Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Microsites - Kickstarting a forum

In previous posts I have been describing my idea of using my online Japanese book & record store as a platform for kickstarting microsites around the bands / series sold, the theory being that if there is a popular microsite hosted under the site's domain and with a link back to the products being sold, this will attract customers and result in more valuable conversions than if the microsite was just a separate entity with AdSense ads or Amazon Affiliates ads on it (one purchase from my own store is A LOT more valuable to me than a purchase through Amazon would be).

I'm already very busy with my studies and running the web store as it is, so as the first easy part of the microsite experiment I decided to attempt to launch a forum around the band Antic Cafe. One thing I have learned is that people go crazy over prizes, so I decided to offer a prize to the most active person on the forum. In addition I dedicated some valuable screen estate on the store's main page to promote the forum. Here's what happened:

(162 absolute unique visitors)

The forum was promoted on the web store from the beginning. I marked the beginning and ending dates of the competition in black. It is clear that the competition had a major effect on amount of visits. The 11 members of the forum have written 147 posts up to now, which while modest seems like a good start for such a niche (Finnish fans of the Japanese band Antic Cafe) forum. I neglected to measure how many conversions this forum has created, but I'm not sure if that's even possible. Suppose a web store visitors goes to the forum, then comes back and buys an Antic Cafe record, is that a conversion? There seems to be no way to know if they got excited about the band on the forum or would have bought that record anyway.

I would like to launch the main microsite as well (this forum would be just one part), but I don't want to do that with completely pathetic production values. Also the forum might well be 80% of the microsite's value in the end, so why even bother with the rest?

Features I imagine that each microsite could have:
  • forum
  • polls (but forum already has polls...)
  • quizzes (can you recognize these members/characters from the band/series X?)
  • personality tests (which X are you?)
  • embedded videos (">veoh! youtube is so last year)
  • fanart submission, voting (maybe just a thread in the forum from which these are pulled?)
  • info pages for the series (through a wiki or pulled from forum threads)
  • news (perhaps an embedded RSS reader)
  • gallery (some clever system to get legal-size thumbnails linking to images elsewhere)
  • fan fiction
  • links (perhaps by automatically monitoring server logs for incoming links and favoring those)
Cool but impossible things:
  • exclusive band member / manga author interviews
  • exclusive content from the band / author
Perhaps most of these could use some embedded elements from other sites and would let me avoid actually coding them. If I could just find some good solutions for doing these, then I can use the same formula for a hundred different sites and save a ton of work compared to people who start single fansites for fun.

One option to consider might be to extend PhpBB to support these things. Perhaps there are already plugins for these? That would at least make it very easy to have just a single login that could be used for all of the microsites (since OpenID isn't here yet).