Using Forums as a Key Marketing Component

December 10, 2007 - Written by Gyutae Park  

forum.jpgThere has recently been debate over the role of forums in the now social network driven Internet. With newer web 2.0 social sites such as Facebook, Digg, and StumbleUpon gaining popularity, many think forums will be pushed out and are in danger of extinction. However, I would have to disagree with this view. Forums were one of the first Internet platforms made for social interaction on the web, and they are here to stay. The newer social sites may offer some cool new features, but forums are unique in that they allow users to voice their opinions and thoughts on a level playing field. Nowhere else can you receive the quick and honest feedback and advice an active forum can provide. Ideally, it’s Internet democracy at its best. (Provided that admins and mods aren’t over-controlling tyrants.)

So how do you take advantage of this? Few people realize how great of a marketing tool a forum can really be. With the right tools and strategies, you’ll be able to leverage the huge audience of an active forum to brand yourself and bring targeted traffic to your own site. This guide will show you how you can make the most of your forum registrations to market and gain popularity for your site.

Finding the right forums

Depending on what niche your own website is in, you’ll want to target a forum in the same industry. If there are multiple forums covering your topic of choice, you’ll want to narrow down your options depending on the following factors:

  • Most activity
    How many users are registered for the forum? How many new threads and posts are made each day? The more active a forum is, the more exposure you will get.
  • Most relevant
    Obviously you want to target a forum that suits your own interests. Joining a community on model airplane building will probably do you no good for an Internet marketing site you are trying to build. If a forum doesn’t exist in your industry, you might want to consider creating one (if there is enough interest and demand).
  • Forum culture and dynamic
    What are your goals? Join a forum where the user base would make good potential customers. For example, if you run a music lesson site, you’d want to target a forum with a lot of music newbies. A forum full of arrogant professional musicians will probably not help your music lesson business. Also, find a forum where you would be comfortable and would enjoy being a part of. For instance, Digital Point and Wicked Fire are forums that both cover the Internet marketing industry, yet are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to culture and dynamic. Find a place that fits your personality.
  • Features
    We will go deeper into this later on in the guide, but forum features are important factors when deciding which forums to target. Rules on linking, using signatures, avatars, and images can make a huge difference when marketing yourself and your site.

Depending on how much time you have available, you want to target a limited number of forums where you can actively contribute and become a trusted member of the community. If that means using only one forum, then that is what’s probably best.

Setting up your account

After you’ve chosen the forums you’d like to be a part of, you want to set up your account to maximize exposure for your site, show others who you are, and instill a sense of trust to your fellow members.

  • Creating the user name
    Do not make your user name look like spam. Using something personal like BillyBob is much better than MYSITE.COM. Remember, you want to show others that you are an actual person who can be trusted and respected. No one likes spam. Use a handle that reflects who you are.
  • Profile
    Many forums allow you to fill in fields for a profile page that describes who you are. Use this to its full potential. Fields usually include name, biography, location, birthday, instant messaging contact info, email, interests, and occupation. The more you fill out and the more transparent you are, the more people will find you interesting enough to either contact you or visit your site. This is especially important as you write posts, develop a reputation, and form relationships with forum members.
    Tip: Enter your website’s URL but also use the location as another placeholder for your URL. So instead of displaying your actual physical location like California, use your online location such as MySite.com.
  • Avatars
    If the forum allows it, make sure you use a custom avatar that uniquely defines who you are. Use the same image for all forums you are a part of and all blogs you post on. This will help others to associate you with your picture all over the web. A catchy picture or a small head shot of yourself works well.
  • Signature – SEO link value
    This is probably going to be the most important forum feature that you can use as a marketing tool. The signature is attached below all of your forum posts and is highly visible. Depending on the forum you can post text, images, and links – that usually pass on SEO value.

Posting

Now that you’ve optimized your account, you are ready to start posting and contributing to the community. Your goal here is to gain respect and to get noticed. This can be done in a variety of ways including the following methods:

  • Post frequency, increase post count
    In forums, your post count is a status symbol of sorts. In many cases, people are most likely going to follow you or notice you if you have a high post count and are an active member of the community. However, make sure your posts are of high quality.
  • Be an expert
    Although post count is important, people are more likely to respect you if you are authoritative and act as an expert in the field. Be helpful in replies and people will take notice of you and the sites in your signature.
  • Be controversial
    Sometimes it’s not best to just go with the flow. Go against the grain once in a while. Argue against common thinking with new insights and ideas. That will gain you recognition and people will notice you. Just don’t be obnoxious or overly outlandish with how you use this tactic.
  • News posts
    An easy way to boost your post count while offering good content is to post links to recent articles with your insights and analysis attached. Not only will people appreciate you sharing the story but you are able to get our own thoughts across to a wide audience.
  • Welcome posts
    Probably the easiest way to garner up legitimate posts while connecting with others is to welcome new members and answer any questions that they may have. A lot of forums have a “Introduce Yourself” type section so be sure to look out for new members and welcome them into the community.
  • Write a guide
    The best way to quickly gain respect in a forum is to write up a guide on a related topic. This guide will be linked to from all over the forum, replies and views will skyrocket, and your reputation will go up with them. An example of this is Dan Schulz at Digital Point who wrote up a comprehensive guide on SEO. As you can see, it is one of the top threads at the very large forum and people trust other threads he writes because of the guide.
  • Posting your site with links, blog posts
    Generally, you do not want to openly advertise your own sites on a forum, but if you do it with good taste, others won’t seem to mind. For example, if you think people will genuinely be interested in what you have to offer, then by all means let them know. Just don’t do it so often that people will get annoyed. Promoting a recent blog post you wrote up on some of the top issues in the industry would work fine.

Networking

Networking is probably one of the most important things you can do as an Internet marketer or entrepreneur. If you want to gain attention, you have to leverage the reputation and audiences that other people in your industry have. How do you develop these relationships? A forum offers some great tools to connect with others and make friends.

  • Private messages
    Private messages (PMs) work the same way as regular forum posts, except they are only visible to certain members that you send them to. This is a quick alternative to email that allows you to send personalized messages. This is a great way to get in contact with people on the forum you normally wouldn’t be able to get in touch with on a personal level.
  • Buddy Lists
    Target some key members on the forum who have a high post count and are respected in the community. Add them to your buddy list, track them, follow their threads and posts, and send them PM’s asking questions and offering advice. The little things can go a long way in building trust and creating new friendships/business partnerships.
  • Reputation
    Many forums use a reputation system where you can vote for a post and give points to a helpful member. Recipients of reputation can see who voted for them and will most likely return the favor in the future or be more likely to be interested in who you are. Use this feature to its maximum potential and give reputation points liberally.

A forum is an excellent tool to learn, network, and promote your own sites. It will take a lot of patience and hard work to develop your identity on a forum, but the end result will do wonders for your reputation, your brand, and your website marketing. Are you an active member of any forums?

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Comments

33 Responses to “Using Forums as a Key Marketing Component”

sven on December 10th, 2007

Social networking and forums is just like the best way to tell other people what you know and praise your website, even though I think most people in forums are not interested in real discussions, they just want to do the same as you do, tell their story instead of listening to yours. It’s like in real life, most people think about what they want to say when you talk without listening. But those are not the worst, the worst are people ripping everything appart in the save place of a forum.
It’s a powerful way to promote, but be aware of the people that may hang around there.

 
indy on December 10th, 2007

hey,that was a lengthy but very detailed info on making effective use of forums…

 
indy on December 10th, 2007

may be you could have listed the forums that you benefitted the most…that would have been more useful…

 
Nick on December 10th, 2007

Gyutae,
Once again, great post. One of the things I like about your site is that you talk about the “how” of things. I’ve read a lot of sites that say “use forums to boost traffic” but they don’t really talk about why. I feel that a lot of people will benefit from this post.
Nice work!

 
Tevin Anderson on December 10th, 2007

These are great points. I don’t think forums are going ANYWHERE. They are a great source for community information. I have moderated a couple forums in the past (and current), and have made many friends on them. They can be truly invaluable if used correctly.

 
Sly from Slyvisions.com on December 10th, 2007

Forums are a great way to market anything. But like you said, it’s important that your posts are relevant and that other things should be done first before actually trying to do anything further. Setting up the perfect signature can also do the same type of marketing, but without any actual work.

 
Jerlene on December 10th, 2007 Subscribed to comments via email

I personally hate seeing people with their URL as their Location. I sell my Location all the time though.

 
sylv3rblade on December 10th, 2007

Hmm.. I’ve been on several forums before becoming a blogger, in my experience, they’re the most volatile (easily come and go) readers. While there’s undoubtly lots of forums out there, it’s hard to direct people FROM the forums to your site and make them stay.

And yeah, posting your OWN site as resource can get you bashed, even mobbed (web-mobbed that is).

 
Teejay on December 11th, 2007

Forums have been here for ages. And it has continued to be a marketing tool for business.

 
Patrick Curl - BlogContestSite.com on December 11th, 2007

Great post on forums, I find my attention wanes from being a long-term contributor to any one forum, but I definitely can see the relevence of using the signature feature, and building up post counts on a large forum. This is definitely one area that I could use revamping when it comes to marketing my blog.

 
Thomas Dean on December 11th, 2007 Subscribed to comments via email

Good detailed post.

It can take a hell of alot of time to become an authority figure on a forum. I tend to register on forums that are quite new in my niche, that way I can be seen as an authority figure after a few months.

It definatly works though if done correctly.

 
Iantrepreneur on December 11th, 2007

wow great post! I agree forums are great source of communication and networking, while social media are just focus on specifics and gossips.

I found it to be better to communicate in forums because users are more interested in the topic or post, while social media is just trying to have the most friends

I think forums will still be part of the internet, but only the strong will survive in this fast pace change

 
Kenneth Elliott on December 12th, 2007

Wow, this was a powerful post and it definitly openned my eyes to putting more time in creating threads in forums that I am members of.

Kenneth Elliott

 
Jason on December 14th, 2007

This post came right in time. I started getting involved in forums last week. You know I didn’t understand why you advised us to put our url inside the location box. Then it hit me, after I was reading a thread and saw that “location” shows on their posts 🙂

 
Gyutae Park on December 14th, 2007

@sven
I think what you mention is most prevalent in marketing forums. In most hobby forums that are not related to the Internet, many users are passionate and are actually there to share insights and advice.

@indy
Thanks. It’s very lengthy but I wanted to cover each of the important components. Did you get a chance to read all of it? Also, you bring up a good idea about following up to this post with a real-life example.

@Nick
Thanks, I’m glad it can be of use to you. That’s really what I’m striving to do with this blog – to explain the how rather than just the what and why.

@Tevin Anderson
I agree that forums are here to stay. There is a lot more noise and useless chatter in forums, but I think that’s what feeds into the really valuable nuggets of information.

@Sly
Well signatures are very important, but I wouldn’t say it’s marketing without doing any work. If you want to get noticed, you still have to provide valuable content that people like.

@Jerlene
You mean you sell your location space to other sites?

@sylv3rblade
How you’re received really depends on the culture of the forum. You’re right in that the crowd is volatile but this can actually help you to reach a wider and more diverse audience.

@Teejay
Here for ages, and probably here for a couple more.

@Patrick Curl
You’re right. Forum marketing is very time intensive which is why you need to focus on what’s important. That’s what I hoped to cover in writing this article.

@Thomas Dean
While I understand the logic behind your method, it’s still very risky. What happens if the new forum never really takes off? I’d rather focus on an established forum from the start. That way I know exactly what potential I have in using time to market my sites.

@Iantrepreneur
Agreed. Forums and social media are extremely different in my eyes. I’m actually surprised that the two are compared side by side.

@Kenneth Elliot
Thanks. Glad I could open your eyes to this idea.

@Jason
Yep, it’s not too late to get involved. Good luck with this and let me know how it goes.

 
lizzyfirt on January 7th, 2008

hello, i’m lizzy!

 
Bryan on February 22nd, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

I am really glad that I found this site. You have put together some great advice on forum use. Thanks.

 
Dr. Teeth on April 17th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Forums really matter when it comes to webmaster.
I have been hopping around few to gain some info

 
omaththage on June 12th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Hi, I would like to agree with this view because internet marketing strategy is very important. we can urn money from forum as a key marketing. first we have read clearly with understanding then we can following rules and guideline then we can comment. we have finding right forum with registered then we have to post our comment.

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Start your internet marketing career at the Profit Work From Home System

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Amtrepreneur on December 18th, 2008

I wish I would’ve read this couple months ago! I had to learn the hard way… =(

btw, I think it’s cool how you use your full korean name. I got myself an english name to make everyone’s life easier! haha

 
Franck Silvestrea on December 24th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

This is an excellent tutorial.

Forum marketing is a part of my overall marketing strategy, and it works very well. The expert touch is pretty important to get the nost exposure.

Franck

 
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Proven Online Business on January 27th, 2009

What a great and through article on forum marketing. I personally think that forum marketing is a good way of attracting targeted traffic to your website/blog. Follow the advice on this post and you will do well!
I have also made some valuable contacts through forums.

 
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