The challenges of a fan forum, Part 1

I’ve been a member of several message board forums over the years. Message boards can be a great place for fandoms to grow and thrive. They provide a venue where people from all over the world can get together to discuss a common interest. But is a message board a good way for a new author to build a fandom?

If you’re considering creating a message board, Yahoo Group, or other fan forum for your fans to get together and talk about your writing – a place where you can chat with your fans and let them know about what you’ve got in the works – there are a few options for you to consider.

The beauty of message boards is that you don’t have to be online at the same time as the people you’re talking with. You can make a comment or ask a question, and then leave to do something else. When you come back in a few hours, or a few days, you can see if anyone’s responded. And your thread will probably still be visible a day later, unlike social media, where many people don’t even see tweets or posts that are more than 24 hours old.

One challenge with message boards is that it’s easy for them to become targets for spammers and trolls. The busier a board gets, the more likely it is to attract the attention of people–or bots–who want you to visit their store or fall for their scam. Trolls will visit boards to see how much trouble they can cause.

But trolls aren’t the only challenge. If you have enough people with different viewpoints on a board, inevitably there will be a falling-out between them. You can ban a troll, but what do you do when two long-time fans are at one another’s throats?

Before you create a fan forum–message board, newsgroup, or anything else–set some boundaries, both for yourself and for the fans who would like to take part in it. Decide how you are going to settle disputes. You need to walk the line between not being overly controlling — it can alienate potential fans — and recognizing that some “fans” are not worth having on your board. Specifically, the sort who don’t have your best interests at heart.

You do not need “fans” who only want “favours” or “inside information” out of you that they can use to make themselves look good; you do not need “fans” who feel entitled to call you to defend your storytelling choices as though you were on the stand in court; you do not need “fans” who are there to argue in bad faith and waste your time for their entertainment; and you do not need “fans” who sling accusations and abuse at you or at other posters on your board.

Your message board is your “living room,” and you have a right to ask people to be civil. The best message boards I’ve been on have had clear rules of conduct and moderation teams to enforce those rules.

If all this sounds like a lot of work – it is.

A busy writer might not have time to also be the head moderator of a busy board. If you’re lucky, you’ll have fans who volunteer for the sake of the fan community. These people can help to keep an eye on the boards, break up arguments that go too far and deal with spammers and trolls when you’re not around.

Tommorrow: What if you have the opposite problem–what if you open a forum, and no one’s there?

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