Okay, so being able to identify trending discussions would be good. Since trending discussions are basically identified by the community’s behavior, and you can’t automate measuring that, why not ask members of your community to help you do that?
How about the following…
You identify the members who seem to be most in touch with what the community wants to talk about. Then, approach them with the opportunity to help you quietly take the community to the next level. Tell them you want to spotlight the best discussions of the day. For that, you need “spotters” to help by sending in what they think should be the most interesting material. Ask them to send you links via PM to key discussions and state why they think they should be highlighted. Then, you can place them in the “Endorphin Rush” area.
The “Endorphin Rush” area is a sub-forum that appears at the top of the other forums (not unlike a pinned topic in a forum). Maybe it could be a “top 10” list, that changes regularly. When something is promoted, it is simply moved (with a placeholder in the original forum if possible). When it’s spotlight time is done, you simply move it back.
This should accomplish a few key things.
- You have community members picking content out to highlight, which encourages continued conversation.
- Your leaders in the community are recognized as such by you (ego-boost), which facilitates a stronger sense of belonging (retention)
- As members create topics that become highlighted, they are reinforced through recognition, which encourages continued quality topic creation. If it is someone who doesn’t normally create topics, the sense of achievement will help overcome the emotional barrier of fear that might keep them from taking another big step like that in the future. (And, yes, I think it’s much scarier to create a topic than to reply to one.)
So, “Spotters” find topics that lead to powering up the “Endorphin Rush”. (To keep with the theme of your avatar.) I throw those terms out there as easily replaceable by something you think is better. I recommend that whatever you use, you keep with the theme of your community. By doing so, the roles fit more smoothly in the community’s story, and thus become more meaningful.
That’s just one option, and I’m not sure if it will work with your community. You’ll have to decide that. At the very least, I hope it helps stimulate creativity. Maybe others here will have more ideas for you.