Want to feel the pulse of your market niche? Know exactly where to put your finger on it to gauge what they really think, have issues with, or needs that are unanswered. There is no better way than to go to the source and that is your very own source of prospects. They are qualified and if you can establish yourself as a trustworthy authority offering answers to their problems/ questions, you have a great opportunity to land them as a customer. The best source available to you is by enrolling in and/or even hosting a forum yourself. Although this is a form of marketing that does require time and patience, you just can’t get better quality raw information anywhere else, not even in a survey! (I mean “raw” in terms of honest with no motivations other than addressing the topic at hand.) Here are some added benefits a business can glean from Forum Marketing:
* Do you own a blog? Are you always looking for current and relevant content? From the questions asked and topics discussed in your forum you can glean ideas and issues that can translate well into article content and attract attention to your blog. Consider not only answering the topics in the site hosted by the forum, but bring the issues and questions right to your home page!
*Gauge trends within your niche discussions that you can fill either with a product/service extension or modify an existing product/service to answer the trend. Then use the same forum to announce their incorporation within your business.
* The format of forums also allows opportunities for you to obtain valuable back links, list building capabilities, as well as establish you as an authority in your niche. If you invest time and honest effort you can become the “Go To” person in your forum.
* This is also an avenue to test market an idea in a safe environment, prior to costly investment. Here you can hone in and fine tune your strategy with the help of interested and potential future prospects. What more relevant and cost effective test market can you think of?
* Forum marketing offer’s the same environment that social sites offer and what the consumers are now demanding; more personal and interactive relationship with the businesses they deal with. Like social networks, forums gives voice to the consumer.
How To Join A Forum:
You will be searching your browser trying to be as specific as possible in your keywords to find the niche you will best fit into, as well as find niches that may not necessarily be serviced to their fullest. TAKE YOUR TIME… don’t just jump in feet first. You will want to take a look around so your time and your efforts will be spent wisely and with utmost economy. Try different word combinations to see what is out there. Use the same “key word” strategy as you do in your SEO efforts. Testing different keywords allows you to target specific demographics whether it be audience, topic, or location to see what is going on in the marketplace. You may even find a sub group in your niche you never even thought about and want to bookmark and keep an eye on. Watching and assessing is always your best initial move. Forums are tight knit communities, therefore initially sitting back and making note of who the influential users are, getting a sense of the community, and the favorite and less favorite topics: will help you fit in more quickly.
Not all forums are made equal! To be successful you have to hunt out the best fit for you and your business. Do not walk into a topic that you can not prove yourself as an authority on. Look for popular forums! You can try keyword searching in popular sites as Board Reader, Big Boards, 100 Webmaster Forums. In fact the last option will give you a wealth of sites to consider.
Don’t overwhelm yourself and overtax your time by taking on too many forums at one time. Only you know what is a reasonable amount to handle in your busy schedule, but here is a few criteria you can use to short list the forerunners:
* Look for a list with good healthy membership, (1000 members and up.)
* Look also for robust activity, one that offers at least ten plus posts a day.
* If you see spam in the forum, back away! Sites that don’t moderate their spam offer more heartache than gain.
* And finally don’t go head to head on your direct competitor’s site. Their following is loyal, they have established a relationship already, you will only do yourself more
harm than good! Seniority is very important in forums.
* Check the rules. Check the user agreements and posting guidelines and look for forums that:
– allow you to place links in their posts,
– allow you to promote your own business,
– allow you to contact other members for commercial purposes.
– Check also the restrictions placed on new users and weigh the advantages if there are any.
You are dealing in a “social” situation and as in any social situation, you have to remember etiquette! Again it is worth mentioning that this is not a quick and easy marketing strategy… then again establishing long term and productive relationships don’t adhere well to quick and easy thinking. Rather it is eyed as suspicious activity generally viewed as a hustle in nature. The internet is fraught with cons, hustlers, spammers and excessive phishing… you do not want to get lumped in this category because the public relations mop up required would be a nightmare! On the flip side, there is no better and cost effective rewards than successful forum marketing. Make this then part of your long term strategies, as one of the “irons in the fire” if you may that when solidifies for you will also reap for the long term. It is a good investment!
Your first move in the forum of choice is to introduce yourself. Give a brief description of yourself as well as an explanation why you chose that particular forum. Look for threads the forum may offer that are designated for welcoming new members. Don’t ever make any marketing pitches out of the starting gate! If you try to sell anything on your first post, there is a good chance that you may find yourself banned.
Alternate Forum Marketing Activities
In as much as you are encouraged to participate in a forum, in time once you get a feel for the process, you may well consider hosting your own either as your soul forum marketing activity or in conjunction with your activities on your host’s site. It all depends on your time available and the successes you build on either end of the scale.
Be cautioned though. It may sound easier said than done! Like any enterprise/undertaking you first need to start out with a good plan because your forum is going to need a little more than just software to get it going and make it successful. You need to carefully select what topics to discuss within it, and you also need to be ready to answer as many posts as possible.
In the beginning, keep the amount of topics down so that you don’t spread your forum too thin making it look like there aren’t many members or activity happening to the curious onlooker considering to join themselves. (5 topics with 5 comments in each look more appealing than 25 topics with one answer each….) Organizing the content in a way to have the most popular stuff on topic at the top of the forum. This is is the most likely relevant content for the new visitor, and is the best way to draw them in. Leave the chit chat and introduction topics at the bottom. That stuff is for your true regulars, and they will check it out without encouragement.
Answer as many threads as possible, be a good host and make everyone feel welcome and an important member of your community. What is the use of having a forum if you are not going to actively participate in it? Reply to threads that contain answers to previous questions, (possibly with another question) just to keep the thread alive. Actively and aggressively moderate the spam! Offer something in addition to the forum… a tool or a link to a site with more information. This gives greater utility to your forum and it is no different a strategy than that used in list building. Or offer incentives for posting in your forum; give them a trial product, offer a little free advertising, give them a link on the main page, allow them to post their website in the main forum, etc. It is amazing how the quantity and quality of posts increases after you offer even the slightest free incentive.
Getting The Word Out
Use the same strategy as you do for getting the word out for your blog, website, product or service:
* Use the social networks you are on to advertise, announce and/or invite your friends to participate. Announce your forum on a regular (but not annoying) basis.
* Consider making an announcement via press release, banner ad, as well as adding it to you existing email marketing program.
* Encourage your friends, clients and other contacts to spread the word for you. Offer an incentive if possible to encourage word of mouth.
* See if you can get a guest posting on another blog or podcast to create interest and desire for joining your lively and informative forum!
* Look into free classified posting as a potential source of creating interest.
* What ever you do…don’t spam! Keep everything professional and above board!
Two Types Of Forum Applications To Consider
You have two options available when considering where you can host your forum. You can chose to be “off site”, that is your forum is not hosted on your website but rather in a community of forums. Consider this to be a similar set up to that as Blogger where an individual can sign up and them format their own forum/s. If you enter follow this link http://www.yuku.com, (copy and paste in your browser if it is not working for you,) you can get an idea what these sites offer. We suggest you shop around though before you settle on that perfect fir for you. We are only using YUKU as example, and should by no means be viewed as a sole endorsement.
In addition to off site forum offerings, you can also consider hosting a forum on your own website instead. To get a feel of what that is all about check out: http://www.comm100.com/forum. They specialize in business forums and the process is pretty painless and relatively simple:
Step one: register an account
Step two: Customize necessary settings to have your own branding
Step three: Copy several lines of code and paste it to your site
Step four: You now have a full featured discussion forum
We hope we have presented enough information for you to feel secure in making a sound decision on whether Forum Marketing is a viable strategy for you. What ever your decision is, we would like to wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.