Look Whose Talking! (on Social Media Forums)
“Communities can extend the edge of the corporation in truly transformative ways — tapping into new talent, helping design products and services, providing customer support and, most importantly, building the brand with the customer.” Ed Moran
What if your website could be THE place where people connect online? Where they could meet one another, exchange ideas and leads, keep up with current trends, learn about new opportunities and develop relationships?
I’m not talking the traditional Social Networking Sites that are made exclusively for meeting, mingling and networking. Not another Facebook, Myspace or LinkedIn. Although that is not a bad idea ~ and a topic for another post.
I am talking about a website that sells something and offers their visitors a place to share ideas and discuss items of interest to them along the theme of what you are selling. Add a forum to your website to increase your prospects! Forums can generate traffic, provide valuable customer feedback and build loyalty to the brand. Forums can give your customers a voice, a place to express their opinions about the product.
But online forums are not for everyone. It all depends on what you sell and if the product has enough diversity to lend itself to forum topics that would interest enough customers/clients to make the effort worthwhile. Lawn and Garden sites, Network marketing companies, sports fans and sites that sell products for pets are likely highly successful because the visitors have a PASSION for the product or the topic. If you sell detergent or mailboxes or office supplies your site might not be the ideal site to create a community forum. In my opinion a blog might be a more ideal option, a place where you can share your expertise with your customers about how to use the products as well as place to offer advice on ancillary topics that would interest them. Also another topic for discussion.
So why have an online forum for your business site? According to Bobybuilding.com CEO Ryan DeLuca “It’s about becoming the place where people come to talk and learn and meet.”
Consulting companies like the David Allen Company have a growing number of followers and active participants to their forums. According to their site, they have 10,761 Members. And their forum activity looks robust. Why? I am sure it’s because the topics are things their visitors are interested in learning more about or sharing.
I also found GAMING sites with active forums. Sites like GameReplays.org have forums that allow their fans to discuss the Company of Heros game at http://www.gamereplays.org/community/-CoH-Section.html. According to their site they have 90,736 registered members.
And then there’s sites like Bodybuilding.com which espouses more than 1.1 million users!
The drawbacks to forums are many. And you should be aware of them as well. Spam is perhaps the biggest issue. People posting stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. I was on a forum the other day about how to turn an audio file into a podcast and one of the forum “members” posted the following: “I am searching for a partner to walk around the globe in support of our troups.” Well that may be a worthwhile post but had absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Of course everyone just ignored the poster. But I still find that sort of thing annoying and rude.
Other drawbacks include the cost of implementing a forum, the costs to monitor the forums, lack of participation, inappropriate participation and staying on topic (even for those who know and follow the rules this can sometimes be a challenge), marketing the forums so your target audience knows its available and also really expressing the benefits of participating so people want to be there. And let’s not forget the negative feedback that could occur from a dissatisfied customer. Too many of these can do more harm than good and be the downfall of a company. But then again, what’s wrong with that? If the company sells an inferior product then perhaps it shouldn’t be allowed to sell to unsuspecting buyers!
Building online forums is relatively inexpensive. If you’d like to try a do-it-yourself platform, try the Forum Co where you can set up a free forum at http://www.forumco.com/. vBulletin http://www.vbulletin.com/ is a professional, affordable community forum solution which according to their site has “Thousands of clients, including many industry leading blue chip companies, have chosen vBulletin – It’s the ideal choice for any size of community Or just ask your webmaster or webmistress to design it for you.”
The Wall Street Journal wrote a great article “Why Most Online Communities Fail. According to the article Ed Moran, a Deloitte consultant who just completed a study of more than 100 businesses with online communities said: “Not surprisingly, these sites failed to gain traction with customers. Thirty-five percent of the online communities studied have less than 100 members; less than 25% have more than 1,000 members … The article said one of the reasons for failure was that “Businesses are focusing on the value an online community can provide to themselves, not the community.” You can read the rest of the article here: http://blogs.wsj.com/biztech/2008/07/16/why-most-online-communities-fail/
Before you do consider adding a forum, think about your goals for the forum. What is the aim or purpose of the forum? What do you want your forum to look like? Who would you like to participate? How will you market the forum? And the big question: WHY? Why do you want a forum in the first place?
Forums are one of the original social networking platforms for building communities online. Once you have done your due dilligent, answered the questons above and studied your target audience for receptivity, you will be able to make a better decision about marketing your online business with a forum. Your forum can help you build word of mouth referrals for your small business, help you develop and perfect your brand, your business operations and your business offerings and more than that you will be able to help your targe market have, do or be better at something.
Heidi Richards Mooney is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of WE Magazine for Women, a WordPress Web Designer, the author of a dozen books and a social media consultant and trainer. Heidi has interviewed hundreds of experts on Social Media Around the World. In 2003 Heidi was named one of 50 women shaping the Internet by the International Virtual Women’s Chamber of Commerce. In 2009 she was named a Twitter Woman to Follow by Only2Clicks.com. She works with solopreneurs, professionals and small businesses in ecommerce, direct sales and retail. Follow Heidi on Google Plus