Results 1 to 9 of 9

Thread: How to (how not to) run a forum

  1. #1
    Platinum Member Marq's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    1,296
    Thanks
    73
    Thanked 283 Times in 216 Posts

    How to (how not to) run a forum

    This story is related to business principles group dynamics and communicating with ones clients using forums and groups. It started as a small missive but seems to have grown a bit as I thought of the various lessons that one could ponder over.

    Forums and public groups on the net have a interesting characteristic and dynamic.
    The one thing that has become fairly obvious to me, is that, if the moderators and 'owners' do not take charge and responsibility and do not give clear direction as to what is and what is not allowed, their initial good intentions will dissolve into disarray and eventually come under ochlocratic rule which it seems is similar to democratic rule according to some.

    One of the patterns that always seem to evolve, is that over time, there will develop, a core group of individuals, who will contribute and post most of the information and feedback and offer advice and then occasionally get emotional and upset but then go back into their 'normal' mode - just as we do in everyday life. As a list owner, one should look for and encourage good information flow within the membership but if the individuals get out of hand or off topic or keep just being downright obnoxious then the 'moderator/owner/big cheese' must step in and do the necessary. If they don't these individuals can ruin a good thing and take your business out.

    Now the majority of forums, lists and groups do not charge for their being, but what if you pay to subscribe to a forum? What understanding is there now between the forum/site owners and paying members? It would appear like many things, that as soon as payment for services comes into being, a gremlin comes out known as rights. A belief is born, that there is a right in return for the services paid for. The right is not related to the service or information or product that one is buying. It is a right related to the method of communication. Because I am in your shop buying stuff, I can speak to you how I wish and you have a right to treat me in a similar way. I have a theory that the higher the payment the greater is the demand of these rights. Sort of the right theory, but that's another story.

    Another related topic, is the scenario where there are many customers, each paying, what is seen by the owner - as a pittance for great services rendered. This according to certain business oriented individuals results in the application of Pareto's principle - the 80/20 rule. Its a kinda fit in or go away principle on the basis that I have many more customers and the meagre offering you pay does not warrant that I spend so much time on you. If fact if I can avoid you all together its even better.How does the 80/20 principle relate to the 20% portion? Can the wronged individual affect the 80% if he is part of the 20%?

    There exists this particular forum and site, familiar to some of us,where one actually pays a monthly subscription, in order to glean great words of business interest.
    It has been hijacked from time to time by individuals and groups within the list and the owner has had an occasional bleat, but never actually done anything except to tell the various people to play nicely. Recently the dynamics got really interesting again.

    There are these 'paying customers' who believe it is their right, that they can abuse and arrogantly go about trying to bully their ideas and opinions on any subject under the sun at anybody out there on that forum. The idea that they are actually creating a problem for another's business is completely foreign to them ignored. Its like, one of your good customers coming into your shop and abusing another of your good customers that is there for the same or even a different solution and the first customer informs him to go away if he does not like attitude and opinion or the subject matter and who does he think he is anyway. What do you do when a group of customers come into a shop and start bullying another customer of yours just because he did not agree with the group or does not want to align with them? Its like the scenario where you go into a bar and the guy propping himself up there says, "wot you looking at hey"?...and his mates stand around him with leery grins and there's that air of expectation of a fight. Ok...you have not done that because you are all decent folk. Of course the new customers and potential customers see this and think.....'perhaps we should go away as well'.

    An even more amazing trick was that the owner actually left his shop while this was going on, saying 'sort it out now and be big people' and 'I'll be back in the morning when I am feeling better'.
    Over the past three and half years, the discussions with this shop keeper have revolved around bad systems, lack of business information and poor customer service along with other bad customer issues.
    Nothing has changed in his own business - all this preaching and no doing - just carry on regardless. In fact... treat your regular customers even worse like you don't need this problem in your life. Strangest thing?

    Being one of these paying members and having discussed some of the above in the past with the owner and continually watching the bullies bully and the righteous be right, expecting the world for my charitable monthly hand-out and not getting anything in return except repeated funny attitude I finally decided that they should go it alone without me. Yes, I know they lost a big fighter for the cause....but what can one do?:

    So squeezed this pimple this weekend and it has all gone away. Nobody said - Thanks for your support over all these years, sorry about the errors of our ways and sorry to see you go bla bla bla. Not that I expected anything - I just wanted to see if there was some sort of decent communication there and practising what you preach stuff. A last glimmer of hope in the small business world. Even though you pay in advance for the month, they just flick the switch and rip you off. Cannot be disappointed with the outcome as it was expected, I suppose.

    Now the reason I wrote all this was because I know of a really great forum right here -
    with no subscriptions, no arrogance, no expectations, no bullies, no bleats about how long your post is or how pedantic you are, lots of good humour, on target, on form, on balance, no moans and groans about how sick you are or that you are lost out there in the big wide world and seriously victimised, no get lost if you don't like it and this is our right and we will say what we want regardless of who's in charge, no promises of information that never arrives, no pulling of posts because they are too controversial and might implicate someone even though they don't, no paranoid owners waiting for someone to rip them off somehow and I thought....

    Great job guys, well done!!
    Keep up the good work.

    PS...The other forums as well...like Norri's Guitar Forum and Kobus's KabbalahConcepts group and Roberts Ming Kung Fu School..that are all doing great stuff out there and running along the same lines - You guys rock.
    The cost of living hasn't affected its popularity.
    Sponsored By: http://www.honeycombhouse.com

  2. #2
    Moderator IanF's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Jhb
    Posts
    2,615
    Thanks
    191
    Thanked 520 Times in 398 Posts
    Marq
    I am seeing a similar thing on another forum where some of the guys here roam. At least there you can downgrade to a non paying member. To run a forum you have to be a benevolent dictator which is hard.
    So hats off to Dave.
    Only stress when you can change the outcome!

  3. #3
    Gold Member daveob's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Amanzimtoti
    Posts
    655
    Thanks
    107
    Thanked 118 Times in 103 Posts
    Hi Marq

    If it's the same (bw) forum that I'm thinking of, I also walked away some time back.

    The forum owner made all sorts of promises to promote / endorse my product to his client database, providing I first re-vamp our web site and employ the services of a marketing company (who he recommended) to glossy-up our site & image. Some 20k later, he went back on his word and ignored all communication - too busy with a move overseas.

    In addition, I got the feeling that the site's focus was blurred - instead of giving good advice, it started to tell paying subscribers how to swindle and cheat, and get away with it.

    One case I remember clearly where the person had bought computers / PC equipment and sold it all. Then spent the money without paying the supplier. We all make mistakes, but what got to me was the way he was guided to "work the system" to avoid having to repay the supplier. Instead, he should have been advised / coached on how to approach the supplier and negotiate the terms of repayment of what he clearly admitted he owed.

    The general overall flavour of "screw the supplier" did not appeal to me - what if one day I was that supplier on the short end of the stick ?

    Seeing a clear lack of business ethics I thought "No Thank You" and walked away.

    I did learn a lot from the site about company structures, etc, but also learnt a bit that didn't appeal to me.
    Watching the ships passing by.

  4. #4
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Durban, South Africa
    Posts
    20,980
    Thanks
    3,055
    Thanked 2,463 Times in 2,068 Posts
    Blog Entries
    12
    The first thing that comes to mind is to say thank you for the compliments in my direction. But to be fair, if this forum appears well managed it's as much due to the qualities of the regular members as anything else. You guys and gals make it easy and an absolute pleasure, really you do.

    Moving on, this is quite a tricky subject for me to make a contribution. Apart from the obvious risk of anything I say on the subject being seen as "criticism of a competitor's site" or worse, as some here are already aware I have a personal history so it will be easy to take whatever I say the wrong way.

    But I feel obliged to say something that brings a measure of balance to a topic that could easily degenerate into a flame war. In theory there is no obstacle to the owners and main protagonists of the other sites referred to from defending themselves / adding their own views to this thread right here, but in terms of community dynamics the situation is not that simple.

    So hopefully this is something that everyone can endorse:
    • Each site has different leaders with different styles and backgrounds.
    • Each site has a different mood within its community.
    • Each site presents a different value proposition.

    I have a lot of respect for anyone who even attempts to set up a community site, let alone anyone who achieves any measure of success at it. I don't know for sure if leaders elsewhere feel the same way, but I strongly suspect they might.

    There is a price that goes with the territory. It's being put on a pedestal for doing a few things fairly well, knowing that I am also full of all-to-human weaknesses too and I'm going to disappoint people from time to time.

    No-one can satisfy all the people all of the time, but the diversity means the SA business community is not short of choice. And this is a very healthy situation. There is a good chance there is a place each of us can feel at home somewhere and success in business can only be enhanced by being exposed to a wide range of environments.

    Ultimately, where any particular person ends up feeling most at home is pretty subjective, probably driven more by John Maxwell's Law of Attraction than anything else.

    To those I might have already disappointed and to anyone I'm going to disappoint in the future, please accept my apologies. It probably wasn't personal and it certainly was not intentional.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

  5. #5
    Platinum Member Marq's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    1,296
    Thanks
    73
    Thanked 283 Times in 216 Posts

    Best forum business practices

    The original intention of my post was to reflect on forum business practices rather than business warriors, who I think are quite able to flame themselves.

    It also was not intended that Dave should go on a guilt trip reflecting on past people that he may or may not have annoyed. That as said goes with this territory.

    So to get back to my initial thoughts on best business practices for forums....

    A business dynamic changes when 'customers' have an open forum to discuss the 'supplier' or other customers. Usually there is a one to one relationship in business and maybe a cross over when a customer checks out the supplier by asking for references and talks to the other customers. That cross over is usually specific and directly related to the suppliers business.

    Now with the forum environment, we are able to have a many to many relationship where everybody is able to get involved and really see the spots and warts on the other guys. It creates a real sense of honesty and business ethics. If these are not adhered to it is quite easy to go down in flames.

    These relationships seem to change depending on the focus or intention of the forum. Here I was thinking of an information exchange forum like Forum SA, where the reason for membership is to exchange information and there is a more relaxed approach as opposed to a subscription type forum set up to discuss a specific industry information flow where the participants have a financial interest in the group. The owner looking for a subscription while the 'customer' is looking for a return on their 'investment'. This dynamic could also exist where you set up a forum within a business web site.

    On the information subscription free type site - I believe the owner can be a bit more relaxed on issues but needs to keep the ball in play and focus on the subject. I also think the owner has all the rights to give direction, create the rules and determine who can play and who can't

    As soon as you set up a forum group, for or as your business, you get into a new set of rules and features. You now have paying customers with a new set of requirements. They want to get value and bang for their buck. They want to get details on the owner and on the other customers, cause they are looking for that negotiation edge and potential to gain something. The owner of the business now has to herd cats as it does not matter what rules he puts in play, they tend to get ignored and broken. Besides the cross over of customer dynamics - there is also a cross over of type of expectation of communication on the forum. They seem to use the rules for the first type of relaxed forum and cross these with the business owners rules who has a specific requirement at hand. It is this dynamic which has to be skilfully managed to avoid a breakdown and potential threat to the business.

    This is where the business related site owner has to be harder than the first type of forum owner and have the communication skills to direct the 'customers' without taking them right out of the ball park. If he takes his eye off the ball or off the customer he is in trouble. If he favours a customer over another he is in trouble. If he uses the 80/20 rules he is in trouble. If he allows the customers to set the rules he is in trouble. In fact it looks like he is in trouble no matter what he does.

    It is a difficult thing to go finding clients, but to retain them is sometimes even harder and if you want to really make it even harder than that - start a forum for them. The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is only the really brave that launch a forum within their business site.

    The more I think about it, the greater chance there is of creating a book on this subject. So I think I'll just stop here.
    The cost of living hasn't affected its popularity.
    Sponsored By: http://www.honeycombhouse.com

  6. #6
    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Cape Town
    Posts
    2,642
    Thanks
    119
    Thanked 94 Times in 77 Posts
    Quote Originally Posted by Marq View Post
    In fact it looks like he is in trouble no matter what he does.
    Maybe. Maybe intent plays a bigger role that we credit to it. Forums, communities, groups, tribes - they are all about ideas, information and commonalities (is that a word?). We gather around ideas that are important to us and form communities where we care about the same things.

    I would say that in many ways the core values and ideas of this forum centre around improving business in South Africa (both in our and other people's businesses). That attracts people who, at some level, believe that things can be better, or believe in sharing their experience for the improved good of the community.

    What happens if the intent (whether stated, or even concious) is to make money, to turn a quick buck? The whole dynamic changes. It is a very different ethical universe to be living in too. Regardless of intent you have to layer some sort of information or idea on top of that, but it ends up being built on a pretty flimsy foundation. Eventually intent shines through and you get a community based around the true core values.

    I agree that as long as there is a supplier/customer kind of relationship then the forum owner is in for a bit of a tough time. They have to carry the responsibility of continually feeding information and ideas into the community. It can certainly be done, but unless you are a prolific content creator it becomes quite difficult.

    If you structured the community more like a country club (you pay your fees to be a member and for the status of being a member) then the dynamic is again totally different. There must be some core ideals, and leaders will emerge, but the supplier/customer dynamic is not there. The flip side of this is that profits essentially have to be used for the benefit of the club. The owner/maintainer could probably draw a fair salary for their efforts, but profiteering would be frowned upon.
    [SIGPIC]Engineer Simplicity[/SIGPIC]
    Turn ideas into products | The Art of Engineering blog

  7. #7
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Durban, South Africa
    Posts
    20,980
    Thanks
    3,055
    Thanked 2,463 Times in 2,068 Posts
    Blog Entries
    12
    Well, now that I've got my guilt trip off my chest , I guess I'm invited to wrestle with the hard edge of the topic.

    Membership fees vs free membership obviously establish different value exchange relationships. However I believe it does not affect forum management i.r.o the content of the discussion. The mood and content is driven by the main protagonists (the leaders), a group which should over time extend beyond just the site owner.

    I recall only too well the dire predictions as to what the quality was going to be like here because of the decision to have no subscription fee.

    The theory is if there is no financial commitment asked of the member:
    • There is no barrier to entry (you'll get flooded with trash),
    • There is no perceived value (you get what you pay for and free=crap), and
    • There is no associated sense of loss for not participating (no "money spent" incentive to keep coming back).

    I think it is safe to say we did not meet those expectations here, so what went "wrong?" If you wander around the whole bunch of free forums and groups out there, there is no free vs paid confusion to muddy the waters. And the answer is clear -

    In practice the level of the community is set by the level of the leaders. Period.

    From there, all that is left to examine is the position of owner in the leadership mix. You get leadership by position and leadership by permission. The owner obviously has the tools to enforce leadership by position, but ultimately leadership by permission will produce better results - at least I hope so.
    Last edited by Dave A; 17-Dec-08 at 09:56 AM.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

  8. #8
    Silver Member Graeme's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    253
    Thanks
    73
    Thanked 19 Times in 18 Posts
    Look at the history of anything and one thing comes through loud and clear - it's leadership that counts. Well done Dave!

  9. #9
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Durban, South Africa
    Posts
    20,980
    Thanks
    3,055
    Thanked 2,463 Times in 2,068 Posts
    Blog Entries
    12


    As long as we remember it's not just me - it's all the regulars that are leaders.

    Thanks for being one of the voices of influence in this community, Graeme.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

Similar Threads

  1. [Question] How does this forum help create a better SA?
    By duncan drennan in forum South African Politics Forum
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 05-May-08, 11:53 AM
  2. Getting started on The Forum SA
    By duncan drennan in forum General Business Forum
    Replies: 11
    Last Post: 29-Nov-07, 08:44 AM
  3. How to get a forum going?
    By Debbiedle in forum General Business Forum
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 11-Sep-06, 12:41 PM
  4. Some tips on forum etiquette.
    By Dave A in forum Administrative issues
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 11-May-06, 09:10 PM

Did you like this article? Share it with your favourite social network.

Did you like this article? Share it with your favourite social network.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •