem with that is, of course, that it also works the other way: it tells people that nobody is currently online and that may reinforce the impression that the forum is dead… For that reason, I would never install that plugin on a new forum. But perhaps you have enough activity already to trigger a positive effect? Let us know how it goes.


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #13

That’s true.

Thanks to a small core of long-date users that often stick around, there are often a few users connected.
Plus, these users know well the forum, and they also know that even if nobody is currently online, they will be readers soon anyway.

With the plugin, you can change the whos_online_active_timeago parameter, which is set to 5 minutes by default. I kept this value, so if a user disconnects, it is displayed as online for 5 more minutes.

Finally, I suppose (I didn’t check yet!) that the “Online:” label simply disappear when no one is online, so if an unregistered user is on the forum, he won’t be aware of that there is no one currently connected.

There has been a lot of activity yesterday after I set up the plugin, but I can’t 100% relate this to to plugin.

edit: when no user is online, it displays a message “no user online”, that’s bad. I’m going to ask the author how I can remove this message…

re edit: there is already an option for this I didn’t see. whos online hide below minimum display :slight_smile:


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #14

I must add an interesting info (:fr:) I got on my forum. My forum is about a niche sport who had an increased popularity in the mid-2000s, but it slowly decreased since.

I think Google trends is representative enough to get an idea of the popularity curve of our sport in France:

I think it also explains why the activity on my forum decreased a lot these past years. Facebook groups maybe aren’t the only guilty after all, even if they remain quite active in this niche sports.

Here’s a superposition of the google trend graphs (red) and the posts creation stats from Discourse (blue):


(Sam Saffron) #15

Unicycling, wow awesome, at last a vehicle I could use for my daily commute from the Kitchen to my Office down the hallway. :blush:

One idea here would be to increase the “pool” of users by possibly introducing English as well, it is a bit of a double edged sword though cause mixed language forums are really really hard to get right.


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #16

Go for it! :smirk:

We can’t introduce English as there is already an active phpbb forum (Threads: 90,225, Posts: 1,368,663, Members: 144,897).


#17

Have you thought about adding information about EUC?


(Coin-coin le Canapin) #18

We have not yet added information about the EUC.


(Jay Pfaffman) #19

A hallway is a great place to learn to unicycle! You probably need to stay out of the dining room and living room, because :cow: in a :clinking_glasses: shop. And you can get a decent unicycle for not a lot of money.


(Christoph) #20

Well, as you say: it’s phpBB… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: