An internet forum is a place where members can post their views and read and respond to the views of others. Forums can be created on any topic whatsoever. An online community becomes established that is united by a common interest.
Forum users will tend to be quite knowledgeable about the internet and will have some knowledge about the forum topic (or will have joined the forum to increase their knowledge); indeed, some forum users may well be acknowledged experts on the area and may even have their own blogs relating to the topic. Online marketers can use these qualities to their advantage. If you, as an online marketer, can make a good impression in front of the right forum audience, that is an investment that is well worth making.
What follows are a few pointers towards getting the best return on your investment in forum marketing.
Choose the Right Forum
It’s a fairly obvious point but one that is well worth emphasising. The virtual world is the same as the real world. In the real world, if you are selling retirement homes you probably wouldn’t advertise in a singles’ magazine. Therefore, in the virtual world take the same approach to choosing your audience.
You are looking for niche forums that are relevant to your business. If you are not sure about what they may be, you can always start in the obvious place by asking people who work for you, your suppliers or your customers. You’ll be surprised just how internet savvy many of these people are. You can then turn to forum hubs and do a search using words that are expressly related to your niche.
Once you found a few sites worth pursuing (keep it to no more than about ten) you can narrow things down further using the following criteria: you should probably give a forum a miss if its hosted by a competitor; you want a forum with a good few members (perhaps a thousand or so), and you want one that is active with a few new posts each day.
Image Is Everything
Bear in mind why you are doing this: you are doing it to enhance the reputation of your brand. Thus you don’t want to have the opposite effect by choosing a ridiculously unprofessional name and avatar.
In this online community your name and avatar are you. You should perhaps avoid your real name and one that is clearly a giveaway as to the identification of your product or service. As for the avatar, experts recommend that you use a professional looking photograph and never, I’ll repeat that, never use any image that could be even remotely offensive.
Check the Detail
Another fairly obvious bit of information, but once again it’s worth hammering home the point. Whilst you are joining the forum to gain as much marketing leverage as you can, you want to do this in ways that do not break the forum’s rules and don’t offend the online community, the very people you want to impress, in the process.
Therefore, check whether it is acceptable to do any of the following, amongst other things: to place links in your posts, to promote your goods or services, to contact other members for business purposes or whether there are any limitations placed on new users (just as in life, privileges are often earned by long membership of online communities).
Create a Good Impression
Again, remember why you are there. The last thing you want to do is annoy people. Start off by creating an interesting profile for yourself. On the one hand make yourself sound personable and human, but on the other don’t be shy about shouting out your skills and expertise.
Introduce yourself as a new user with an introductory post. There may well be a thread that is designed for newbies to get started. Whatever you do, under no circumstances make a sales pitch in your introduction, unless you want your stay to be a very short one.
Spend a bit of time getting to know how things work. You’ll soon get to know what the favourite topics are and who the major contributors are. When you do make contributions, make them relevant, interesting and very high quality. This is where your skill and expertise come in. You are looking to gain trust not sell; that will come later when you are seen as an expert who is qualified to make recommendations.
In short, you need to see your presence in online communities as a long term strategy that will bring long term gains.