Wayne Scott, is a member of the Next Step Heritage team with a number of years experience as an automotive media consultant and a total classic car fan.
Everyday thousands of classic car enthusiasts log on to their favourite club or model forums and interact with fellow enthusiasts to get advice, buying tips, technical pointers and to discuss everything from events, parts quality, club politics and their opinions on specific cars.
Forums have been the backbone of social media within the motor club community for the last decade. They provide super fast and meaningful engagement between enthusiasts and car clubs and when implanted and managed correctly can be a hugely valuable recruiting ground for new members.
1) Club strategy
Be clear on what you want the role of the forum within your clubs structure to be. Is it a member’s only benefit? A pure recruiting tool? A member’s news outlet? Will it be open to the public, open to registered users only or will it only be available to paid up members of your club, or maybe a combination of these. Being clear amongst your clubs management committee on what role the forums will play from the outset within your club will assist in making the right decisions on all the points that follow.
2) Choosing a platform
The important thing to consider when choosing the right platform to use is principally the technical abilities of the volunteers that will run it. There are a host of inexpensive software solutions, the most popular being IP Board and Xenforo. Both offer good technical help and backup through their online community of users and a host of useful tools such as calendars, moderator’s tools, member management functions, private messaging, instant chat and image uploading. Most of these can be installed on your website hosting servers and rolled out under your existing domain name usually with a URL such as www.yourclubwebsite.com/forum.
3) Structure your forum
The important thing to do is to structure a forum correctly. Decide which areas will be open to registered users only, visitors or just club members. Structure the threads to fit clearly under definite headings and subject areas. these might be conversations around particular models or subdivisions around technical areas like ‘interior and trim’ and ‘suspension and steering’ . This all helps users to find relevant information quickly and easily and will see them returning again and again.
4) Managing the Forum
Administrators have to lead and manage these forums on a day to day basis, deal with difficult users, and choose moderators. Legal constraints, spam, trolls and technical issues can turn the excitement of running an online community into chaos without a string team of moderators in place. Ensure that one person in your club has overall responsibility – the team leader or a ‘Super Admin’ for example. Then ensure you have a large and willing team of volunteers to moderate the forums content. Forums need constant watching so ensure the team is big enough and able to put in the time required. Also ensure that those moderators are clear on the rules and regulations set out by your club on acceptable content and are able to deal with user complaints adequately, regular training on these issues is a good idea.
5) Clearly define the rules
Ensure that you have clearly stated and published the rules of the forum and that these are agreed and supported by the club committee and moderation team. Many forums offer the ability to enforce agreement to these rules when new users sign up. Ensure they are transparent and precisely worded and that penalties for ignoring them are spelled out. You will need to use these guidelines when explaining to certain users why their posts have been removed or in the worst cases why they have been issued a temporary or even permanent ban!
Healthy debate is great for a forum. It helps to inspire interest amongst members and attract attention. But whilst everyone loves a good fight, nobody likes a bad one! Don’t let arguments fester or become personal amongst users. Politics and religion can become particularly nasty if left unchecked by moderators. Be sure your moderating team understand the basics of libel law and are able to spot problematic posts relating to parts suppliers or similar. Next Step Heritage have drafted a set of ‘model forum rules’ that you may feel useful for adapting for use on your own club forum.
Use the forum to publicise club news, promote events and generally take advantage of the forums ability to engage and inform club members. As club officials or moderators, be visible and engage with the forum. This helps to build trust and respect amongst users on the rare occasion you need to implement the rules. Keep users informed pf planned maintenance, downtime and or other changes to keep your community happy and engaged.
7) Technical Support
Offering technical support can bog down moderating teams. Useful ways around this can include adding a specific area of the forum where users can ask each other questions on how to carry out various functions on the forum. User to user assistance is the most efficient way of running the forum and only helps build a stronger community. FAQ’s can be then added and pinned to this area for new users to read.
8) Brand the forum
Most forums can be easily customised with design elements, so ensure it feels part of your club by branding it with club logos and colours
9) Use links
Use the captive audience to drive those users to other parts of your clubs website, to sign up for your e-Newsletters, Join or renew their membership or promote your other social media streams like Facebook and Twitter.
10) Use the content
Include the fascinating conversations, hints and tips contained within the forum to add value to your printed magazine and e-Newsletters.