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Starting a New Forum is like Hosting a Party

I have seen organizations with a good mission and good people who decide to add a forum or private social network (like Ning)... but it doesn't work. They create a tab on their site that links to a forum that they installed and hope people come. It just sits there after a handful of posts and grows stale.

Why?

Starting a forum is like starting a party.

When people first arrive at a party they are unsure what the tone is, so they sit back and watch. A few outgoing people try to start up conversations... most become forum wallflowers (lurkers ).

If you host a party, you need to set the tone for your guests. This means that you will have to engage with them and let them know what the tone of the party is. You may need to start playing music. You may need to grab people that are right on the edge of dancing and coax them onto the dance floor. You may need to tell stories... or a joke. Maybe introduce friends that you know have common interests.

If you are a good host, the party starts to build its own momentum. A friend offers to DJ the music. The two you got dancing grab another couple out on the dance floor. Stories and jokes get other people telling their stories and jokes. People start introducing themselves or making introductions for others. With your hard work of inviting people, engaging with them, and setting a tone, you get a real party going. Your job as a host finally slows down and people just have fun.

If you don't host your forums like you host a party, people won't know what to do. They will wander off and find a better party.