I invited Lace Llanora from the Wholesale Forums to write a guest post on how to use discussion forums for networking within a niche and, here is her excellent contribution.
Old school is still cool when it comes to discussion forums. Sure there are no bells and whistles like the ever changing face of Facebook, but when it comes to growing your business network – nothing beats the granddaddy of social media. According to Social Media Examiner’s industry report, marketers continue to use forums as a social media marketing tool and 33% of them want to learn more about it. We asked our community and provide real-life advice below.
How to use discussion forums to network within your niche
1. Find the right community
Before jumping in any community, ask yourself if your target market is there. Do you want to connect with industry peers, retailers, or end consumers? Spend some time ‘working the community’ as you would when you first enter a party.
One of our community members, Darren Brundell who works for a freight forwarding company called Woodland Global shares “I started off with a few B2B forums but found them to be flooded with freight forwarders along with countless scammers and spammers, so although I was providing good content it was being lost in the huge pool of spam”.
Remember that each forum will have its own personality, community culture, size, and moderating quality. Read through recent discussions also known as threads, to gauge whether they are the right community for you and your business.
2. Look out for opportunities to help and solve problems
Do you know why social media clicks? It’s because a majority of them encourage a helpful and sharing community. The same is true for discussion forums. Brands like ASL Express, wholesalers of branded sportswear, not only use forums to post direct stock offers but also, generate leads by answering questions from community members. This helps them build brand awareness and re-affirm their company reputation.
As an added bonus and unlike Facebook and Twitter posts, discussions from reputable communities gather a significant amount of traffic from search. This means that every helpful post you make has a lifetime value not only for community members, but for outsiders as well.
3. Be genuine but avoid personal drama
When you first join a community, don’t forget to introduce yourself and present yourself as someone genuine – not an automatic bot that generate sales. Let other members welcome you and soon you’ll find yourself gaining contacts and making lasting connections.
Don’t forget to complete your forum profile, it helps to have a friendly face as an avatar and it won’t hurt to add your social media and website links if allowed.
“Forums are great learning platforms most of all, and they make it easy to communicate on a very informal level” says iwoca, an online finance company in London. But don’t get carried away with being informal, forums are always open to some level of drama involving a clash in opinions.
Remember that a healthy debate is welcome in many communities but attacking other members will only tarnish the reputation you have already built. Keep your posts clean especially when representing your company.
4. Take advantage of forum features
Although discussion forums sound traditional compared to top social networking sites, they have definitely evolved in terms of platform features. “It’s easier to find peoples previous comments / threads making it easier to follow people, this is made easier by being able to watch topics of interest and obviously the search feature I feel is far better in forums”, says Gary Sweetman of ProDemon.
Familiarize yourself with your chosen forum’s facility. Here are some features you can try to lookout for:
– Alert system for receiving new replies and watching threads
– Networking features such as following other members, posting statuses, and having your own personal feed
– Private messaging
– Search features that will help you search relevant discussions to your niche
– Report post for helping the battle against spam and rule breakers
5. Be active and participate in community activities, both on and offline
Forums in the age of Facebook are more dynamic and outgoing. Gone are the days when communities and discussions are walled within a single domain. You can find forums (like ours) that have presence on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to mention a few.
Be open to hop in these other venues to connect with other members in a different environment. Not to mention, small meetups are an ever-growing trend as well as informal eyeballs during tradeshows and events.
Like Oliver Lawrence of OJS UK says, “a lot of business (at times) comes down to more ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’. If you happen to have a wealth of contacts for a variety of things/aspects of your business this can sometimes come to your rescue!”
You can always get in touch with forum administrators or moderators to ask what’s happening next and how you can get involved.
Like any other communities, it takes time to build relationships and network within a forum. This is especially true when you are a newcomer. Think of forums as a neighborhood whose residents are protective against potentially harmful personalities.
Take your time in gaining people’s trust and soon you have built a strong rapport for yourself and your business.
What communities are your part of and how does it help you get in touch with your audience?