Tools for Building an Online Community
One of the biggest benefits of a subscription website over traditional print publishing is the ability to create a sense of community.
This is achieved by enabling members to interact with the editorial staff and with each other.
The website owner should integrate tools into their site that allows members to meet and exchange information.
They should do everything they can to build a strong, active and thriving community. This will do more to get members to renew their subscription than any other measure, gift or encouragement the site owner can take.
The tools that achieve community are:
An “Ask a question” section
Calendars where members can add their own events
Classified ads – either fixed price or auctions
“Rate an article” feature
Survey and polls
The most important of these is the discussion forum.
If you select a good forum application, it can be used to provide a lot of the interactivity mentioned above, including enabling events to be posted, feedback to be given, comments provided on individual articles, member classified ads, etc.
The Discussion Forum
Discussion forum software is now widely available with over 100 companies offering solutions of varying quality, price and functionality.
At the time of going to print, the solution that I have used and would recommend is vBulletin (www.vbulletin.com ). It has all the standard features (unlimited forums and posts, email notification, powerful search engine, fast database). It is also simple to set up and manage. The current price for an unlimited license for use on one site is $160.
I would however suggest that when you are building your website, you should look around at what is available. The market is moving very fast and there are some good, free open source applications starting to emerge. Three of the best are: