How To Start a Forum – Sneaky Growth Hacking Strategy

Want to know how to start a forum the easy way? Here’s a growth hacking strategy I came up with about 10 years ago.

The term growth hacking has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years.

Growth hacking is using strategies that grow user adaptation and engagement in the fastest and most efficient ways possible.

You can call it taking effective shortcuts.

I like shortcuts.

Many years ago when I was running several magic trick websites, I wanted to start a discussion forum.

If you’ve ever tried or looked into how to start a forum, you’ll know how difficult it is.

The first time I tried, I failed. Then I failed again. Not wanting to be defeated, I sat down and brainstormed exactly what was going wrong, and how I could fix it.

From my brainstorming I came up with a method that worked better than I could have hoped. My next forum attempt had hundreds of members and thousands of posts with 24 hours of announcing it.

How To Start a Forum Using Growth Hacking

Like anyone who tries to start a forum, I had 3 main problems:

  1. Getting people to sign up (why would anybody join a forum that has little to no members or engagement?).
  2. Getting people to make posts.
  3. Keeping members coming back and contributing again and again.

Here’s how I approached solving each issue.

Writing this post feels a bit like revealing a magic trick. Not because it’s some big secret, but because it feels like the method is so dumb it might annoy people.

But hey, it most definitely works!

Getting people to sign up

This was super simple.

All I did was disguise the forum signup page as a squeeze page. (what is a squeeze page?)

I bundled together some products and offered them for free in exchange for an email address.

When people signed up, they received their products, but I didn’t mention the forum. Not yet.

I had a programmer make me a custom script that interacted with free forum software phpBB.  So that when people signed up, they were on an email list and automatically added to the forum.

I kept sending traffic to this squeeze page until I had around 500 signups. That’s 500 forum members, enough for a decent little community to get started.

Getting people to make posts

Once I reached 500 members, I sent an email out to everyone announcing the forum and a contest.

The first 10 members to make 80 legitimate posts would get more free valuable downloads.

I also gave away some Amazon vouchers for people who started the most popular threads. As well as some other spot prizes.

I still continued to send traffic to the squeeze page. But now new signups were being redirected into a forum thread to get their downloads. Where I could encourage them to take part in the forum from right off the bat.

As prizes were being won, I emailed the members announcing the winners. Which always resulted in a further spike in forum activity.

By the time it came to paying out the prizes, my forum had hundreds of active users, and thousands of posts. And this happened within days of me sending the announcement email.

Keeping momentum

I kept momentum by continuing to send traffic to the squeeze page to get new members. And by sending a weekly email digest. The weekly email was just a roundup of popular content on the forum.

Another important part of keeping momentum was ‘locking in’ my best members.

There aren’t really any shortcuts for this part of the process.

By this time I had been very active in the forum myself. Moving discussions forward and most importantly reading everything the members posted.

I was able to get a fair idea of who knew what they’re talking about. Who was level headed, mature and fairly intelligent.

I singled out a few of these people and contacted them privately asking them to be moderators.

This is where I made a few mistakes. Not unfixable mistakes. But when some people go from member to moderator their demeanor changes. They think twice before posting whereas they didn’t before. Others might get a bit of a power trip.

My thinking was that by making people moderators they would have a vested interest in the site. Giving them the impetus to make it successful.

This did work as I planned to a certain degree, but it’s not as simple as the others parts of this process.

When I first shared this method with my readers many years ago, I gave away the same script I used to automate forum signups. But technology has since moved on. So if you want to use this method yourself, you’ll have to get a developer to help you.

I thought I’d share the method again because I’ve never seen anyone else talk about it. And if anybody ever asked me how to start a forum, this is for sure the technique I would suggest.