1. “People often say to me, ‘Yahtzee, you callipygian superman, how can you, a game writer yourself, complain about a game having too much dialogue?’ I would reply for the same reason a hairdresser is entitled to complain when someone fills their car with shampoo.”
    — Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, “Mass Effect” (Review).
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    If you are a first time visitor and want to know more about this place, read the “Guide,” “A Short History of the Forum,” “Five Reasons to Switch to the Infinity Program,” and the highly entertaining “A Brief History of the Universe.” Along those lines, The Infinity Encyclopedia describes notable members and topics, and notable events of the forum. Alternatively, if you want to submit feedback, contact us.

Misused Community Building Methods

Discussion in 'Electronic Verve' started by Medora, Jun 24, 2010.

  1. Medora The New Architect

    There have been numerous articles created about how to build content on your forum and keep a community going. For example, it has been said many times that you, as the administrator, should get involved with your community (e.g., by posting topics, starting competitions, and replying to inquiries). However, as I mean to show examples of below, there are community building methods thought beneficial that administrators often misuse.

    Starting Topics

    It is often advised of an administrator to start topics on a regular basis, in order to keep his members interested. For example, in an article by Shawn J. Gossman, "How to run a successful forum: Getting Members and Posts," one of the advices given is to keep your "forum active by keeping fresh content on it." To do this, one of the two suggestions he makes is this: decide on a set minimum amount of topics and replies to submit each week.

    The problem, however, is that inexperienced administrators who pick up on this advice will often focus on quantity while paying little attention to quality. What I mean is simply this: there are no shortage of forums stock full of the same non-substantive topics that ask what your favorite day of the week is, or what your favorite color is.

    Sure, topics may be posted that have a lot more potential for worthwhile discussion, but they are wasted when the administrator simply asks members for their opinions on the topics without providing his own. Even if a topic has been covered before, it can be made far more interesting if, in the opening post, the administrator adds a few sentences detailing his stance on a subject, or any other observations about it.

    That said, regularly posting new topics increases the probability that members will post, which increases the probability that they'll become, and will remain, active. However, by adding substance to your topics, you will do a much better job of keeping your members entertained, and will make better use of the topics you post.

    This advice, in any case, will be of more consequence to forums that don't rely on members' desire to promote, or obtain something of benefit that hasn't to do with your community. For example, on promotion forums, members will post regardless of the quality of content because increasing their post count helps them obtain "services" which they'll use for the benefit of their own forum, and a certain post count may be required to submit an advertisement. Also, there are forums that people will join only to meet the minimum post count to receive movie downloads, or other media. Nonetheless, since most forums aren't based on promoting other forums, or serving merely as a portal into the downloads section, the focus for their administrators will have to fall on something else, namely content.

    Even if you are the promotion or download-able content type of forum, however, this advice may help you with content and interaction, but that will depend on the type of community you want to build; i.e., if quantity takes precedence over quality, so be it.

    Exchanging Posts

    I do not make use of post exchanges, and I have reservations about that "service." However, this is but my philosophy, and I do not deny that post exchanges may benefit a community.

    That out of the way, the problem with the post exchange, as an inexperienced administrator may choose to use them, is that they settle for poor quality. Furthermore, this problem coincides, to a certain extent, with the problem detailed above about the submission of non-substantive topics.

    Often times, a set amount of topics and posts will be agreed upon by both participants of a post exchange before it is carried out. However, the worth of that content is often not a consideration thought worthy of discussion (if even thought of at all), and so non-substantive topics and replies by an administrator may be compounded with non-substantive topics and replies by the exchanger, which will help in creating and maintaining a community where discussions and interactions are of a low quality.

    As said above, anyway, you don't have to settle for poor quality. The Admin Zone, for example, has a section on their forum, "The Exchange," which details a system of exchange regulated for "quality control." In any case, I mention the exchange service at TAZ not to recommend it, but to point out an option. Of course, many people are going to find something controversial so long as there are regulations. Fortunately, you needn't join an exchange group for better quality exchanges; i.e., you may simply make a deal with someone that takes quality into account.

    Sending E-Mails

    For a tutorial on the proper use of e-mail by forum administrators, Alfa1's "How to keep your board from getting blacklisted as a spammer" is as extensive as it gets. For this article, however, I mean to limit myself to the problem with content in e-mails detailing forum updates, and the use of automated emails.

    First of all, it is suggested that administrators send out e-mails occasionally with details about changes to the forum in order to lure members back by reminding them about the forum, or by convincing them that something worth seeing has been created since their last visit. Nonetheless, an e-mail may go to waste if insufficiently specific. For example, an administrator may state that several changes have been made, but fail to explain what those changes are and why they matter.

    Additionally, notable changes to the forum may be sparse, prompting the administrator to send an e-mail with much padding and little substance, instead of waiting for a more opportune time. That pointed out, it must be remembered that impatience leads to rash action; in this case, frequently sending non-substantive e-mails will help give the recipients the impression that you're spamming them. What you must do, then, is again put quality over quantity: a substantive e-mail is more productive than a dozen non-substantive ones sent in quick succession.

    Now, on to automated e-mails, specifically for members' registrations and birthdays. If you recall, I linked to an article by Mr. Gossman, and it is in that article that the following relevant suggestion was made:

    Automated registration and birthday e-mails are inconsequential, and are much like those non-substantive e-mail updates I talked about. Well, what does that have to do with the sentences quoted above? I will explain.

    By personalizing the registration and birthday e-mails, you will make the members feel more important, which will help in an important aspect of community building: forging relationships with members. Many communities, after all, are built around the administrator, and though it may be impractical to get to know every member of your community, it nonetheless helps to make your presence felt in the community every way you can.

    When it comes to the registration e-mail, it may be of more consequence if, for instance, you add important information about the forum. Instead of an e-mail, too, you may post in the new members' profile (for vBulletin, at least), or send a private message, personally wishing him hello, and giving details about the forum. Also, you can take the opportunity to point him to the introduction forum, and to wish him thanks for joining. In other words, there are alternatives to the stock registration e-mail that are more beneficial to your community.

    As for birthday e-mails, a member may find it more valuable if it's you (or the community, collectively) wishing him a happy birthday; otherwise, it's just the Internet saying it remembers his birthday, and why send an e-mail for that?

    Replying To Introductions

    There are countless forums where the overwhelming majority of replies are simply a "welcome," or variation of it, that would apply to any introduction topic, and doesn't take into account what the new member says or does in the opening post or elsewhere in the forum. This is a problem because the introduction topic is an excellent opportunity to acquaint yourself with a new member and make him feel welcome, and it is squandered with copy-and-paste replies by members who just see the introduction topic rather than the member who submitted it.

    After all, the very point of the introduction is the new member, and letting members respond to the new member directly instead of having to fit the interaction into another topic about another subject.

    First, think about why you, as the administrator, created an introduction forum. If your answer has to do with post count, then you're doing it wrong; rather, the answer should have to do with the feelings of the new member towards your community. That said, making more productive replies does not necessitate making lengthy replies, so long as a new member at least provides a little information about himself.

    This is where controversy may set in, as many people may get it into their head that you risk being too restrictive with introductions, thereby curbing creativity and disrupting the new member's ability or will to "settle in," or other members' ability or will to get acquainted with new members.

    I believe this concern is not without merit: you, as the administrator, must be cautious with how you advise your members to conduct themselves in an introduction topic. Take, for instance, my introduction guideline topic:

    Notice, first of all, that I spoke not a word of punishments. Also, instead of simply detailing my expectations, I sought to help soothe any uneasiness by saying to the new member that he may submit his introduction without fear of repercussion for "inadequacy," and that I would simply attempt to work it out with him in that topic instead of taking unnecessary action. Along those lines, you may have also noticed the two survey topics I linked to, which would help the new member if he didn't know what to say. Finally, I attempted to make it clear that I'm not expecting or demanding a paragraph or more, or information too personal.

    Now, with new members giving a few details about themselves, here is what I had to say to the other members:

    I do not want to be restrictive, but I want to nudge members in what I perceive to be the right direction. When a new member provides a few details about himself, and another member submits a reply that takes into account what was said, the probability becomes much higher for interaction and worthwhile discussion to ensue. All this goes back to what I've been saying about community building: that be personalizing, and by adding content, you make for a richer community.
    saturnword likes this.
  2. saturnword The Enigma

    I have not participated in a lot of forums, but I have seen at least some of those things. All of those things really end up reducing the site to an odd reward oriented society. Not much real communication goes on.
  3. Medora The New Architect

    This morning, another example came to me: introductions. I've edited my article.
  4. saturnword The Enigma

    It's interesting and I noticed that you recently have the instructions for introduction as an announcement/alert on every thread in that board.
  5. Medora The New Architect

    I'm using the "notice" feature built into the software, but even though I set it to display once, it keeps displaying on a seemingly random basis. I'll try to fix that today. Along those lines, I know a newer version of the software adds an "x" icon to the top-right of the notice, which allows members to close it. I may not have that, but there is an alternative that I'm thinking about adding today.
    saturnword likes this.

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