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As a moderator on a young Stack Exchange site, I've been wondering how I can promote my site. This is a general question, so it shouldn't be Stack Exchange specific. Many forum moderators face this question, too.

I don't want to go to places like Reddit and just spam links all over the place. But I'd like to encourage participation, perhaps by linking a useful post somewhere that might enjoy it. I'm not sure.

How can I go about promoting my site without seeming spammy, but still bring people in to look at the site?

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  • I think this is similar to How to attract experts of the field to my community?, but not a duplicate as this question is asking about general site promotion, not just pulling in experts.
    – hichris123
    Jul 29, 2014 at 19:31
  • 1
    Hey do you like puzzles?
    – Doorknob
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:39
  • This question needs some focus. An SE site is not (e.g.) a commercial company support forum. Can you replace the 'excluding' remark it shouldn't be Stack Exchange specific with an 'including' definition of what kinds of sites you are talking about? (Yes this is late, the question just got bumped to the front page because of a new answer)
    – user732
    Feb 17, 2017 at 11:16

4 Answers 4

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Word of mouth, spread it to your friends and get them interested. Get it put on social media and ask your friends to do the same, get it to your friends, friends so that it starts to push out. If you have something that is interesting to people, word of mouth will spread it better than anything.

Next visit other sites that are of similar interest to yours. Are there blogs that are in the same field as your website that you read? Can you get them to mention your site? Even better, can you get the bloggers to join your community? Are there other communities you can join that are similar enough that mutual advertising would be beneficial? Once you're an established member suggest it.

Beyond that use the technology available to make sure that your site is visible to people looking for it (Stack Exchange does a fantastic job with Search Engine Optimisation and getting content to the top of Google). You can also use paid adverts to advertise your website.

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As a moderator, you need to be especially weary of promoting the site that you're moderating. Moderation is a strong affiliation, and promotion from you is likely to be considered spam in many online communities. It's often better to leave the promotion to ordinary participants.

Some online communities allow users to have a signature or profile where they can pretty much advertise whatever they want. In these communities, put a link to the site you want to promote, and add a very short tagline that will appeal to your readers. Often, even if the site you're promoting has an official tagline, you'll want to use a different one that's targeted to your audience.

Beyond this, tread carefully. Many communities have rules regarding promotion; make sure that you follow them in letter and spirit. Don't get into technicalities regarding the rules: if it gets to that point, you've lost.

Typically, the more established a user you are, the more you can get away with. If you're new, don't spontaneously mention your site: wait for a directly relevant topic to come up. After a while, the occasional spontaneous mention of a new, interesting item on your site might become ok. Don't participate only to mention your site: be a member of the community in good standing, and people will listen to you. Don't be this guy who keeps harping on about his site, be this guy that everybody respects, and hey I should check out his site, it must be good if he's on it.

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The first step is to ensure your site has a reason to draw in outsiders. Have great content and continue to provide great content. Have a community surrounding your site that can answer questions, interact with visitors, and generate new exciting content.

After that, it becomes your community's job to share that content with the world (in a way that is not spammy). Visit other areas of the internet that have similar interests to your own site. Contribute to the discussion on those sites, but provide links back to yours.

Earth Science has several questions with high scores. Can answers provided on these questions contribute back to other discussions? There are also good questions that no one has answered. Are there sites around the internet that target aspects of those questions? They may not answer the question directly, but by engaging experts on their own site and linking them to a discussion here you are likely to draw them in.

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Although the other answers suggest various means to make an online community be seen better, I think the main concern of the OP, "to encourage participation", is somewhat ignored, which is, in my opinion, far more important than being seen. As we know well, there are many online communities with enormous number of registered users but very few contributions. Hence high visibility of a community does not necessarily imply high regular contributions from its members.

So, let us find out how we can draw to our community people who contribute to the community regularly and persistently. Surprisingly, the answer is easy: it only needs to empathize with newcomers to the community, that is, to put ourselves in their shoes. Let me briefly clarify this answer by asking some questions:

  • Would you like to contribute to a community in which you cannot express your opinions perhaps opposing to the mainstream of the community? Disallowing freedom of speech is considered by many people as crossing a red line. One cannot expect people to contribute to a community (which amounts to working for free) while their voices are not even heard. It should be noted that freedom of speech violation could be taken place either explicitly such as user suspension or implicitly such as calling people trolls.
  • Would you like to contribute to a community in which your contributions are not respected, that is, do not receive constructive feedback? For example, suppose that in an online Q&A community you spent a considerable amount of time and energy to write an answer for a thread while you receive no feedback except some downvotes without any explanation. After all, people lacking language, writing, or typing skills need to spend much more time and energy to compose a post. Although we cannot force community members to provide constructive feedback on posts, community leaders/influencers, including moderators, plays a major role in developing the culture of the community.
  • Would you like to contribute to a community in which contradictory events are repeatedly observed? Such events would usually perplex newcomers, and so would likely make people stay away from the community. For example, suppose that leaders of a community strongly urge members not to post low quality things while there are too many low quality posts not to be removed. Having a consistent community guideline and then asking all members to follow it together with consistent moderation can avoid contradictory events.
  • Would you like to contribute to a community in which moderation privilege abuse occurs frequently? Ignoring the fact that moderators are "human exception handlers" and "the ideal moderator does as little as possible," many community moderators tend to exercise their moderation privileges too much, which likely leads to moderation privilege abuse. For example, discriminating against novice members, unjustifiable disciplinary actions, and unnecessary moderator intervention are some instances of moderation privilege abuse. People would consider frequent overt moderation privilege abuse as an insult to their intelligence.
  • Would you like to contribute in a community in which contribution is very stressful and fearful? For example, in Q&A communities there are many people having many questions in various branches of knowledge but not asking them for fear of being attacked by community leaders/influencers due to, for example, lacking enough context/effort, being duplicate, or having easy answers. As an interesting aside, those experienced members already earned high reputations and privileges from their low quality posts in the early stage of the community, and then force newcomers to yield high quality posts. Too high standard standards of quality for contribution to a community will keep people away from the community.

There are also relatively very minor factors which can help draw more people to a community, such as functionality of the platform, web design, and existence of a rewarding mechanism.

Before being concerned about major points essential to stature of your community, some of which was mentioned above, it is highly recommended not to try to draw people to your community because otherwise promotion could be threatening instead of beneficial to your community reputation.

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