The role of the administrator when opening a forum

Posted by battye in Moderating with the tags , , on July 1st, 2008

The number one question most administrators ask is “how do I attract users to my website?”. Unfortunately, there is no magical answer which will apply to everyone, but there are things which you can do as an administrator to ensure visitors to your forum will stick around long enough to register.

Once you have chosen your niche and set up your forum, you have a blank canvas. As a site administrator you have two levels to work on:

  • A technical level, and;
  • A user level

On the technical level, you are the webmaster and the forum administrator.

Technical level

As the webmaster, you have to ensure the site is functional. That is to say, if you have pages outside of the forum structure, make sure they are aesthetically pleasing, quick to load, and most important, provide easy access to the forum itself. If you have installed any MOD’s on your forum, test them out, make sure they are in working order. If you have installed any custom styles, try out as many pages as is possible to make sure they all work and you haven’t missed any files when uploading. First impressions count, and the last thing you want is for users to go on to your forum and see dead links or pages that won’t load.

As the site administrator, you define the site rules and regulations. In many cases, it is a wise idea to lay down the rules early to avoid any ambiguities as the forum grows. A simple topic outlining what is acceptable and what is not in what you expect to be the most active area of your forum will be sufficient in the beginnings of your site. Similarly, you also define how large your forum is in terms of categories and forums. A rule of thumb is to start with 1 category and 3 forums, and expand as you need to, as it is much easier to upsize than it is to downsize.

Creating a small number of forums will make the site appear more active to guests. Having 3 forums with 100 posts each looks much better than having 15 forums with 20 posts each.

Don’t forget to pay attention to detail! One example of this is if you’re targeting users from a particular region, say New York, then make sure the default time zone is set to that of New York’s. Users will subconsciously think the site has been tailor-made for their needs when settings such as these don’t need to be adjusted, which will encourage them to be involved with the community.

User level

People know you are the administrator, and you are the one that needs to set an example. Many administrators think that all they have to do is create the forum, modify it, and let the site users do the rest. It is because of this mentality that most forums fail to get off the ground.

The administrator must be a user as well, and that means getting involved in the discussions, posting thought-provoking material (dependent on the subject matter of course), and something that is often overlooked; making new members feel welcome.

Joining a forum is often hard for the ordinary user, particularly when tight-knit groups have already formed among the “regs” (regular posters). If you, the administrator, post a quick “welcome to the forum!”, others will follow your lead, and with a bit of luck the newly registered user will jump straight in to the deep end, rather than simply dipping their toes in.

This is an analogy that Sean Berry, the administrator of, agrees wholeheartedly with:

“Being active when starting my forum is the only thing that got my site off the ground. I was a member of another similar site before starting my own, but the administrator presumably had some financial problems, and one day just left his site. I had never run a site before and thought it might be fun, so I did a little research and threw a site together over the course of an afternoon. When I went to the other site to announce that there was a new site in town where all the many users could come to register, I was dismayed to see that someone else had the same idea, but two days earlier! He even went as far as to make his site an exact duplicate of the other, right down to the forum descriptions.

I was starting up on a free forum site and had almost no programming experience. The other guy was a programmer by trade, and was running his site on his own server. I thought I was done, but rather than give up, I tried to focus on why my site was different. I added more off topic areas and personally welcomed every single new member. I was constantly trying to generate new content on the site so that there would always be something new to talk about. People responded and we started to grow.

Meanwhile, the other site that got a head start… well, he just watched people join but would take off for a couple days at a time, and didn’t contribute much, or make any changes to adapt to his user-base.

It’s been a year and a half and we are nearly 4,000 users strong with over 50,000 posts. The other new site has been gone for almost a year now. I have to give tremendous credit to the early member and moderators who took a chance and jumped in, but in all modesty, I can say that a key difference that made my site work and the other not, was that I was active, enthusiastic and tenacious.”

Constantly generating content so that there is always something to talk about is a great point. Posting a couple of new topics after you set up the forum and then backing off is not the way to go, you must be constantly adding new material. Not only will potential members appreciate this, but so will Google. Pleasing the Googlebot has a follow through effect, as the more content you post, the higher the likelihood you have of ranking well on Google, which in turn provides you with masses of visitors.

Often when starting out, you will not have the added advantage of an existing user base to feed off. You may only have a small group of people, or maybe only yourself.

If you have a small group, try and ensure that discussions are always in progress, you don’t want the posting rate to stagnate. As more users register, then you will hopefully see exponential growth.

If it is only you, a strategy many administrators employ is to create multiple accounts themselves and set up discussions that way. The benefit of this, is you can create solid content in every post. Some administrators pay people to make posts on their forum, however often this generates “spam” posts, with each message unrelated to the subject matter and only a few words long, turning away prospective members.

The main thing to remember, is to be involved in your community on all levels. If you do this, you are well on your way to creating a successful forum.

24 Responses to “The role of the administrator when opening a forum”

Posted by FiD on July 12th, 2008 at 8:25 pm:

This was pretty useful battye, thanks for sharing!

Posted by JD on July 12th, 2008 at 8:59 pm:

This is GREAT stuff, battye!

In all honestly, I think that the user level is above all the most important thing an administrator can do for his/her forum. Being a staff member at StarTrekGuide, I think it really shows how much a staff member that extends a reach out to new members can build up the forum. Sure, we have Handyman running around and breaking things and Highway telling him to fix them, but the rest of us make a huge effort to build up the happiness meter.

Thanks for posting, battye. I learned from this post. 🙂

Posted by Gerald Mann on July 13th, 2008 at 8:30 am: mit WordPressblog…

Eigentlich war ich der Überzeugung, das falls der Hersteller der Forensoftware phpbb einen Blog aufsetzen sollte dieses mit selbstprogrammierter Software macht.
Offenbar habe ich mich da aber verkalkuliert denn unter ist nun ein Wordpres…

Posted by Rick Beckman on July 13th, 2008 at 8:07 pm:

Good advice, battye. I’ve been spending some time over the past two weeks trying to revitalize my board, and I’m faced with the decision to start cutting some of our lesser used forums — just a few active members doesn’t need 20 or more forums.

But deciding what to cut and what to do with the topics is proving a challenge.

Posted by microUgly on July 13th, 2008 at 11:44 pm:

I couldn’t agree more with actively participating on your own forum. My posts make up 30% of all replies and only 5% of posts have not received a response. As a result my users can be confident when they post they’ll get some sort of help.

Also, open your forum to anonymous posting and viewing, unless you really have something to protect. Content is what will sell your forum and it shouldn’t matter if it comes from a registered user or not. Forcing people to register won’t encourage them to return and will drive away those who aren’t prepared to register. Anonymous posts only make up 10% of posts on my forum and many anon users find themselves coming back so often that they do eventually register

Posted by microUgly on July 13th, 2008 at 11:49 pm:

… oh, and don’t use a skin you “think” looks cool. Stick with something that looks familiar and unless you aim to alienate don’t select a skin with a black background. The skin you select will effect how approachable your site feels.

Posted by Green Ticks ( on July 14th, 2008 at 4:49 am:

When I first started my website, which was a fan site for the MMORPG, runescape. I did pretty much what the administrator of’s competitor did, which was to lay back and watch users join. I’ve learned from experience that, that way was the wrong way.. I’m starting a new board and going to add new content constantly, and welcome users..

Great blog post =]

Posted by HyozanRegis on July 15th, 2008 at 7:26 pm:

Thank you very much!The site I got isn’t really booming,but it’s well organized andgetting ready!

Posted by Alexander de Jong (alex2008) on July 16th, 2008 at 1:55 pm:

While posting an comment on this blog. I can advertise my site. Not here in this message, just a link in my name 🙂

And it is also it is free. That’s also how you can make your site better visited. Don’t expect much, if the user is not interested in the web site he/she will not register his/her self.

Great post i will take a look in sometime, right now i got a headache.

Alexander de Jong

Posted by Krismom on July 18th, 2008 at 12:29 am:

Thanks, this was very helpful!! I started my first board in 2004 (after running e-mail discussion lists for 5 years before that) and I definitely agree that a warm welcome goes a long way!

All of my boards and Communities require that new members post an “intro” within a week of joining, and we encourage new members to reply to that intro with a welcome message and intro of their own. It’s a system that has worked well for years!

Good luck to anyone starting a new board! 🙂

Posted by Website Design Company on July 21st, 2008 at 5:40 am:

A useful and informative post. It’s true that unless the administrators contribute to the forums effectively, the forum will stay on the mercy of the users and if they don’t have the expertise to carry on the discussions or answer the queries of readers, it will die naturally.

Posted by drathbun on July 23rd, 2008 at 3:02 am:

While I agree that the admin (the person) needs to actively participate in the board, I will humbly disagree that the admin account should be used to do that. I never use the admin account for posting, but only for admin tasks. This includes board announcements and stuff like that. For regular participation on the board I have a second account as a user account.

Why is this important?

Because at some point you may want to sell your board, or leave it to someone else. At that point all of the old “admin” stuff is listed under your name. If you posted instead as a separate user from the admin, then all of your post history remains with you, and the admin stuff is still owned by the admin account. The new owner of the board can opt to create a new admin account, of course, but it looks funny if a member that is no longer present on the board has posted all of the admin announcement topics. 🙂

Posted by on July 23rd, 2008 at 11:55 pm:

I am in the process of starting several forums. I agree that getting a user base is the hardest part. Technical forums, like mine require a user base of people who know the issues/technology and are willing to share their knowledge. I am going to do a few of the things mentioned in this post and get it going, thanks for the great advice.

Posted by Getulio Ferreira on July 25th, 2008 at 5:51 pm:

Hi battye,

I’d like to congratulate you on this article. It’s really enlightening.


Posted by Schmidty102 on July 30th, 2008 at 6:22 pm:

Great post! I learned alot from you, as I am a new website builder, and I am starting off pretty young (13). I have a website up and running for my clan on a huge online game called RuneScape, which I am about to switch to another host, so I can add a phpbb3 forum so it will atract all members. Keep up the great bloging!


Posted by Ger on August 7th, 2008 at 8:34 am:

Nice informative post, thanks! Although most of it I already knew, it’s good to be reminded of it since I recently started a new forum (my 2nd). Also the post of MicroUgly, with the tip to open up for guests, is a good one. With phpBB2 you wouldn’t want that because of spambots, but with phpBB3 it’s a good posibillity to attract new content and users. I instantly made that happen on my board.

Posted by Archivist on September 3rd, 2008 at 9:56 pm:

I participate in a forum hosted by this program. Does the owner of the forum have the tools or ability to trace where a private message came from?
I am assuming that going back to the senders’ name the owner can check an IP number and then match it up to the PM ??

Posted by Olivia Rose on November 1st, 2008 at 4:48 pm:

I stumbled on this blog today and read all the comments and wanted to leave one too.
I am an extremely newbie to forums and such. I got spoiled on the MSN groups which will be closing in Feb of 2009. I write tutorials for Paint Shop Pro users and all the advise here are very good. I am still in the process of building my phpbb but I wanted to be ready for the immigration of the masses of msn groupies. I love the simplicity of the forum and adding an attractive skin is important to me and artistically it has to be attractive as well as useful and easy for newbies to navigate around. The first time I joined a forum I was overwhelmed with all the sub forums and using the user cp. I am excited to find a place for support such as this one and the community one as well. My host server support system is very undesirable and useless. So I say thank you for this great subject here and the replies, I learned some great things.


Posted by Mondi on November 6th, 2008 at 9:00 pm:

Very nice post indeed,

Some very important points are mentioned here, many of them covering the conclusions we at made as well.

Both pricing, user-friendliness and availability of forum software and server spaces make it increasingly easy for anyone to establish a forum, which is both good [for serious entrepreneurs who don’t want to make such thing a one-night hit-and-miss affair] but also bad for everyone as it leads to legions of badly managed, insincere and technically unsound sites.

To give depth to this response, without attempting to make it self-serving and promotional, we at started to develop our online presence many, many months ago. We still have less than 20 members because we avoided going fully commercial until we become fully satisfied that we have something unique and ‘real’ to offer.

Just to close off here, avoiding to make this an entire post; as a general rule-of-thumb, distrust any site that doesn’t present Site Rules and a Privacy Statement. It’s a clear indicator that their administrators aren’t all that serious about running and managing their sites and, at worst, it may expose you – as a community member – to loads of hassle if things go wrong.

Outstanding post! Very much like seeing other people being serious about site management.

Posted by Sri on January 19th, 2009 at 12:57 pm:

Good post.
I have started a forum 3 months back (intranet forum) and its running OK. There are around 200 posts till now and 20-30% of members are active. But still most of the members are inactive.
I am thinking of having a meeting (user conference) with the active members and ask their suggestions to improve the participation of all members and increase effectiveness.

I also thought of create a feedback questionnaire or poll on usability, response to their posts, 1 single suggestion if they have any etc..,

Has anyone done similar task of getting feedback from the forum members ? What could be the good feedback questions appealing to a forum user ?

Posted by Sri on January 19th, 2009 at 12:59 pm:

Is there any forum within phpbb site where administrators share their experience of how they started and promoted their forum ?

Posted by Val on March 30th, 2009 at 7:01 pm:

I am opening a forum on my website and have read a lot of the informative blogs here. My one question that I can’t get answered is: Where can I find a tutorial on using/administrating my new forum. I have just some basic questions on how to work the mechanics of the forum as the administrator. Have I missed something on this site? I am not very computer literate but am willing and able to learn.

Posted by TheSnake on July 16th, 2009 at 1:33 pm:

Awesome blog, lots of good ideas/strategies. I like the ideas raised by some of the Responses as well.

I had a web forum a fair while back on another website, but I took it down due to not many visitors.

I’m in the process of making a new website, so these are useful considerations when planning the Forum section of my site.

Posted by phpBB • Blog • How many forums should I create? on October 21st, 2009 at 11:07 am:

[…] touched briefly on this in the very first blog post here at If you’ve just set up phpBB, how many forums should you […]

Commenting is disabled for this blog post