In the age of social marketing, online forums are, next to Facebook, Twitter and your favorite social media network, an ideal natural outlet for marketing your content in an ethical, helpful and altruistic way. As online forums are an online destination used to meet, share ideas and ask questions to people who have a shared interests, their very nature provides for access to communities of people interested in something very specific.
Photo credit: Lev Dolgachov
As a matter of fact, an online forum is a virtual room full of people who share and discuss the same interests and passions. This is why it is an ideal place to listen and understand to people's specific needs and problems and provide real help by providing valuable answers and suggestions.
According to a recent survey from PostRelease (republished in full below in the article): “People who contribute to online forums are overwhelmingly more engaged in "influential" activities - both online and offline - than people who do not use forums”.
Inside most online forums people tend to do everything for the good of the community, and not exclusively thinking about their personal comeback.
What this all means is that your best marketing strategy is not to go inside a forum and shout out loud that you have a cool new product or that you have just published a killer blog post that everyone should read. An approach like this is kind of a no-no and it may just get you banned right away from many of the top internet forums.
What you should do instead, is come forward to offer your help in a consistent and honest way.
Let me just share with you my own experience when posting inside online forums, as part of my job as a senior content editor for MasterNewMedia. This job includes promoting and helping out with the distribution and "visibility" of the content we publish. And here is what I do when it comes to promoting our content while leveraging the power of online forums.
When I am inside a forum, and I come across someone asking, let’s say, for help in finding a tool to do video editing, I never show up and say: "Hey, here I am. I am an expert, I have written about this, check out what I found out and learn."
Instead, I approach it more like this:
"Hi, I have found some nice video editing tools that may serve your needs. Here’s a), b) and c). I would personally recommend b) because is very cool and allows you to do 1), 2) and 3) that other tools don’t do.
However, if you are still not satisfied, or want to have a better perspective on this topic, you might want to have a look at this guide I have prepared some time ago. Here’s the link."
At first I always provide immediate value, something tangible that people can immediately put to use to solve their doubts or problems, and only AFTER - if they want to go deep and know some more - I provide a reference they could check.
I do exactly what I’d like other people to do if I had the same problem. Give good, solid help first. The extra authority, credibility and more visibility will come naturally as a consequence.
This is why I recommend you check out and share with others this comprehensive guide I, and the others editors here in the MasterNewMedia newsroom, have written, mashed up, remixed and assembled here for you.
This guide focuses in fact on how to leverage online forums as a marketing venue, while providing great value and help in the process.
Here is what I suggest you pay attention to:
(Intro by Daniele Bazzano)
1. How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche
- Look for popular forums that cover your niche topic.
- Go to Google and in the search box just put in "your niche + forum" and check the results.
- Ask your employees, suppliers, and customers which online communities they hang out in.
- Search forum hub sites such as Board Reader, Big Boards, and Board Tracker using niche-specific keywords.
- Look for reliable forums that have at least 1,000 members and 10,000 posts.
- Make sure the forum you choose gets at least 10 to 15 new posts on a daily basis.
- Check the policy of the forum and make sure that:
- You can place links inside your forum posts.
- You can promote your own business.
- You can post commercial messages in your signature.
- You can contact other members for commercial purposes.
- You know which restrictions are placed on new users.
- You take advantage of special privileges given to long-time users (if any).
2. How To Create a Memorable Forum Profile
a) Select a Good Username and Avatar:
- Pick a username that is easy to remember and pronounce. Using your real name might be appropriate, especially if your name is closely identified with your brand.
- Stay away from bizarre number combinations or weird misspellings.
- Pick a username that everyone clearly understands and that has no hidden significance.
- Use a good head shot of yourself or cute pictures of your kids or pets as your avatars.
- Avoid using any pictures that might be considered offensive or controversial in any way.
b) Create a Compelling Profile
- Provide a solid description of your expertise and experience.
- Feel free to add in a couple of personal tidbits to humanize your profile. Information like your hometown, the name of your kids or pets, or your favorite sports team are good ways to break the ice.
- Stay away from sharing your own point of view on political or religious matters.
- Provide detailed contact information so that other forum users can easily get in touch with you if they are interested in learning more about you or your business.
- Share only information you would not mind being made public, such as a throwaway email address to protect yourself from spammers.
c) Leverage Forum Signatures
- Put the address of your website inside your signature.
- Create the link back to your site using your main niche keywords.
- Do not add flashy images or long advertising messages inside your signature.
- Provide a reason why people might want to follow the link to your website by writing an accurate, but short description of your business.
d) Write an Effective First Forum Post
- Many forums encourage new users to introduce themselves to the community by making an introductory post. This is usually done in threads especially designated for welcoming new members.
- Your introductory post should include a brief description of your expertise and an explanation of why you joined the forum.
- Let the other users know that your main goal is to contribute to and learn from the community.
- Do not make any marketing pitches in your first post.
3. How To Communicate Effectively Inside a Forum
- Spend some time reading the forum to get a sense of which are the special quirks and cultural norms of the community.
- Figure out who the influential users are and note which topics are perennial favorites.
- Learn how people interact on the forum. Learning this information will help you fit in more quickly.
- Dazzle users with incredibly useful answers whenever someone asks a question related to your products or services. These situations are opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and to generate good will.
- Backup always every advice you share with links to trusted sources, and respond to follow-up questions quickly.
- Keep your answers as much objective as possible. By doing this, the entire community will start thinking of you as a trusted expert. They will soon start asking you for your recommendations and when you get direct inquiries for recommendations you may then safely mention your business without appearing biased.
- Do not get drawn into heated arguments. Stay away from charged topics like politics or religion.
- Write a short article about a topic people on the forum will appreciate, then start a new thread and post the article.
- Make sure you always have something to continue the conversation. Ask questions, request feedback, etc. If you just end your posts without engaging the community, it is likely you will just end the conversation abruptly and that is not the point.
- Focus on marketing techniques that provide a benefit for the forum community. For example, offer the forum members special discounts, free samples, or fun contests.
- Be sure to request and get permission from the moderators of the forum before you start a marketing campaign.
- Gather information and data from forums such as problems people are having and what could be the possible solutions, and then use this data to create new products to address the needs of the community.
If the Holy Grail of marketing is a band of self-motivated enthusiasts proactively recommending your product, then the Grail's secret location could very well be the world of online forums, according to a new survey released by PostRelease.
Forum Users Are More Engaged In Online and Offline Activities
People who contribute to online forums are overwhelmingly more engaged in "influential" activities - both online and offline - than people who do not use forums, the study found.
By far, the biggest disparities involved blogs and meetups: Those who contribute to online forums are 10 times more likely than non-contributors to also publish a blog, and are nine times more likely to take an active role in organizing an offline event or meetup for a group that originally met online.
Key Findings About Forum Users
Forum users are:
- 3.5 times more likely to proactively recommend a particular purchase to someone else,
- 3.5 times more likely to share links about new products,
- 4 times more likely to post online ratings and reviews, and almost
- twice as likely to share advice - offline and in person - based on information they have read online.
Those are the principle findings of a new nationwide survey conducted November 19 - 23 by PostRelease.
In conjunction with Chicago market researcher Synovate, PostRelease asked 1,000 Americans to choose from a list of activities that could be considered influential in helping others make a purchase decision, and select those in which they participate. In every case, those who contribute to forums are more likely than others to engage in the activity.
The survey found that one in five Americans contributes to online forums.
Forrester Research reports that 28 percent U.S. consumers read online forums - making it the second most popular online activity, second only to watching video. But a forum contributor's influence is not confined to the world of online forums.
Key Findings About Forum Contributors
Here is an overview of the results:
- 79.2 percent of forum contributors help a friend or family member make a decision about a product purchase - compared with 47.6 percent of non-contributors and 53.8 percent overall.
- 65 percent of forum contributors share advice (offline and in person) based on information that they have read online - compared with 35 percent of non-contributors and 40.8 percent overall.
- 66 percent of forum contributors post online ratings / reviews of products / services, compared with 16.8 percent of non-contributors and 26.4 percent overall.
- 57.7 percent of forum contributors proactively recommend that someone make a particular purchase - compared with 16.9 percent of non-contributors and 24.9 percent overall.
- 43.6 percent of forum contributors share links to articles about new products or with reviews of products - compared with 12 percent of non-contributors and 18.2 percent overall.
- 35.6 percent of forum contributors attend an offline event or meet up where people with similar interests or who share the same hobby connect - compared with 13.8 percent of non-contributors and 18 percent overall.
- 20.6 percent of forum contributors publish a blog - compared with 2.1 percent of non-contributors and 5.7 percent overall.
- 18.8 percent of forum contributors take an active role in organizing an offline event or meet up for a group that met originally online - compared with 2.4 percent of non-contributors and 5.6 percent overal
Originally prepared by Elia Lombardi and Robin Good for MasterNewMedia and first published on March 24th, 2010 as Forum Marketing Strategy: How To Promote Your Site Through Online Forums
PostRelease enables companies to advertise online word-of-mouth discussions within forums and message boards. The PostRelease system lets advertisers search and identify key forum conversations and insert messages as posts to be absorbed by the community as expert content.
Elia Lombardi and Robin Good -
How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche - Chris Lamphear
How To Communicate Effectively Inside a Forum - Mikhail Mishchenko
Survey Chart - PostRelease with Synovate
How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche - Chris Lamphear
Forum Users Are More Engaged In Online and Offline Activities - Kronick
Key Findings About Forum Users - Pablo631
Forum Contributors - Sgursozlu