Minimum participation requirement as a prerequisite to join a forum- feasible?


#1

I run a dining forum, which is split by major metropolitan areas in the US. I am entertaining the idea of turning my local board from a public forum into a closed forum where participants can join only if they commit to a minimum participation requirement.

Current dynamics:
In our local forum, there are a handful off active posters who post about their eating out experience, with me being the most active. There are many more lurkers, and semi-lurkers. As a result, it makes for a relatively quiet forum where we get a few reports of restaurants a week, half of them is mine.

There are two other very similar forums. One of them is quieter. The other is about the same. The quieter one and our forum are spinoffs from the one with similar level of activities as us due to members’ UX dissatisfaction.

Arguably we aren’t at critical mass. We have been around for 2 years, and I think we are shrinking rather than growing. We’ve tried many tricks to grow the community already. But by nature the community of knowledgeable diners are small.

Question:
What do people think of the idea turning my local forum from a public forum into a closed forum where participants can join only if they commit to a minimum participation requirement is enforced (with some latitude of course- people get busy), and perhaps require a token low membership fee like $5 / year so people have to invest something into the forum.

I personally am not getting much out of the forum since i did a lot of the original content, and I don’t see my interest level in writing these content to hold for much longer if there is not enough interest to reciprocate. The logic for my idea is that even if we have 10 people committed to posting for each other, its better than 3 committed people posting for 100. Writing a personal blog (which I won’t do) seems to be more appealing than even the current scenario. If we let the forum to slowly die off or shut the forum down, the other two forums won’t make critical mass either.

Thoughts? Feedback?


(Jae Van Rysselberghe) #2

I’m currently testing this with my own forum which launched late December last year.

A bit of background information regarding my forum, it’s aimed at new entrepreneurs starting a business in Belgium who also still need to pass their business administration exam. Belgium requires by law that a business owner possess a b.a. license = “drivers license” but to run/setup a business. Talk about a nanny state… hey, a least our health care system is better than most countries.

The forum is currently set to private.

People join up to be able to access a free prep course for their business administration exam (online marketing 101: lead generation). I’m sending traffic from my blog.

Once they sign-up, confirm by e-mail, they have to complete one more step… which is to create a single new topic introducing themselves. Only by creating a new topic, are they able to view/access all “hidden categories”.

This introduction (as stated by my forum’s welcome message) is not simply your typical “Hi, my name is…” but “Hi, my name is… this is the business I want to launch, this is my value proposition.”

The benefit for me is that I can and will personally welcome them to my forum by replying to their introduction topic. Additionally, if they say something like “Hey, I’m planning to start a catering business” I can link them to the relevant topics concerning starting a catering business, such as which licenses that are legally required.

Technical wise, you set this up in Discourse by editing the trust level for level 1 and restricting certain categories to members with a trust level 1.

I’ve only implemented this new rule a few days ago, but would still need more data to decide I’ve I’ll keep this rule. I would say I’m reasonably satisfied implementing this.

For your own forum, it would depend on how much your audience has a desire to access specific hidden categories (access to coupons - b2c, access to marketing/promotion tips - b2b).


(Jae Van Rysselberghe) #3

This could at most cover your overhead (server cost) and maybe your own time invested into your forum, but it won’t create a sustainable long term business (we are talking about your forum as a business, and not as as a hobby). So, you would need to have a strong back-end in place or upsell. For example how movie theaters don’t make any profit from the movie tickets they sell but from all the popcorn and soda.


#4

To clarify, that token fee is not meant to make the forum profitable, but merely to make people actively make the commitment to the forum.


(Jae Van Rysselberghe) #5

Ah, ok. So how many people who sign up for a gym membership actually actively go to the gym?

You’re also in a highly competitive market (Yelp, Tripadvisor, Foursquare, … ), it’s doable highly depended on your chosen niche.


#6

Good point. Though in this case, there should be a mechanism that if someone joins and doesn’t make the required participation commitment, that we don’t renew that membership until he/she is ready, or maybe even kick them off.


(Jae Van Rysselberghe) #7

Food for thought, is participation the only metric you’re going by? You should also look at how many users keep on visiting your forum.


(Jeff Atwood) #8

This is an interesting problem. Rather than making it a penalty based system, which I think will backfire…

You must post (x) times per month, or bad thing

you could try making it a postitive incentive based system

People who post at least (x) times per month get cool thing

By incentive I don’t necessarily mean stuff that costs money. Could be avatar flair (group membership), custom title, etc. You could also do something like

Please join my pledge to write (x) times per month!

where you mail out reminders to folks so they stay on top of the pledge.


#9

Thanks for the background- I’d love to hear how it turns out. Although the nature of the forum is quite different. I think entrepreneurs looking to gather and share info should be naturally inclined to to tell people about their project.

Also, participation isn’t the only metric, but its an important one for me. Without active participation, my local board just becomes a collective blog at best, the interaction is what makes the board potentially special.


#11

Good point.

Food for thought here. If penalty based system will backfire (which i agree with you), then theoretically there isn’t anything that prevents me from doing any of your suggestions before making any ‘participation-related’ changes to the forum. The flair suggestion is a good one. I have always thought about some sort of ID that identifies the quality contributors in the community, but badges don’t display during the normal flow of discussion unless someone clicks into the member page, so I had been stumped about this one (even though I use flair to id the mods). So I am going to start doing this since its low cost low effort and potentially impactful.

I am going to have to think about pledge a little more. Between flair and pledge, I tend to think flair may have a better ROI. But I am not completely certain yet.

But thanks for the suggestions.


#12

I think the suggestions above are worth a try but I suspect they won’t work to the extent that you need them to in order to save your community.

If you have to actively chase engagement then you likely either have a culture problem (which it doesn’t sound like) or a conceptualisation problem (which I suspect).

What is the goal or ROI of your community?


(Emma Furtado) #13

Nobody wants to show up to a restaurant to see that it’s empty. Unless it’s your favorite and you know already that you like the food.

As a first timer, anyone would wonder "why aren’t more people here?"
The same goes with the forum. I would open it up, promote it heavily, and work on rewarding people who share information. More foodies will show up with the value/connection to others with a common interest is clear.


#14

I think you are most likely right. It may prompt participation from a user here and there. But not likely to suddenly make it flourish.

Both I think. Culture- the forum which ours spunoff from, 5 years ago it was highly active. So people expected the activity level. And ours can never match.

Conceptualization problem: even before we spunoff, the parent forum diminished significantly already. The unpopular UX change splintered the forum into 3- the parent, ours, and one other. I don’t think any of them has critical mass since then.

Goal, is for everyone to talk about restaurants/ dining in depth, and plenty of gives and takes. There are a lot of collective knowledge on the forum, just hasn’t been unlocked.


#15

So it sounds like you have nothing to lose at this point then. Test some things out. Pivot if you fail.