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Key elements of forum psychology

Online Communities | Last modified on: 09 Jul 2015 @ 06:35:37 | printer friendly

As an administrator of an online forum, it's rather important to keep a tab on your community events. While it's relatively easy to keep a tab of forum activity externally (as in number of threads/posts and member registrations) it's totally a different issue when you need to understand the community undercurrents - what goes on behind the scenes. Here are some of the aspects of forum psychology which I feel are very important in terms of determining where your community is heading.

Hotspots or areas of stress and weakness

As an admin it's necessary to be aware of what areas of your community is causing maximum stress or trouble in terms of member behaviour. Be aware of what topics on your particular forum has the maximum potential for trouble. On a linux forum, for instance, the ever-present "Windows versus Linux" has a great potential for troublemakers/trolls causing flame wars all over the place. Every forum has a flashpoint. As an admin, it's up to you to understand and recognize trouble areas and make your moderators aware of what is acceptable and what is not.

Understanding and resolving long-standing issues is an important part of being an admin. Sometimes an issue which appears to be dead might flare up one day and cause huge damage. Always be aware.

Level of forum maturity

While this is usually subjective, it's also a very important aspect in gauging your community strengths and weaknesses.

What's the average level of maturity on your forum? This can be a bit tricky as you might have a lot of members with varying levels of intelligence and maturity levels, but over time you'll find a kind of "average" or a balance to your forum. It's important to know this as an admin because the way your members behave on your forum will be influenced by this factor.

Reading threads regularly where people generally participate in serious discussions or debates can help you find out where your forum stands on this count. Long time posting members

Long time posting members who've been active on your forum need to be watched carefully for two reasons.

Areas of inactivity and member indifference

It's important as an admin to be aware of which areas of your forum are being used to their full potential. While this may sound easy because you just need to count the topics and posts made in a particular forum, it's a bit trickier than that. You need to gauge the level of interest and expertise in that particular area of your forum topic and see if it's worth pursuing. Ultimately, the best forums tend to find a niche area. For instance, a general Car forum might actually find more members who're interested in sports cars than standard on-road cars. In which case, it might be worth reducing the number of forums reserved for discussion of regular cars.

Having forums which don't create much interest or member expertise will tend to dilute your forum. Over a period of time, try and weed out these areas and focus your forum.

Lack of feedback on sensitive issues

If there's a particular issue on your forum which has been causing you concern and there's been very little feedback from your members regarding that, be careful and try and talk to some of them privately. You might just find that a few people might be shy of bringing it up in public, particularly when the issue is of a sensitive nature. Sometimes as an admin, it would be better to approach the users rather than waiting for them to approach you.

Posting patterns and potential troublemakers

If there's a particular member who's posts seem a bit off or is causing you anxiety (in spite of the fact that the member might not have actually done anything against the written rules and guidelines) it's well worth watching that member. On a large forum this might be a bit more of an issue, but it would be easy if the whole moderator team is told to "watch this guy 'x'" in which case you can avoid misunderstandings in the future over handling the troublemaker.

Time zone of key members

It's also important as an admin to generally get an idea of where your key members are from so that you know their timezones and the times at which they post. This might be useful in identifying moderators in the future who can take care of your forum while you're asleep. Having six moderators in two time zones can be a bit less efficient than having three moderators in three different time zones.

Knowing the time zones of certain members can also help you schedule time to use online chat or messaging with these people.


These are just some aspects of forum psychology that an admin needs to keep a handle on. Knowing exactly where your forum stands today will help you understand its direction in the future.

Too many admins wake up one fine day and find their little forum to have grown into a totally different beast from what they expected. Keeping a tab on vital community parameters is a must for admins who want to avoid being unpleasantly surprised by their own communities.