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With the rise of sites like Reddit, Stack Exchange, etc. the bulletin board has slowly decreased in activity. I run a nonprofit security, ethical hacking and programming forum that was once very active, but recently I have had bad downtime (which is fixed) but it has really taken a toll on activity.

Is there any way I can get my forum active again?

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How have Redit and SE contributed to the "decline" of your forum? Could you elaborate a bit? –  Christofian Apr 22 '12 at 16:47
    
Reddit and StackExchange both now have the categories that my forum is about, (Programming and IT Security). –  h00j Apr 23 '12 at 13:28
    
but do you have evidence that your members are leaving your site for reddit and SE? You are always going to have competition, that's just a fact of running a website. –  Christofian Apr 24 '12 at 1:08
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I run a popular forum and we have certainly felt the effects of competing forums, Facebook, blogs, etc. I've run my forum for over a decade and there are more distractions now then ever, wether it be FB, Twitter, blogs, iphone games.

People need to have a motive or incentive to post on your forum. More importantly they need to crave it and not be able to live without it, and that craving has to be strong enough that they choose your site over every other distraction with their finite time. I love twitter and I'm able to use it in such a way that benefits my life. But after having our baby I've barely used it the past 5 months. I don't feel any differently about it, it's just that I can live without it. So you need to make your forum a place where they can get things they can nowhere else, they crave it, and I think this last thing is very important... it's super easy to do.

An example of this last point is we have a photo gallery, with tens of thousands of photos, but people are using it less and less because it's much easier to post on Facebook or Picasa. Consequently we have other features that are our bread and butter but people are using that less and less because of their gallery frustrations. You need to identify these problem spots and fix them, which is tough because people have developed extremely high expectations of ease of use because of the aforementioned services.

One thing to look at is how many people are visiting versus posting. It's possible people are visiting, but are not finding reasons to participate. Stagnation is a killer. People want to participate in active conversations. Find ways to get conversations going. If you have a facebook group post things there trying to get conversations moving onto your forum. Have contest where people find the best topic of the year or ever. Best question contest, best answer contest.

Another thing we have had to deal with are posters who post on every thread, where their comments make up half the thread, and others don't want to post because they don't want their threads hijacked by these over zealous posters. We've asked a number of people to tone things down and even has gone as far as creating groups with various levels of flood control to sandbox these people in.

Good luck!

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If you have a user who is posting in too many groups, then find a plugin/module/addon/etc that limits the number of posts users can make per day. Depending on your forum platform, they may let you do it per user, usergroup and/or specific forums. –  Drew May 6 '12 at 20:09
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First of all, you need to know a few things about your forum before you can solve this problem. Ask yourself:

  1. Why did people visit your forum in the first place?
  2. Why did people leave?
  3. Is there any way that you can bring the things that people visited your forum back, and remove the things that caused people to leave?
  4. If you can't, is there anything you can do to keep the people who are already visiting your forum active?

To find this out, I would contact the people who left (especially the people who were active) and and ask them:

  1. If they would like to return to your forum.
  2. If they don't want to return, then why.
  3. Why did they visit the forum in the first place.
  4. If there is anything that they would like to see in the forum.

You will probably get it least some of these people to return just by emailing them: it may be that they just forgot about the site.

You should also contact the people who are using the forum (especially the active ones), and find out:

  1. If there is any way you can improve the forum.
  2. What they currently like about the forum.

Once you know the answers to those questions, you should be able to make the necessary improvements to your forum, and start getting more activity again.

NOTE: when I say contact people, I do not mean create a topic in your forum. Chances are people wont read it. Instead, send your active members an email or a private message and your inactive members an email (they wont check their private messages), so they wont miss it.

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If part of your user loss was caused by downtime, just letting your old users know that your site is up again, and that you appreciate their contributions, may be enough to get some of them to return. –  Ilmari Karonen Apr 19 '12 at 16:43
    
@IlmariKaronen exactly, but I added the rest of the information incase something else was going on, and if someone else had the same problem but without any downtime. –  Christofian Apr 19 '12 at 16:46
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