So this is what I tried (unsuccessfully so far) at building an online community. My target group is people living on a boat in my country (about 12000 persons). They share very specific stakes and interests (legal, DIY techniques etc). However, the group is also very diverse in age, education, income, online skills.
Currently there are some local meetups with max 40 people. One guy has put together a good site on the subject with lots of reference information and a question and answer section. However, he actively discourages online discussion (don't know why) and he does not want to start a forum or cooperate with me.
What I tried
I set up a Flarum on a catchy domain. I parsed 1200 existing questions on the subject, and identified key topics. Then asked some friends to write initial questions/content about these topics. And wrote a few starting posts myself using different accounts. All in all, I started out with 12 posts. Also, I patched Flarum to not display "last activity date" so I could run experiments with the same content for a few days. I installed Mouseflow to be able to analyse first time visitor (FTV) behaviour.
Then, I set up Google Adwords for all of the key phrases. This generated about 100 visits in a week.
The bounce rate (leave within 30 secs) was about 60%. For the remaining 40%, people engaged with the forum and read most of the discussions. However, only a few started the signup form. And none posted content themselves.
What went wrong? A few possibilities:
- Not enough content to convince first time visitors that the forum was active enough.
- Styling not professional enough
- Wrong choice of topics
- Wrong tone / contents of starting posts
- Topics too factual, not "provocative" enough
- Visitors thinking that the chance of posting a question and getting an answer was too low.
- Visitors reluctant to complete sign up forms in general.
- Visitors not digital-savvy enough to participate in forums in the first place.
- Visitors cannot identify with existing content
Follow up plan
Now, I would be willing to invest more time in producing more/better content. However, I would like to validate first whether a forum for this niche group is viable in the first place. Not sure how to do that.
Facebook/Reddit/Twitter dominate the "online discussion" space by lowering the UX entry barrier. Now, I could forget about running an independent forum and start a FB group instead. But I don't like the FB monopoly at all.
I could piggy-back on other offline initiatives like meetups and a physical magazine. But getting from physical to online seems like a big step.