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What are some of the things that make a forum popular? For instance, if you get 100 or 1000 new posts a day, does that mean your forum is popular? Or, would there be more factors to consider on forum popularity?
When people start referring to your forum on other forums and blogs and you are considered the 'authority', that's most likely when you can say you are popular. Though it helps if you have lots of posts daily.
Lots of daily posts is just one indicator of a popular forum. For me the sign of a popular forum are those super long discussions that run on for dozens of pages.
If forum members are showing up daily when they could be doing something else, then that is a sign of a very popular forum. Your forum is a hub when it keeps attracting the same good people and that's their preferred place to hang out.
When you say popular, I assume that you mean popular within the forum, that is among the members. It is hard work to have a popular forum that gets a thousand posts in a day. You may have a continuing program of recruitment so new members will be coming in regularly. You may also have a staff who are good in posting new discussions that are relevant to the category of the board and interesting as well. But again, it is hard work because you need to have the drive for that.