This is a guest post by Olga Ionel.
Today’s companies are quickly recognizing the power that social media tools such as forums and message boards can have for finding new customers and spreading the word about products and services. While these platforms can be incredibly useful for raising awareness and evaluating the needs and desires of potential customers, they can also be harmful to a company’s reputation and even success should they be handled poorly.
Online marketing is key to success in today’s technologically-dependent society. It is nearly impossible for a company to compete without an internet presence, and the value of social media is apparent as more and more consumers are turning to the internet and social media platforms to find and share information regarding the products and services that they use and need.
Photo Credit: Alexander Svensson on Flickr
Among these social media platforms, forums and message boards are the most popular for discussing products and services. It is believed that as much as 64% of women that use the internet with frequency commonly post product recommendations on forums. There are millions of forums and message boards across the internet, each with its own personality and audience. They can be independent sites or used in conjunction with blogs based on WordPress themes. However they are managed, forums and message boards allow for the free and open exchange of ideas, welcoming conversations among large numbers of people that are located in all areas.
Taking advantage of these platforms can benefit your company through generating conversation regarding your products and services, and eliciting the opinions of audiences relevant to your niche.
It is crucial, however, that the use of the platforms be taken very seriously, and that your management of your social media usage be firm as to prevent inappropriate activities from alienating potential clients and hurting your company’s reputation.
Below are some tips regarding the correct usage of forums and message boards for online marketing.
Register as a valid user of the forum then seek out the “Introductions” section. Use this section to offer an honest and forthcoming introduction of your company, your products and services, and your desire to generate interest and get feedback. Ask about advertising or sponsorship factors into the use of the site, and avoid sounding like you are trying to sell anything. You want the people on the forum to see you as a “friend” rather than a faceless entity.
Don’t Immediately Begin Marketing
If your first and only posts are advertisements or solicitations you will build a negative reputation. You may even be banned by the monitors and your company will immediately get a negative mark, which could be devastating if this forum ranks high on searches.
Contact the Administrator
Find out who runs the forum and send him a private message. Commend him for the forum and ask if you could become a paid sponsor or advertiser. Ask if there are specific restrictions to marketing activities and begin developing a relationship that could later prove helpful.
Don’t “Hide” Your Company
Do not register under a cutesy sounding name and pretend to be just a regular member of the forum and then start posting marketing messages under the guise of being a “satisfied customer”. People will see through this and you could not only get in a lot of trouble on the forum, but your company’s reputation could be irreparably damaged.
Consider Banner Advertising
In addition to regularly posting on the site you should also consider purchasing advertising space on the site. If you select your message boards properly you will be advertising to a specific demographic most likely to be interested in the types of products and services that you offer. Putting an advertisement on the site gives you the opportunity to be visible and direct readers right to your site.
Don’t Be Pushy
You must be carefully with the posts that you make. Avoid going on the forum daily and just posting a generic marketing message without caring about what is being discussed in the threads. In order to be truly effective you must read the threads and direct your posts to what is being discussed, making them interesting and informative. Every post should not be marketing in nature.
Be a Valued Contributor
You do not want to get lost in the forum. Message boards generally move very quickly and if you only post every couple of days you are going to get buried. You must become a frequent and valued part of the conversations that are happening on the site—including posts that have nothing to do with marketing on the surface. Always be aware of what you are discussing and how it may impact your company, but participate richly.
Respond to Feedback
The goal of forums is to promote conversation. This means that you will likely have comments, criticisms, and questions added to your threads and posts. Respond to these. Be careful how you respond and make it as positive and effective as possible rather than attacking the person who left the comment.