Long before the Facebook and Twitter era, forums dominated the web as a place where ideas and thoughts were exchanged. If you do a quick Google search on almost any topic, there’s bound to be several conversations about it on different online forums. Forums are an extremely powerful tool for businesses and if used correctly, they can spark lead generation and provide a truthful understanding of your audience’s thoughts and preferences. Moreover, an opportunist will identify how the insight generated from forums can be used advantageously to deliver products or services that customers want. Here’s the rundown on the best strategies for engaging in social forums on the web.
First and foremost, the goal of engaging on forums is to be a thought leader and to contribute to the group in a meaningful way. The absolute worst thing you can do is to enter a forum and blatantly promote your company. Before you commit to a forum strategy, be aware that it takes time and effort to make a positive impact on your audience. Consider comparing forum discussions with the effort it takes to establish a relationship offline – it takes time and a genuine personality to build trust. Just like you wouldn’t go into a networking event and bluntly promote your company, don’t spam people in forums with irrelevant information. Be a thought leader and the business leads will follow.
Check out the guidelines and listen to members
When you first join a forum, read the guidelines that are posted by group managers. These guidelines provide insight into the norms of the group, the type of content that is posted, and how members communicate with one another. Respect the rules established by group managers, otherwise you face the risk of being kicked out of the forum. Unlike social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, forums are a completely public space where anyone can view your posts. You can’t “friend” the people that will see your comment or restrict followers by having a private profile – anyone who wants to can find and read the comments you post on forums. If you maintain your goal of being a thought leader, posting on forums can be advantageous for your online reputation.
After you’ve become acquainted with the forum’s guidelines, take a few days to listen and observe group members. What are the recurring themes of interest? What is the tone of group members? How can you include your areas of expertise into the conversation to bring value for group members? Be patient and truly listen to other people’s interests, frustrations, and insights – then once you’ve taken the time to understand the forum’s norms and its members, get right into the conversation!
Provide value-adding comments
As mentioned before, the main goal of your posts should be to share insight that is valuable to the group. Share your knowledge and expertise on topics that are relevant to the group members. People joined that particular group because they are interested in that particular topic – stay relevant and the group members will appreciate it and respond accordingly. Forums are usually linked to your personal name and not a corporate identity. Lead generation through forums occur when you establish yourself as a thought leader that people can trust. By association, these individuals will start trusting your brand and may turn to your company when they need a solution in the area you offer. On LinkedIn, interested group members will search your profile to see where you work and on other forums, you can provide signatures that link to your company page. Don’t push your brand more than that – the leads will come organically once you consistently provide value for members. Remember – this is not an overnight tactic so be prepared to put in the time and effort!
Communicate and interact with members
LinkedIn shows each group’s top weekly contributors on the side of the page. Build relationships with influencers and other group members by responding to their questions, commenting on their posts, and private messaging them to thank them for their insights. Similar to relationships in the offline world, it takes (possibly even more) time and effort to build relationships. Once you’ve built a relationship, organic interest about your company and what you do will arise.
Even as you engage in forums, continue being an observer of other members’ comments and insights…even take notes. These individuals are providing valuable information about their product/service preferences, things they want to see, and features they don’t like. These comments are the most raw and insightful information you can gather about your consumers – and if your company acts on these relevant insights, you’ll have a more powerful product that people want. Again, this takes time and effort…which is exactly why few people are doing it. Be patient and the least you’ll get out of it is some added knowledge and new relationships.