Managing Forums With Patrick O’ Keefe
Patrick O’ Keefe is the author of Managing Online Forums which covers everything you need to know to run a successful forum. Patrick also operates and runs his own blog network called iFroggy which is an internet network featuring content, community and e-commerce sites covering various interests. In this interview, I tap into Patrick’s head to figure out what it takes to successfully manage an online forum.
Despite being the author of the book, Managing Online Forums, you have branched out to cover more or less, managing online communities. Is their a difference?
Forums are online communities. But, online community can include more than just forums. Simply, an online community is a place where people congregate online. Most large blogs are communities. Chat rooms are communities. Social networking sites are communities. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… these are all online communities. So, forums are just one type of online community. But, across the community spectrum, there are management principles that can similarly apply to several, many or, perhaps, all.
Blogs are still sort of this new thing while forums and discussing boards have been around since the early days of the web. Do you see forums continuing to play a role well into the future or will forums merge with some other type of publishing method?
To me, blogging is something we’ve been doing since the beginning of time, which is create content. We’ve been creating content since the beginning of humankind. We’ve been creating content online since the advent of the internet. Sure, blogging has a specific format, if you will, but at the end of the day, blogging is creating content.
Forums are looked at, by some, to be old hat. Old hat doesn’t necessarily mean bad. But, when you think about it, forums can, sort of, be considered a precursor to what we see today in the social media space. When you get down to it, when you look real closely at blogs, at a MySpace or a Facebook or even a Twitter, you can see similarities with forums.
As you yourself noted (http://www.jeffro2pt0.com/similarities-between-a-blog-and-forum), forums and blogs have a number of noteworthy similarities. I would say they have just as much in common as they do different. The biggest difference is that, on a blog, the blog author or authors determine what the “new topics” are. Where, on a forum, it is usually open to anyone with a registered account.
According to a study conducted by Forrester Research (http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/media.html), they are just as used as blogs or social networking sites. In an online survey of over ten thousand consumers in the U.S., they found that 28% “read online forums or discussion groups.” This compares to 25% that “read blogs” and 25% that “visit social networking sites.”
Meanwhile, 18% “contribute to online forums or discussion groups,” while 18% “add comments to someone’s page on a social networking site” and 14% “comment on someone else’s blog.”
I say all of this in a roundabout way to say that forums are here to stay because forums represent something that we won’t be getting rid of anytime soon. That’s text based communication. Forums are essentially text based communication. One person posts a message, the next person replies and it continues. Video and audio will continue to grow online, but at the end of the day, it is hard for me to see a time, in my lifetime, where we won’t want to discuss something in text, without seeing or hearing the other person. As such, forums an important part of the social web.
In your opinion, is their a right time or a wrong time to start a forum? Perhaps their is a “best time”?
I think the right time is when you have an idea you love or you see a need that you think should be filled and then you have the desire and the passion to fill it.
I don’t know if there is a wrong time. But, to last very long at this, you have to have a passion or, at least an interest, in managing an online community. Not everyone is meant to do it and if you don’t have an interest in it, life’s too short. Better to do something you enjoy.
It would seem natural for blogs who have a big audience and a community which always contributes by way of commenting would do well by starting a forum. However, I’ve seen a few examples in which the forums do not become as popular as commenting on a blog and in some cases, adding a forum hurts the blog. Any thoughts as to why this may be?
There could be any number of reasons. Maybe the site’s audience prefers the blog format. Maybe the audience wasn’t big enough to support forums. Maybe the blogger didn’t have enough interest in it and was just doing it because some people said it was a good idea.
In order to avoid this, before you go forward with any plans to start a forum, you should ask your visitors if they’d visit and post and see what they say. Take it with a grain of salt as not everyone who says it is a good idea will actually show up.
Beyond just having the audience, it’s also a commitment for whoever is managing it. Managing forums takes time and you have to be ready for that and committed to the community. You don’t want to get 3 weeks in and then think “oh man, I wish I could be writing an article right now instead of deleting this spam.” Think about it carefully and know what you want to do.
Before you launch, bring some of your users behind the scenes and ask them to start topics and to start talking before you launch. That way, you’ll launch with activity, which can be quite helpful if you are trying to grow and gain some momentum.
Finally, be sure to integrate your forums and your blog. This includes visible links and advertisements and content sharing, as well. Use your blog to start topics on your forums and your forums to start topics on your blog.
You own and operate iFroggy network which is a network of content centered around community and e-commerce sites. What are your goals as they pertain to your blogging network? Are you hoping to become the next B5?
b5media (http://www.b5media.com) was co-founded by Jeremy Wright (http://www.ensight.org), who is an old, very good friend of mine. I’m friendly with a lot of people at the company, as well, including Darren Rowse (http://www.problogger.net), Shai Coggins (http://www.shaicoggins.com), Jeanne Dupuis (http://www.jeannedupuis.com), Jason Bean (http://www.bnpositive.com/blog) and others. So, I love b5media.
With that said, though, the iFroggy Network was started long before b5media. They are very successful and it’d be cool to be doing some of the numbers they are doing. But, we’re a network with blogs more than a blog network and we have a little different strategy. I’m interested in managing sites that are fun for me to manage and growing in that area. So, there isn’t necessarily anyone I want to be like, I just want to have fun, help people and make money.
Obviously, running one blog is hard enough but you are running a network of them. Can you share with us what you have learned thus far from operating a content network?
I’ve learned that it’s important to not just like what you are writing about, but enjoy writing about it. Otherwise, it can be a real drag.
I’ve learned that you will post something on one blog that was meant for another, that is in no way related to the blog it was accidentally posted on. It’ll happen eventually. You can’t avoid it forever. And it’s not a big deal.
I’ve learned (or, really, I pretty much knew this to be honest) that it’s hard to make a bunch of money! And the people who do have the money have tapped into something special, borne out of a little bit of luck, some good choices and a lot of hard work.
What is the future of blogging?
This is not a question that is easy to answer. But, I was asked it at a conference I spoke at recently and I’ll say what I said then. I don’t know where blogging is going. Blogging is writing. Where is writing going? I have no idea.
But, I will say that one trend I’d like to see or, at least, one area of blogging I hope receives more attention, is responsible blogging. When people ask me what to tell new bloggers, one of the things I often say is that you should never forget that it is a responsibility. You have a responsibility to yourself and everyone who is associated with you, your readers and whoever or whatever you are writing about. You have a responsibility to treat them all fairly and with respect. We’re all people. Bloggers, celebrities, companies – we’re all just human beings.
Gossip blogs can get a ton of traffic. Blogs that simply make things up can get a ton of traffic. At Bad Boy Blog (http://www.badboyblog.com), I make it part of our job to shoot down the random, nonsensical rumors that people make up about Sean “Diddy” Combs, the company or acts signed to the label. Someone makes it up and then gossip lovers eat it up.
But, do I write a gossip blog? No. Would I want to? No. I wouldn’t want that to be my living. I wouldn’t want to be known for that. At Bad Boy Blog, I have built up a network of sources in and around the company that allows me to break news and confirm the accuracy of various stories. I love that I have the access to get the truth and then share it with fans of Bad Boy and it’s related artists and ventures. I enjoy being responsible, I enjoy having my words hold some sort of meaning.
I tire of seeing people talk about “attack blogs” or “the blogs” (cue the theme from “Jaws”). Blogging is a medium, not a style. There are responsible bloggers out there. It is my hope that the attention they get will grow and, with that happening, the understanding of blogging will grow. Blogging doesn’t equal gossip or irresponsibility. Gossips or irresponsible people blogging equals gossip or irresponsibility.