Picking the First Topics in Your Forum

(Grace Cheung) #1

I’m definitely going to have an Introductions/Icebreakers board but want to make sure that I’m not creating too many empty boards that need to be filled with content. When you first started forums for your community, how did you determine topics or discussion boards to start with? At what point did you create new boards and why?

Finally, what are the 3 most popular topics you’ve seen discussed in YOUR forums to this day?

Engagement challenges in a CoP
The process of launching a new community
(Richard Millington) #2

@gcheung28 Good questions. Think a lot of people are going to have a similar challenge in the future.

If you’re just launching a community, you usually need just 1 board. It might vary a little for customer support communities at large organizations.

Any more than that and you dilute discussions a little too widely. I’d incorporate the introductions within that board until it’s big enough to support it’s own place (it’s still not big enough here, so we don’t).

The first topics should usually be based around the biggest pain points or most common questions members have. Try to have something interesting (questions based upon experience) that can’t be solved by a Google search. Even better, interview 20 prospective members and find out what they want. Then invite them to participate in discussions about those things.

Create new boards when there is clearly a separate strand of discussions to support it. Most communities probably don’t get this far.

Really, it’s about starting small and then growing big slowly.

(Grace Cheung) #3

People I’ve talked to so far seem to not fully understand what they want which is the problem. There’s interest in a product feedback board, boards based on categories (we’re a digital publishing company so we have 10+ categories like Arts, Style, etc.), or even a board just to talk about what they’re currently reading. I agree that we need to start small or people might get overwhelmed by the options!

(Sarah Hawk) #4

People never do! Rather than asking them what boards/forums/categories they want to see in the community, ask them what they struggle with the most on a daily basis, or what they need to do their job.

FWIW we started with just one catch-all category (+ a forum feedback/help category) and then split it out later when we had more content. That way, the audience and the content defined the structure, rather than us defining what we THOUGHT people wanted.

The three most popular things that are discussed here are:

  • what platform should I use / should I use Facebook?
  • how do I get members / lurkers / employees to engage in the community?
  • what does your homepage / digest / newsletter / forum structure look like?

The three most popular things discussed in the other community I manage are:

  • what degree / course / bootcamp should I do to get into a career in UX?
  • how do i get projects for my portfolio if I have never had a job in UX?
  • how can I fix this icon / menu / responsive layout / date picker?

(Grace Cheung) #5

Helpful, thanks! I had this list when I first started thinking about it, but now I’m thinking about changing it after talking to potential users:

Topics for discussion

Introduce Yourself

Making $$

  • How do you monetize?
  • How do you work with advertisers?


  • How do you work with a remote team?
  • How do you manage a big team?
  • How do you build a team?


  • What is inspiring you today?
  • What is inspiring your next publication?


  • Give kudos to another publisher whose work you’ve been loving recently!

Feature Requests/Feedback

(Sarah Hawk) #6

Those all look like excellent discussions, but I’m not convinced that they need to be structured into categories in the first instance (depending on the platform and limitations of the homepage structure). People generally read the latest content or search for relevant discussions.

(Suzi Nelson) #7

straight up knowledge bomb right here. it’s all about social density.

(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #8

Smart idea with the running list! The key tidbit I have is to identify a few folks to respond and model the behavior you want. In our case, we designed the intros to collect insights on passions and expertise. Our Ambassadors responded first and set a great example. (Although, now that the examples have fallen below the fold, we are seeing less ‘robust’ responses)

(Sarah Hawk) #9

Excellent advice. I do that here too.

Check out @Nick_Emmett’s posts – he’s in charge of welcoming and engaging new members, and he does a fantastic job.

(Grace Cheung) #10

One idea that my CEO and boss want to consider is doing category or interest-based boards. Would this dilute conversation too much as well? Thinking about using Vanilla Forums which you can use to create sub-communities within your communities, but, again, is it too much to have a foodies community, photographer fanatics, fashion lovers, etc. right off the bat??

(Sarah Hawk) #11

That is a very common approach when people launch new communities, but it’s almost always a mistake.

It feels weird not to have a structure and offer choices, so we create one based on what we want our members to do.

Unless you know your audience very well and have witnessed their behaviour in other environments, you’ll be creating those boards according to assumptions that you’re making about what they want. You are more likely to succeed if you start small and then scale according to demand.

Launching with numerous categories will almost certainly result in the empty graveyard boards you talked about in your original post.

(Nick Emmett) #12

I definitely agree with @HAWK on this one, don’t start with too many otherwise there’s far more potential for those groups to be quiet and underused and then you get the ghost town syndrome.

when we first launched our Community we had 6 groups: one each for our 4 core products, 1 for announcing and discussion around company news and events and 1 generic, catch-all group for miscellaneous, general conversation (all new members are auto-enrolled into this group). We know have over 50 groups, with some clearly being more active than others. These span some of our more niche products and sub-products., there are geographic user groups around the world, we have industry specific groups (e.g. Not For Profit customers), and there are also private groups for our customers, where our Customer Success team collaborate and work with their accounts in the community.

As with most things Communtiy wise, starting small as opposed to big is better for building momentum. Then you can see where things take you, and shape your strategy towards what you want achieve but based around how you see people behaving. Once you know what typical behaviour is, you’ll have more of an idea how you might want to change or manipulate that behaviour.

Be sure to let us know which direction you end up going with and how it works out.

(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #13

Could a compromise be to use tagging in the short term? It could allow for filtering without the automatic dilution?

(Nikoletta Harrold) #14

We are very much going through the same issues at my company. We are a financial company who is undergoing a digital transformation. As part of that we are launching a community. Everyone wants us to start with a bunch of boards to cover our typical topics… but… we have settled on running a social media test (not our customers, but a more general public fitting our target audience age and lifestyle) to test the proposed topics and see how people engage with them. We will then use the top 3-4 performing topics and use those as boards to begin with. I can’t wait to see the results so we are not just shooting in the dark.

I agree with @hawk’s statement:

(Grace Cheung) #15

How are you setting up your test? Are you sending out pieces of content in different topics and gauging engagement?

(Nikoletta Harrold) #16

we are testing on FB. We did a segmentation of all FB members based on our target audience and identified 5million users. We are now creating dark posts (ads) that will show up in their feed. we are testing 8 topics with 3 different tone of voices for both target audiences. So basically imagine a matrix of 8x3x2 = 48 posts and we will. We will serve up one to 1/48th of our 5million target people (ca. 104,000 people) for the time span until the money allocated to it will run out. (it will go fast, so not all 104,000 people will see the post). Based on the click rates and comments and engagement levels on each post, we will identify:

  1. which topic is interesting to which target audience to help us choose topics for our boards and content
  2. which tone of voice will resonate on our community to which target audience
  3. which target audience was most engaged, what type of people to expect to show up to our community.

(Emilio F. Castillo) #17

@HAWK - I am officially deleting several categories and subcategories from our community. guilty!

(Richard Millington) #18

That’s a pretty smart way of going about it. Really we find the the best thing is either to run a test like the above or simply create a single board and then take an emergent approach to it. See what people do spend the most time talking about and build out from that.

Trying to predict it top-down is difficult and can lead to some big errors.

(Richard Millington) #19

If you’re allowed to share, what’s the budget for a test like this?

(Peter Staal) #20

@Nikoletta_Harrold would you be willing to share the ads (prinstcreens) here? Thanks! Great approach btw!

US Strategy Vs Global Strategy