How to get people to read bulletin boards

Every MMO guild I’ve been involved with has used a bulletin board to pass on information and let members chat outside the game and in non-real time. They’re fantastically useful mechanisms.  You can post something in the morning and when you get back later, it’s spawned a multi-page thread, inspired your entire guild to get really enthusiastic on the topic, and gotten you banned.  And as well as threaded discussions, many bboards also allow you to send private messages to other players which is great when you want to bitch at people privately.

They really are a fantastic, simple solution as to how groups of people can communicate when they aren’t all present at the same time. In fact, bulletin boards may be the apex of human achievement.  They solved a very real and very human problem – without them, the internet might be possible but it could never really work. Also, flamewars: the second apex of human achievement.

And what are facebook and twitter if not clever tweaks to bboards?

There is a downside though. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but most people don’t care about your bulletin boards.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a guild, or a RL company, or a voluntary organisation. Even if the bulletin board is a crucial part of your communications strategy, most people ignore it, don’t care about it, and won’t read it unless you force them to do it. I used to work for a company that used bboards extensively and we had regulations about which boards we were supposed to keep up to date with. The fact they provided a ‘mark all as read’ button meant that you never had to actually read the things. Most people never read official forums. They won’t read your guild forums either.

The reason they don’t care is that the information isn’t always well organised, it’s a time consuming hassle to read the boards, and they aren’t all that interested in anything going on outside the game anyway. So they’re lazy and disinterested: welcome to the player base.

If you’re reading a blog, chances are that you may also read bulletin boards for your guild, for a really good game related site (eg. elitist jerks), and for the game itself. You’re in a small minority. You have the power of information, and it is at your fingertips. Yet with great power comes great responsibility. If you are the one who is often telling your guildies about what’s coming in the next patch, you are doing your bit to share the knowledge wealth. If you are the one who lets them know when there’s an interesting class Q&A on the official forums that is about their class, you’re doing your bit for the community.

And this is how bulletin boards typically work. They’re read by a few people, but the people who do read them disseminate the information. This is also why you have to take what players write on bboards with a pinch of salt; sure they are an influential minority but it’s not really clear if they pass information back the other way from the playerbase.

So you’re running a guild, how do you get people to read the boards?

This can be very frustrating if you are running a guild. Maybe you’d like to use bboards to let people know about upcoming raids, or to discuss class issues. You realise that a well used bboard can become a living community of it’s own, and you’d like that for your guild.

But how do you get people to use the boards?

  1. Create an atmosphere right from the start that is centred around the boards. Make them the front and centre of your community.
  2. Force people to use the boards regularly. Maybe use them for raid signups, so that you can make board usage a kind of gatekeeper for content the players want to do. (eg. if you don’t sign up, you can’t come.)
  3. Appoint an unofficial community manager. Companies have them, your guild can too. You just need one person who loves bboards (I know, I know) to keep thinking of cool ways to get everyone else to use them.
  4. Invite a few members who have fulltime jobs. They’ll be much more likely to use the bboards – it’s their way to keep in touch while they are at work.
  5. Reward the people who do use the boards. Be proactive in posting links to interesting news, blogposts, and other things they might be interested to see. Run competitions (I know we’ve had some cool screenshot competitions in the past). Have consumable giveaways.
  6. Most games let guild masters edit a message of the day that is shown to people when they log on. Use it to advertise the guild bboard, or any interesting threads up at the moment.
  7. Make sure all new members are informed about the bboard. Requiring all applications to be posted on the board is a good way to make sure they know where it is.
  8. If you’re the GM or an officer, then engage with the guild members. Answer their queries, listen to their issues, be available to chat on the bboard. Don’t make it a top down affair where you post instructions and they go away and do what they’re told. The baseline of a community is communication and it goes both ways.