I've seen this too many times. A new forum on some subject, with thirty or more sub-fora, great most of them with 0 posts, some with 2-3, one "welcome topic" running greetings from some 40 users the site didn't retain, as they left simply because too little was going on. Some questions answered best to the crew's ability, because there was nobody else when they were posted, some posts inviting discussion but hardly keeping it up, and maybe one or two never-ending forum games which the few users get quickly bored of.

Other sites on the topic don't quite approve of advertising competition, and even if my site is technically superior, the users stay elsewhere (even if the competing site is abysmal) simply because "everyone is there".

When I moderated a site which had a country-wide monopoly on the subject, I saw dozens of attempted "competitors" die that way. Only when a major schism happened at a time - a conflict between the site owner and one of more prominent user, that user managed to pull a sufficient amount of users to the site he started, to kick off and create a viable competition. And while both sites still thrive, years later, there's a lot of bad blood and hostility between the two communities.

How can one kick-start a new "topical" site, getting enough users in a short period of time, so that the community can keep propelling its own growth instead of dying out from solitude - other than starting a war with the established competition?

  • 1
    (FWIW, I agree that it might be too broad. There are a ton of potential approaches to this. I think it might be on the right side of the line due to how confined it is to the starting steps, though.)
    – user98085
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 17:00
  • @FEichinger: I might narrow it down to certain class of sites/domains and then the potential answers could be more focused/detailed, but then other similar questions that cover other domains would get some 70% overlap of answer contents with this one. Yes, it's a very broad question, but I believe it's a question that deserves broad answers to cover various sub-cases.
    – SF.
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 17:35

4 Answers 4


Start small

First of all, you don't want to have "thirty or more sub-fora" when there's nobody on your site to begin with. You can always categorize later. If you have thirty or more sub-fora, chances are your topic is too broad (in that you need those various sections because it is entirely separate content), or the topic is too fragmented (Windows software support and Linux software support don't necessarily need to be different fora - just go with "software support"!)

Build the community first, give them the medium second

You can't attract people by handing them a piece of paper and a pen and saying "Write your own!". The community should already exist - people who want to communicate about something, but need a place to do so.

There are a number of approaches to this:

You might start off by providing content yourself - make a blog, or a small news site. Attract people with the content you have, then open it up for them to provide content as well, or discuss the provided content.

You could also rally the community first. This is the approach Stack Exchange uses on Area51 (although, of course, Stack Exchange has an existing userbase that pushes proposals due to experience, but the thought remains the same: Gather people, tell them about the site you're planning, allow them to subscribe to news about the site progress.)

Then there's also the advertisement route, which is generally not too well-received. Of course you can go to other fora, collect people for the site piece by piece. Chances are this will run into a wall, because other sites don't like advertisements, and users need a big incentive to move.

As for big incentives, you can always give your site a nice catch. Stack Exchange has its different and gamified format, Gawker has interesting commenting features, a blog as noted above might provide better content than other sites - these are all incentives for users to join your community over another.

  • Note that Area51 no longer allows for the community to be rallied through it; one must already have the community.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 16:01

Have a speciality

If you want to start a forum, be sure that you have a real topic to talk about. Don't bother other people with the third-million-cat-picture-forum but talk about something special. Maybe you want to specialize your forum to speak about happy cats or cats with rainbow eyes.

Start with only a few boards

You should start with a few boards, regardless if you already think about multiple subforums. Three or five really topic open boards are absolutely with 20-30 posts per day than 30 boards with some have 2-3 posts and some zero. If your community grows up then setup more subforums.

Be a great example

Post yourself a lot. Ask a lot and answer a lot. Maybe, not your own questions. Imagine yourself like a moderator in a talk show. Don't speak too much but make your guests to speak to each others. That's interesting. Ask people about what they like to speak and maybe you can create topics about this topics. If you're brave, you avoid general threads like your-favourite-music-video. You going to have them, but not know. But your own activity is the most important thing.

Attract by rewards

Ranking is a great way to motivate people to post. People like to reveal the new ranks by posting a lot. Don't expose them. Don't tell them about the new ranks. Maybe you offer multiple rank lines. Okay, typing this part made it to an own q&a.

Let your members spread the word

Maybe you have a kind of reward for spreading the word. You could use referral links personalized for every user if they invite people to your board. Maybe they receive a special badge after five active users registered in your forum.

Don't be afraid about other forums

Don't be afraid that users could post links to other forums. Don't disallow them to talk about other forums. I think, you should avoid every discussion about why an other forum or your forum is better. But if you take part in this discussion, be humble and modest.

Be consistent

This is part of the be-a-great-example-part. You should be consistent in your announcement and rules. If someone breaks the rules you should punish them as stated before.



Your community doesn't exist without content of some kind. Ensure your community's content is outstanding. As a new community, you need to attract people to you. You don't do this with average or sub-par content. Stand out. Strive for content that is unique and engaging. Don't spread yourself thin by splitting your discussion platform into 10s of sub-categories. Start small and as the community grows start diversifying. This will mean reclassifying topics at a later date, but that's not a bad thing. That's what moderators do.

Sharing with the outside world

In today's world of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and 100 other social media sites, you need to be able to share content easily on these platforms. It is difficult to attract people without being able to share the content. These are communities where people hang out. By allowing easy sharing abilities to these sites, you make your users' lives easier (after all, they just found this piece of outstanding content they want all of their friends to see, why make it difficult to share that?) and it allows more eyes to see your content.

Engage with your visitors

You've managed to convince someone to wander over to your corner of the internet. Engage them. Hold a converation. Discuss the topic they are here to read above. Don't sit back and wait for them to say something. Lurkers are good, but they don't build the community.


You've built outstanding content, you have shared some of it with the world and your visitors are holding a real conversation with you. Feed back is generally positive. Hooray! Are you done now? Do you have a community?

No. Everything you've already done. Do it again. Then again and again and again. Building a community isn't something that happens in a few hours or days or weeks. It takes time and energy. It takes your time and energy, at first. Eventually, as people see your site as continuing to provide outstanding content they want to share with friends and family other community members may step up and spend more and more of their time helping you. Encourage this behavior. With several of you spending time to build, share and engage new members your path to a community becomes less rocky.


Something you can do/what I do: drive them from twitter.

For example, do you have a community about music? Look for a twitter account about music and follow the users who follows them. People interested in music are going to find your account that way because they are going to get a notification that you are following them. They are going to see who follows them and they'll see it's an account about a topic they are interested in. That way you have a limitless source for getting new people to see one of the spots of your community. If you have an online forum, add it to the description of the twitter account and from time to time invite people from twitter to join the boards.

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