Facebook just surpassed MySpace in total monthly U.S. visitors, and now it is estimated that everyone’s mother has a Facebook account. Twitter’s growth has slowed quite a bit, but it’s still making sensational headlines, this time surrounding the controversial Iranian election and bloody aftermath.What has been forgotten in all the excitement over the rise in social media is online bulletin boards. Before you scoff, I argue they should not be overlooked.
There are countless bulletin boards out there, for just about every niche possible. Millions of people spend hours a day on these boards taking part in communities that are often more close-knit than anything that Facebook or Twitter can inspire.
Nakisha Thomas, the director of customer satisfaction for Invision Power Services, told me this week that Invision, a bulletin board provider, has about 25,000 paying clients. Invision, which we use at the Austin American-Statesman to host our Longhorns sports board (http://forums.hookem.com), is neck-and-neck with a company called vBulletin in providing bulletin boards for a fee.
Besides the tens of thousands of boards sold to Web sites by these two companies and others, there are countless sites that use one of the many readily-available free bulletin boards out there.
There are boards for just about every possible niche, from hunting to knitting … to local news. Despite being decades old, online bulletin boards have aged well. The flexibility and tools they offer to a community manager have been perfected over time – and the rise of the headline-grabbing social media sites hasn’t hurt business, Thomas said. “Overall, we haven’t seen a decline in demand,” she told me.
Media companies often use bulletin boards for niche topics, such as sites for moms. It works well on moms sites because bulletin boards make it easy for parents to share advice and experiences about raising kids. The same is true with sports and other topics.
If you aren’t familiar with boards, or haven’t visited one in a while, you might be surprised by the available features, including advanced moderation control (often with many levels of control), robust community profiles, RSS sharing, easy photo and video sharing and more.
The moderation control on a well-built board makes a community manager’s job somewhat easier (though it’s still a tough job). I highly suggest that the community manager identify and deputize some honest, good users. Give those users the power to delete posts and perhaps even punish bad community members. If you get a good group of deputies, you can reward them with access to secret parts of the board and better icons, etc. – it’s amazing how that can do the trick. Having community members empowered to police their own is a cornerstone, in my opinion, of any successful online community.
At the same time, like any community, trolls can ruin things. At a South By Southwest Interactive Festival panel that included Fark.com’s Drew Curtis, trolls were a big topic of conversation. Fark has banned thousands of users, and Curtis made it clear that he thought the best way to deal with bad apples was through aggressive action. He might be on to something.
The good news is, once you clear your community of trolls, you’ll find there are a lot of people who will really care about you community. And the online bulletin board format really fosters that.
When it comes to exciting new social media applications, it’s easy to dismiss bulletin boards as not being worth the time. But if you are able to build a strong, faithful community on your site through a bulletin board, you’ll find that the people who become regulars are the type who hang around your site a long time, post links to your stories and talk about your products. It’s hard to dismiss that.
Robert Quigley, the social media editor at the Austin American-Statesman, writes a media blog with Daniel Honigman at http://oldmedianewtricks.com