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How to set up a new forum

I recently decided to set up a new forum. The idea was to drive interest – enquiries, questions, click, and potential clients – to my company, White Rose Visas. We have a great reputation and a great standard of service, and on that basis increased our number of immigration advisers. So we’ve now got the capacity to take on many more clients than we could, a year or two ago.

The forum is focused on the UK immigration system (as is the company). I decided to start a forum (rather than, say, run a big advertising campaign, or do direct marketing), because I think that forums (still) play a big part on the web. If you type a question into Google, or search for a very specific topic or term, it’s likely that the top links will be to a forum. Despite the rise of Facebook and Twitter, it is still much easier to access the information you want from a forum. (I find the search functionality of Facebook, in particular, unusable.)

So, forums play a big role on the internet, and they can receive a lot of traffic, and potentially create the sort of enquiries and interest we want. Yet the look and feel of forums is often pretty horrible – in this respect they tend to lag behind modern websites like Facebook and Twitter. A lot of forums seem to have time-travelled from the late 90s: all Windows 98, animated smileys, and cluttered menus. This seems especially true to me of the immigration forums that were around prior to our launch, hence our excitement at being able to create something better.

I say ‘create’, but for most people – me included – it’s not a question of re-inventing the wheel, rather of choosing the right forum software. However: it’s an understatement to say that there is a lot of choice in this area. There are lots of ‘lists of’ on the internet – one good summary is on Stack Exchange. There is the good, the bad, and certainly the ugly. Decision paralysis can easily set in (Burridon’s Ass anyone?).

As with any case where you have lots of options, the critical thing is to pick just a few key criteria. Mine were:

Our shortlist contained vanillaforums.org, nodebb.org, esotalk.org. These all had the sort of look that we wanted. (Though esotalk.org was perhaps *too* modern – I thought it looked beautiful, but some people suggested it looked too stark and minimalist.)

I think they’d all be great options. But in the end we went for nodebb.org, primarily because their hosted option was much more reasonable than that offered by vanillaforums.org. It’s reasonably priced, and so far the technical support has been speedy and competent, as required. I love the look of the forum so far, and nodebb keeps surprising me with useful little features that I didn’t originally consider, such as the potential to subscribe to an unique rss feed per topic, and fantastic looking analytics (traffic/ visitors reports).

You can see the result at visr.co.uk, our new UK immigration forum.




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