In this article:
- What is an online forum?
- Find top-quality groups to participate in
- Check back often and follow up
- Avoid spammy practices
- Choose discussions wisely
- Stand out from the crowd
Online forums have been around for a couple of decades, but people are starting to rely more on these sites for answers to their questions as they dive into internet searches. This creates a good opportunity for small businesses to stand out and market themselves effectively.
In most online forums, anyone can ask a question that they are seeking the answer to, and then, generally speaking, anyone with an answer will respond.
Your business can develop an online persona via which you can be answering questions that are relevant to your industry.
You can help guide consumers toward your business as an online resource and start to stand out as an authority in your market.
Let’s go over what online forums are and how you can best utilize them for your business.
What is an online forum and why should you care?
An online or internet forum is a website where people can have discussions about various topics.
Often a forum will be specialized to one particular area of interest, such as Mopar automobiles, Sonoran cuisine, Pudelpointer dogs, vintage Apple computers, Finnish death metal, or whatever else you can think of.
Current forums are the descendants of the early dialup bulletin board systems and Usenet groups of the 1970s and 80s, but are far more robust in features and usability.
In your industry specifically, there may be several websites or forums dedicated to online discussions relevant to industry news and topics. You name it, there’s probably a forum dedicated to it.
Furthermore, there are huge, more general forums where you can find “subforums” or groups dedicated specifically to your industry.
Some examples of popular, large, diverse forums include Reddit and Quora. Even within broad forums such as these, you can often find topics related to your industry that you can get involved with.
Contributing to the conversation on these forums is a great way to help spread your brand awareness and establish your business as a leader in the industry. We’ll guide you through some best practices to help you along the way.
Find a few “top-quality” groups
As you are making the business decision to start participating in industry forums, you need to decide which forums you will participate in. There are tons and tons of forum sites out there, so don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to participate in every one possible.
Instead, pick a select few that seem like good options for your business. Do your research to determine which forums are the most relevant to your industry.
Ask these questions to help you decide which forums to use:
- What is their visitor traffic like?
- Are people asking questions relevant to your business and industry?
- What forums are your competitors participating on?
- What forums are other industry laters conducting discussions on?
Top-quality forums will have a lot of traffic with people asking all of the questions that you know how to answer well, and other industry leaders and businesses will be active on those sites.
Of course, if your business is very esoteric or specialized, there may only be one or two “main” forums relating to your particular specialty (such as the tongue-in-cheek mongolian underwater basket weaving forum), so modify this advice as appropriate.
And if there isn’t an existing forum relating to your particular industry, perhaps you should consider starting one!
Check back often and follow up
When you start engaging with industry forums, it’s important to keep that engagement up. You don’t want to go through the trouble of getting your forum membership approved and answer someone’s question and then find out three months later that they asked a followup question that you neglected to respond to (or even worse, one of your competitors responded to it).
That’s why it’s important to check back on the forums that you engage with often and follow up with the people you’ve had discussions with to see if you were able to solve their problem.
On most forum sites you can set up email notifications to be informed when someone comments on one of your posts or engages with one of your comments. Set up these notifications so you can promptly reply.
Along the lines of checking back often, you should also set yourself up to receive notifications when new questions or relevant posts are published so that you can be Johnny-on-the-spot and get the first response to these posts.
Don’t be spammy; be forthcoming
No one likes spammy practices, so just don’t do it. One of the most common ways that people are spammy on forums is by posting links in the comments (usually to their own websites). This used to be a common practice to help websites get backlinks to their websites for SEO purposes. They would just spam links in the comments of forum discussions to get more links to their site.
Well, our advice is to not do that. It makes your business look spammy, it doesn’t reflect well for your online reputation, and it doesn’t help you rank better in the search engines. Google can see right through spammy practices like this.
What’s more, this type of practice is often frowned upon by forum administrators, moderators, and members.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t ever post a link in a comment or forum post. When you have some valuable information or resources that are relevant to the discussion, then by all means, share it. Just be careful about the number of links you are sharing as you get involved in these discussions, and don’t just provide the same rote answer to every question.
Take some time and actually participate in the forum and develop relationships of trust with members.
In addition, we recommend you be forthcoming about your business, including your forum “avatar” and persona. Make it very clear that you own a business and include links and info about it in your forum profile.
You will be much more likely to be accepted and recommended by long-time forum members if you are up-front about your business purposes rather than get exposed as a “company shill.”
Many forums prohibit blatant commercial posting, but many also allow forum sponsorship, and/or provide additional posting privileges to businesses who sponsor the forum.
Some even provide dedicated sub-forums for businesses who are authorized forum sponsors. This can be an effective method of advertising to your specific audience, particularly for businesses that sell goods and services online.
Choose your forum discussions wisely
Just like you should choose the forum websites that you participate on wisely, you should also be smart about the specific discussions that you choose to engage with.
One thing to look for is how active and recent the discussions are. If there’s a discussion with a question that you could easily answer, but it was posted several months (or years!) ago and the discussion has died off, then you won’t want to waste your time with that one.
If you just run a global forum search and start “bumping” old threads that are related to your business solutions, you’ll anger the membership and get banned quickly.
Focus on discussions that currently have active participants so that your company is gaining good exposure and actually providing value to the conversation.
Set yourself apart as an authority in your industry
As you participate in discussions with a lot of participants and activity, it will be important to make sure your comments stand out from the rest. If people are not reading, liking, and/or upvoting your comments, then they will fall to the bottom of the list and won’t be as likely to be seen.
Make sure your contributions offer some unique value to the conversation, whether that’s a differing perspective than everyone else or a new solution that is proprietary to your company.
Every business and person that comments on any discussion wants their comments to stand out so you’ll have a lot of competition here, especially on high-traffic forums. Do your best to set yourself apart from the crowd so that you can become a thought-leader for your industry.
Claim your online business profiles and participate in related forums
Several online business listings host their own online forums. As you are setting up your online business profiles, check out the additional features offered on those sites. Will their online forums be of value to your business and relevant to your industry? If so, then use them!
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