One of the most impressive aspects of the Internet is that, no matter what your interests are, you can find somebody else on the Internet who shares that interest with you. And so it was that yet another gap was filled when Virtual Pet List was created. Originally, it was just supposed to be a site listing for pet game sites, but the forum proved to be the much more popular aspect.
Running on vBulletin for most of its life, VPL filled in a niche need: instead of having forums just to discuss one particular pet site, those who enjoyed the genre as a whole could come together. While it would never be as successful as the major forums, it was highly successful within its targeted audience.
While run out of passion for the virtual pet genre, a lot of important lessons were learned from its operation. The growing community resulted in lessons in dealing with customer support, promotion and handling unruly users. Naturally, these lessons were sometimes difficult to learn the hard way by experiencing problems firsthand, but accepting that you’re flawed is how you can improve. The years of hands on experience has led to overall stronger leadership and a likewise stronger forum. The site has survived numerous downtimes, including being hacked, and come back stronger each time. This is because the staff and owners are passionate about the subject matter of their forum, and thus have successfully crafted not just a message board, but an intentional community.
This is a point that can’t be stressed enough. Even if you’re good with SEO, marketing, connections and all the other business sides of things, if you’re going to start a niche forum you had either better be interested yourself, or find some interested people to help you run it. Niche audiences can tell when someone isn’t genuinely part of their group, and the community will feel the ramifications of your outsider status. Someone who isn’t much of a gamer can start up a successful enough gaming forum, but if you want something more specific like one for visual novels or virtual pets, you’ll never see your full potential realized if it’s nothing more than a cash grab to you. These sorts of sites live and die by their staff. It’s how they go from mere discussion areas to a second home.
Running this sort of forum can have its vexing moments. If you run a forum wherein you take a hands on approach, prepare to be compared to Hitler just for enforcing a rule. In a community where everyone knows everyone, disagreements can get very personal as well, and it will tend to be up to you to calm things down. Yet it’s knowing that at the end of the day you’ve provided the best experience you can to your users that makes any such hassles all feel worth it. And when you do your job right, users will spread knowledge of your forum via word of mouth, and you’ll have a dedicated and passionate user base. Ad campaigns and search engine rankings all help, but being a good admin is a key factor. Always remember that you’re not just an operator of the site, but a member as well.
Running a niche forum isn’t supremely profitable from a monetary standpoint, but it is incredibly rewarding from a personal one.