Forums and Communities : Building, Management, and Optimization

Nov 13, 2008 - 7:25 pm 0 by
Filed Under PubCon 2008

Moderator: Brett Tabke Speakers: Chris Tolles, CEO, Topix Lawrence Coburn, President, RateItAll, Inc. Roger B. Dooley, VP of Online Community Development, Hobsons U.S. Brett Tabke, CEO,

Chris Tolles of Topix begins:

Topix is a local news aggregator. Turned it into a community around news. 40,000 local forums, 150,000 comments a day. Only provider of ZIP code local news on the web. Largest local forum provider on the web. Participation from people in over 20,000 US localities monthly. 15 million uniques a month. Roughly the same traffic as Digg.

Two equally big problems 1) Getting participation 2) Dealing with it - running and managing it is a huge nightmare

Product management 101:

How do you build a community? Provide something people want to use. Build around the people you know. Build around what you know. Build something no one else has. ODP was the first directory powered by people.

Has to be easy to use, easy to find. Obvious keyword optimization problems. Building a strategy for being found. Topix optimizes for news. Must be easy to understand. Some communities are not clear what the focus is. Easy to see the unique value. Are you another site talking about Toyotas? What is your unique value? Ease of participation. Maximizing engagement. Let people participate without registration. Make it easy for people to come back. Give them a reason to come back. Facebook is amazing that 15% of users come back daily. Let the audience virally build your business. Passion about your product / service is key.

Dealing with participation: Your users are all trying to "get you". Everyone on there is insane! Look for the attack on the system. A community is just another system. Assume people are out to get you. What's the experience like if they get your voicemail? Phone calls at 2am? Look for these issues, and build it to deal with this. Have functionality to deal with complaints. Ways of managing and moderating what potential problems are before they happen. Have to take a long view on things. Building tools and functionality with expected issues that will happen.

Security is policy. Topix powers the forums for a Hartford newspaper. Had an incident where someone was hit by a car. Lots of racist talk. Was there a policy on this? No. Hard to do anything with a community unless you've built a policy/rules and stick with it. Need policies! The efficiency of the organization depends on it.

Don't go down! If it's growing, it let it go down. Tech matters - have a solid setup. Think about the technology you use. Look at your growth. Look at other sites and look at their solutions. That's why Friendster probably went down.

Do as little as possible. If providing internet community services for free, limit your cost. If you are charging, people have expected value. Down drown in costs! But don't abandon your community.

Killing posts - need a balance. Have a policy, and enforce it.

Brett Tabke:

Talks about Steve Job's famous commencement address at Stanford. Main point is that you cannot connect the dots going forward, but can do it backwards. Brett is going to connect the dots in this presentation, of where he started, and where is today.

-WMW started in 1999. Before that, was SearchEngineWorld in 1997. -Forum on ISP in 1996. -Before that worked at Gateway 2000. -In 85-89 was on BBSes. -In 80's programmed in assembly. Very community oriented, all about speed. -First BBS community went on in 1984. -First computer was in 1976. First program was on a Commodore PET -First computer owned was a Commodore 64 in college. ' Grew up in the 60's - big Stark Trek fan. Dealt with social and cultural issues. If you run a forum, you must be culturally sensitive and must be PC. Built first search engine - - an agriculture and farm search engine in '96. Went to lots of user groups, trade shows for Gateway.

Today, WMW focus is unique, easy to use. Required registration. No free email address registrations. Designed so that your words go high above the fold. Want members to feel important. Success = member on site time - member posts. More about relationships than content. Avoid visual distractions - visual noise. Avoided social networking stuff - but starting to add a few things this year. For WMW its all about the trust and long term relationship. Been the same site for 10 years. Standing on policy, even if meant losing friends. Subscription vs. advertisement model. Don't care about raw page views, clicks, or membership sign ups. Concern is quality, secondary is converting users to subscribers. Now, biggest day ever for WMW was 200,000 uniques and 1 million PV's during Florida update.

US accounts for about 46% of WMW. Big challenges are the spammers, link droppers, name droppers. #1 problem = rogue spiders and bots from cable modem ISP's.

One-offs - 4 days offline in 2005. Results? Uniques went up 15% and stayed up 15%.

Some problems in the blogosphere flat wrong about WMW and the bot issues.

3 rules of damage control 1) release early- tell your story. 2) release often - retell your story 3) tell the truth - never compound the problem. You can never correct and error that goes corrected and unchallenged.

Speed is key: When worked on a Commodore 64 speed was everything. WMW is consistently the fastest forum on the web.

Roger Dooley: = A topical community - 1.7 million visits last month.

Why community? Nueromarketing - the intersection between brain science and marketing. Measurement of brain activity. Behavioral science. It's important because 95% of our behavior is subconscious. People need help and communities solve that. People looking for answers. Some communities are purely social.

Community participation. Why do people spend so much time helping others? Why answer questions? Why moderate? Human brain is programmed for altruism. We get a little reward for helping others. Helping makes you "hot". Members of the opposite sex rank helping others as a key desire.

Typical member cycle: Typically people start by needing help. Stumbled on the site perhaps on Google or through a friend. Then people start interacting. The same folks realize they can help others. Not everyone makes it that far, but very typical. With new arrivals - welcome if possible. Dumb questions are OK. Flaming is not away to build a strong community.

Long term members - recognize contributions, posting latitude, moderator status. Most important to community success.

Moderators - many thing of as TOS enforcers. In reality, they should be helpful, patient, tolerant, accepting.

Recruiting mods - long history in community. Mature behavior. Friendly, welcoming.

Rewarding volunteers - they are very important. Social norms vs. market norms. Market norms are doing a job for pay. Why do mods mod? They enjoy the community. Want to give something back. Experiments have shown that volunteers can be more productive.

Good rewards are anything that recognizes contributions.

Community death: Reasons for failure - emphasis on technology vs. members. Use of inexperienced community managers. Measuring the wrong metrics.

Last up is Lawrence Coburn, talking about "The social media river".

Definition: "A constantly updating news feed of content that be tuned and customized the by the user".

In the mid 90's there was the BBS. Mid 90's came the forum and message board. Still here to stay. 1999's blogs were the new format for growing communities. Then the profile via Friendster and Myspace became dominant for discovering content. The big leap forward was the concept of the river - don't have to go anywhere to find your content. Facebook was the big revolution in 2006. Aggregating friends activity. Twitter came along and took the concept of the river, and let people do it from any device. SMS, IM, etc. Reduced the concept to one single question. Friendfeed is the river for multiple sites - getting lots of buzz. Aggregates all the communities together.

Why the river works? Content comes to you. It's always fresh. You have control of what happens in the river. Relevant to you, and can adapt to changing tastes.

There are 3 primary sources of content:

1) People - you choose to follow people and see what they are up to. 2) Media type - photos, app activity, video, status updates. Total control. On Facebook, you can tune your feed - to get more relationship info, etc. 3) Topic - not subscribing to a person, but a topic. Want to hear all posts about social media for example.

River monetization - trying to find an ad format that works. Problem is making it relevant. Some revolutionary concepts emerging. Google doesn't have a format for this yet.

The river and widgets. This concept is a threat to widgets, because sidebar is becoming a distraction. Widgets need to find a way to get into the content.

Search vs. the river: MSN live is being revamped to go into the river. Yahoo! is working on this as well - called Yahoo! OS. If you are marketer, publisher, content provider - need to get it into the river.


Live coverage provided by Avi A. Wilensky of Promediacorp, a Manhattan based online marketing agency.


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