Making Your Forum More Social Part I: Design & Setup Hopefully its no great revelation to you that forums are one of the many varieties of social networking sites out there. That being said, forum owners and administrators can do a number of things to their site to make their forum more social and in turn more successful before they even go live. Ill start with choosing a design. It may sound silly, but this can play a huge part in how social your forum is. If you go to any forum for forum administrators you will probably find a poll about what initially attracts you to a forum. In virtually all of them the winner is the look/design. Choose a design or theme which fits your niche. A forum for little girls to discus Justin Bieber and other tween heartthrobs may be better served by lighter, brighter colors, while a forum dedicated to World of Warcraft may want a darker color scheme. Your design is part of your forums identity. If your niche has other forums make sure that your forum stands out from them visually. Many of your members and potential members may visit several forums regularly. Having a distinctive look helps them not only remember where they are, but will also help them remember your site when theyre elsewhere. This will help keep those people returning. What ever you do, dont just simply use the default skin for your site. There are so many forums which do use the default, your site may not stand out enough and get lost in the shuffle. Every major forum has a number of free skins available so you dont necessarily need to spend money. You may also want to try simply playing with your CSS yourself to come up with something attractive and unique. It really isnt that difficult once you get in there and start playing with it. Have a unique logo for your site. The best logos should be attractive to your target audience, match your forums color scheme and identity, and be a snapshot of what your forum is about using a tag line and/or graphics. Your logo is generally one of the first things guests will see. It will become the anchor of your marketing campaign. Nothing says, I run a half assed forum more than having no logo, especially if combined with the default theme. Customize your site is with your forum/thread/ post icons. Once again try to steer away from the default and have something a little bit different, yet related to the niche. So what if you're not a graphics person, there are so many high quality free ones out there, and if there's not one to suit your needs most administrator forums have a graphics request section. Another small and mildly important thing to have is a nice favicon. Its not going to make or break your site, but it is just that bit of extra flair for your site. Some of your members or guests may not notice it immediately, but they will once they bookmark your site. You favicon makes it much easier for people to find your site when looking at their bookmarks, and you want to stand out in any way you can. I covered making your site stand out aesthetically, you should try to make your site stand out with features as well. Add some mods to your forum. This will take a little trial and error because while certain mods may work well on one site they just might not take off on another. Some mods I find to me more popular universally are things like: media embedding. This is a particularly good one it keeps the traffic on your site rather than referring them out where they may or may not return. Member recognition mods are also nice everybody likes to be recognized so a thank you, reputation system, member of the month type mod really helps. Make your site more social by using one of the invitation system mods out there. Try to find one which allows the referrer to send a personal message to their referral. When you notice someone has been referred acknowledge the referrer even if with a quick PM or email saying Thanks for referring ___ to the site. Build in the social part into your forum. Dont have your forum be all discussion within your niche, give your members an area to go off-topic, share a joke or just have the ability to connect on a different level with others. I believe one of the most important forums to create is an introductions forum. Give people the opportunity to introduce themselves. This can create instant connections to the members of the site. I am personally not a fan of the automatic introduction mods out there which force new registrants to the introduction thread, but if it works for you, thats great. Having an introduction forum only goes so far. You need people there to welcome them. One of the most important welcomes is from the owner of the forum, then the moderators. These people set the tone and when members see the owner and the moderators welcoming the new people, they will follow suit. Give your members a place to share their thoughts and suggestions on the site with you. Some of the most popular improvements to my site have come as a result of suggestions of the members. One of the most important things to remember is when a member posts a suggestion, to respond to it in some way. You may not be able to make every suggestion happen, but at the very least acknowledge it. Continuing with the set up idea, add fields to your registration, where people can post information about themselves which will help them connect to the other members. Have this information visible, not just hidden in the member profile which most people will never see. This is a crucial element of making your forum more social. Another thing you can try is having a link to us section on your website. You will be amazed how many of your members have their own sites and will be willing to provide a link. Dont worry about the SEO ramifications of the link and that they have little to no PageRank. Its an inbound link. The little things matter. Believe it or not one of the things which members have consistently remarked about liking about my forum are my smilies. Members of my site have even been known to hotlink smilies from my site to my competitors. This seams really simple and maybe even childish, but the members really like the smilies and I dont have anything I consider incredible. But it does make a difference in peoples social experience. Having good forum rules also leads to a better social experience. This goes across the board to so many aspects from acceptable language, to signatures. Use your forum rules to define who you are. I was told of a saying, Define who you are or else your competitors will. Your rules can set the tone for the users experiences. I recommend being as open as you can. Allow signatures within a reasonable size and content. Dont worry about competitors having signatures on your site. Just make sure they are posting useful content, address it if it starts to become spam. See there are a number of things you can do to increase your members social experience even before going live. Thanks for reading.