This blog post outlines the key points you must consider if you are going to set up a forum. It is mainly directed to people who have not set up a forum before, but it might also be helpful to existing forum owners who are thinking about creating more in the future.
Feel free to print this page out and work through the list.
Choose a topic. What will your community be about? Do Google searches about your topic to see if there are any existing communities covering it. If there are, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the idea. You can refine your topic so it appeals to different groups. A good example of this is a sports forum – there are countless soccer forums on the internet so it is unlikely that you would be able to succeed by creating another generic soccer forum. But say you create a forum about your local soccer team, it is likely to be an untapped market but would probably take off because the people visiting it would be passionate about their local team and there would be a greater sense of community because everyone is “on the same team”. This logic can apply to many different topics.
Choose a domain name. You can search for the availability of domains on a website like Whois.net. Many people try to find names that are short or easy to remember, contain some keywords about the topic of your website, and end in “dot com”. When you have decided on a name you can proceed to purchase it – you shouldn’t have to pay more than $10.95 for a one year registration on a dot com domain. Normally you can register domains through your webhost, which leads to the next point.
Select a webhost. To run a forum you need to make sure the webhosting provider offers PHP and a database such as MySQL. The full list of phpBB3 requirements can be found on this documentation page (1.1. Requirements). If you intend to build a website in addition to the forum, make sure that the webhosting provider offers everything you need. Webhosting is overall quite cheap – it is possible to run a forum for a couple of dollars a month. As your forum grows you will probably need to upgrade to higher packages. For more information about choosing a webhost, visit http://www.webhostingtalk.com (or if you have to go with a free host, http://www.freewebhostingtalk.com/)
Install phpBB3. The process of installing phpBB3 is covered in detail in the phpBB3 documentation, for more information visit this page: http://www.phpbb.com/support/documentation/3.0/quickstart/quick_installation.php.
Set up your forums. It is best to start off with a small number of forums and expand over time – there are a lot of benefits in doing this, such as smaller page load times, decreasing user confusion about where to post, and increasing the level of activity on your board. I have covered this topic in greater detail in a previous blog post: How many forums should I create?
Customise your forum. If you wanted to install any MODs (modifications) or use a different style than the default proSilver, now is the time to implement them. For more information on MODs (as well as a link to the MOD Database) visit http://www.phpbb.com/mods/. For styles, go to http://www.phpbb.com/styles/.
Create your rules. It doesn’t need to be comprehensive at first (although later down the track once your forum has grown you might revisit this), but a few lines in the first post on the forum to outline what is acceptable and what isn’t will be useful to new users and gives you something to refer people to if any problems occur.
Promote and advertise. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool in promotion, especially now through social networking sites and Twitter. Not to mention for targeted websites (such as the local soccer team example I gave earlier), where the name of your website could come up in a typical conversation between friends. Advertising the site yourself is important too – there are many services out there that can help you with this, such as Google Adwords (the advertising end of Adsense) and the like. Getting your name out through relevant chatrooms and other forums (including through signatures, if that is allowed) can also be useful, but please respect the rules of these places if you choose to plug your new site there!
Bring moderators on board. Once you have built a nice userbase, you might need to introduce more moderators. In the beginning, you will probably be able to keep on top of any problems, but the more posts and users there are the harder this will become. Moderation is a common topic on the phpBB.com blog, so please have a look at these previous blog posts for more information about choosing moderators: Choosing your moderators, How many moderators do you really need?
I hope this blog post has been useful to you.