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  How Do I Get People to Post?
I have an education website and we're trying to get the word out about our message board. Before we had the message board we were receiving a lot of emails asking for advice. Now when we direct our readers to the message board to submit their questions we receive next to no posts! The board has been up and running for several months with no light at the end of the tunnel! Can you give me a solution to motivate our readers to post their questions on our message board? Many thanks.

We thank you for your important question! The issue of how to encourage users to use online community features is one that faces many interactive sites. In this instance, because there has been a change in the form of communication between the site and the members, you might wish to consider the following points:

Does your board require registration?

One of the advantages of email as a form of communication is its simplicity. One does not have to fill out a registration form in order to send a query to a site. If your board has a requirement to register then this may be off-putting to some users, particularly those who are concerned about their privacy. If you suspect that this might be a factor explore the following options:

1. Removing the registration requirement, or simplifying it.

2. Ensuring that a user's email address (or other identification such as IP Address) is not publicly displayed on your boards, and therefore that your users can post messages anonymously.

3. Make sure that you are fully communicating the benefits of registration to your users and what the registration information is to be used for. If registration is a requirement, ensure your users that this is for their safety and that their information will remain completely confidential.

Is the board easy to find and visibly promoted?

Whether your board is used for a question and answer style of communication or a more conversational format, it should be highlighted on the front page of your site. Get your users' attention by placing some dynamic promotional text in a highly visible area or add a "community" section to your navigation. If it takes several clicks/pages before a user gets to your message board, then that is several clicks too many. Make your message board easy to reach, preferably directly from your home page.

Some further ideas to enhance the visibility of your board:

1. Promote a particular topic and point people to it directly from the opening page of your site;

2. Highlight a particular message (a question and answer OR a conversation) on the front page of your site;

3. Showcase the board in general as a place where people can ask, share, communicate;

4. Publicly commend a board user if they've posted regularly or have posted something especially interesting. Spotlighting members will encourage others to participate and will serve as an incentive for becoming an active user.

5. If you have a newsletter then make sure to promote your board and postings in it.

Is the structure of topics and post clear and logical?

It is very important that your board topics give an immediate sense of what posts they will contain and where a person should place their message. Careful labeling and descriptions of the topics are therefore crucial. Your topics should also include posts that start the conversation and provoke others to respond, thus impressing upon your members that the boards serve as an ever-growing resource for them to access.

Is your board "staffed"?

Another crucial component in spurring conversation on a board is the presence and contribution made by YOU and your staff. If you do not have moderators or other individuals posting as community staff, then consider inviting one or two of your most responsible and communicative users to become moderators. Their enthusiasm and activity in your board can be a very positive encouragement to others. Plus, their presence will assure members that they are posting in a safe environment.

In closing, the true key to gaining participation is communication and visibility. Share with your users the usefulness of your site's board, that their questions will be answered on the board, and that they can also share and connect with other users. Over time you should see an increase in usage... particularly if you promote it strongly and consistently.

We wish you the best of luck!

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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