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As the popularity of the internet has grown, many online support groups and forums have been developed with the aim of connecting people around the world for a common cause. While there are several online support groups available for well-known issues, such as cancer, domestic violence against women and teen drug abuse, there aren't as many for lesser-known causes. Fortunately, it does not cost much money to start a support group for any cause you see fit, but it does take persistence to ensure that your support group reaches and helps as many people as possible.
Determine what type of support group you want. You should choose a cause or issue for which you have compassion or with which you have experience. Or it can be for an issue you feel is underserved, such as men who are victims of domestic violence, or those who have a true shopping addiction.
Come up with a name for your support group that is to the point. For example, if you want to start a group for shopping addicts, you can call it “Shopping Addiction Help.” Be direct. The name does not have to be cutesy or “unique."
Buy a domain name--you can get one for less than $10. You should get a .com address, but .org and .net addresses are also acceptable, as far as being easy to remember. Get a quality domain registrar, such as GoDaddy, Network Solutions or 1&1.
Choose a forum platform that you would like to use. Make sure that the forum allows your users to register a unique profile and that it allows you to control membership settings, filter curse words (if this is an issue for you) and ban posters, should they become abusive. You can try a platform such as Ning, Forumotion, Forumer or ZoomBoards--these are all free options.
Forward your domain name to your forum's address. To do this, log in to the control panel where you registered the domain, click on the forwarding option and input the address of the forum (you will have this information once you sign up for a hosted forum account). The change may take a couple of minutes to take effect.
Advertise your forum by letting those around you know about it (word of mouth), placing targeted Facebook ads (these are inexpensive) or by placing an ad on a blog related to your support group's cause. You can also try writing a press release and sending it to popular websites and magazines that are devoted to your cause--free press is very effective and will generate a good amount of traffic to your support group's site.
Foster an active, supportive, nurturing environment by encouraging members to share their thoughts and ask questions, periodically asking the entire group a question or posting a poll, setting guidelines regarding appropriate language and etiquette, and banning users who are inflammatory or abusive.
It will take a few weeks or even months to get a good number of people into your support group site. Just be persistent, and keep making improvements, and your membership will grow.
Eventually, if your group becomes very popular and gains a great amount of traffic, you may want to consider offering paid, supporting memberships (while keeping a free option) or selling ad space.
Melinda Gaines has been a freelance writer since 2006, with work appearing online for YellowPages and other websites. Her areas of expertise include business, beauty, fashion and sports. Gaines attended the University of Houston where she earned a Bachelor of Science in sport administration.