Online forums allow both real and potential customers to interact with you and with each other to discuss your products or services while helping you troubleshoot flaws. They can even help you learn about possible improvements to make. Online forums often consist of a variety of different technology tools, including message board forums, chat, instant messaging and more. Community members join the forum and use these tools to communicate, while your company moderates the discussion and makes sure it’s achieving your business goals.
The answer is then posted on the forum so the next person who comes along with the same question may find their answer quickly. This relieves a lot of pressure from the business’ support lines and can ultimately save the company money, Pfleging says.
The article below will outline how businesses can benefit from online forums, how to promote your business on forums, and what to watch out for.
Set your goals
Decide just what you want to achieve with an online community. Perhaps, like Seymour Duncan, your sales can benefit from expert users giving advice and assistance to new customers. Or maybe your community can encourage your customers to show off ways they’re using your products, like Scrapbook.com, which incorporates games, contests, and challenges for members into their forum. There are many reasons for having a forum on a commercial website. You just need to identify yours.
Select the right community
Before you give any advice, start by selecting the right community for your business.
Choose popular forums that your product is relevant to. Make sure the forum has a decent number of members who are visiting and posting on a daily basis. Read through posts and make sure the responses are of high quality. Avoid spammy and low quality posts. If you have identified multiple forums that are relevant to your business, try engaging one or two forums first and see the community’s response.
Not all forums are worth your time. Successful forum marketing means finding the right community for your business.
Look for popular forums that cover your niche topic. Start by asking your employees, suppliers, and customers which online communities they hang out in. Also, try doing a simple Google search for a keyword related to your niche plus “forum”. For example, if you in the Golf marketing you could search Google for “Golf forum”.
While you’ll probably come across hundreds, and possibly thousands of forums, you’ll want to narrow your list to 5-10 forums that will be worth your time using the following criteria:
- Look for forums that have at least 1,000 members and 10,000 posts.
- Make sure the forum gets at least ten to fifteen new posts on a daily basis.
- Ignore forums that are overrun by spam.
- Avoid forums hosted by your direct competitors.
Your user profile is important
Create a captivating profile. Include a detailed description of your expertise and experience. You can be open about whether you’re related to a product, brand or company. Honesty adds to credibility.
After becoming a member and understanding how to operate within the forum, start establishing relationships with the community and build credibility for your profile. You might want to ask your own questions and interact with the other members by participating in active discussions.
Put Your Website URL in Your Signature File
Forum signatures are blocks of text or graphic that are attached to the end of all your posts. Most people use signatures to display their favorite quotes or links to their favorite websites. Some forums also allow users to use signatures to promote their own websites. If you are in a forum that allows self-promotional signatures, make sure you take full advantage of this opportunity and create a forum marketing signature that works.
Do not abuse this opportunity by putting flashy images or long advertising messages in your signature. An accurate, short description of your business and a link to your website is the best way to go.
Over time as you make more posts and answer more questions in the forum you’ll have more and more chances for people to see your signature find and drive traffic back to your website.
Find out what motivates potential members
Before you even think about starting your own community forum, you must find out just who your potential audience will be, and what they really want to talk about, Pfleging says. Attend meetings or conferences of your prospective clientele, and pay attention. Don’t just be there for the official presentations, but sit in on informal conversations, and listen to what they talk about among themselves. “If you’re dealing with butchers, auto mechanics, stone masons, no matter — get to know them, and how they relate to your product,” Pfleging says. Take the time to join and participate in several established online communities and social network sites. Particularly look for some that are similar to what you have in mind. Take note of things that you like and dislike about how they function, and try to incorporate these notes into your design.
Add value and win users’ trust
Avoid posting marketing messages right away.
Instead, if anyone asks a question related to your products or services, impress them with helpful answers that might not be promoting your products at all. These are great opportunities to become a known and trusted expert, which could lead to potential marketing opportunities. For example, when you’re asked for recommendations you could safely mention your product without appearing like a pushy sales representative. Your connections to the product have been stated in your profile so you’re not hiding anything from people on the forum.
Make Valuable and Useful Contributions to the Community
This is the key to successful forum marketing. Whenever anyone asks a question related to your products or services, dazzle them with incredibly useful answers. These situations are opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and to generate goodwill. Backup your advice with links to trusted sources, and respond to follow up questions quickly.
Leave out your sales pitch at the beginning. Any hint of bias in your initial posts will erase all your hard work. By keeping your answers objective, the entire community will start thinking of you as a trusted expert. They will soon start asking you for your recommendations. When you get direct inquiries for recommendations you may then safely mention your business without appearing biased.
Spend Some Time “Lurking” on the Forum
Resist the urge to start posting right away. Forums are tight-knit communities that tend to shun and haze newcomers. Spend some time reading the forum to get a sense of the community’s special quirks and cultural norms. Figure out who the influential users are and note which topics are perennial favorites. Learning this information will help you fit in more quickly.
You’ll also get a lot of valuable insight into what the most common questions are in your market, what problems people have, and what are the most common types of solutions. Invaluable data!
Give members an identity
When a company sponsors an online community forum, it must plan on giving up some control, allowing the members to do some of their own policing. This doesn’t mean you won’t need to have moderators; different officials from your company may want to participate and answer questions on occasion but at least one person should be in charge of moderating the forum, Messick says. Forum members usually will assist by alerting the moderators when a post is in some way against policy, or offensive in some way. This has several positive effects: It gives members a sense of co-ownership of your site; reduces the amount of moderating you’ll have to pay employees to perform; and creates a sense of being trusted that goes a long way toward increasing loyalty, Pfleging says. Set up a method of identifying your more active members with several levels. Include the amount of time they’ve been a member, as well as numbers of posts/responses. This will create a ladder of status they’ll want to climb, both in staying as active members longer, and increasing their interaction or participation.
Don’t spam or argue
Don’t spam or become involved in any emotional or controversial online arguments. Remember that your mission on these forums is to build relationships and credibility for your business.
Once you have the respect of the users, you can dedicate more (human) resources to your forum marketing efforts. Continue to focus on marketing techniques that provide a benefit for the forum community, such as offering special discounts or free samples.
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