A Quick Guide to Forum Marketing for Small Businesses
When you think about online marketing, you typically think about content, social media, and SEO. But one area of online marketing that is often overlooked and under discussed is forum marketing. Forums are essentially social media groups without the association of a social network, filled with people who passionately love the forum topic. In this post, I’m going to give you a quick guide to how you can use forums to market your small business (and perhaps address some of those nagging issues with growing your business).
1. Find forums where your customers are engaged.
The first step to forum marketing for your small business is to find forums where your customers are actively engaged in regular discussions. I’d suggest starting with one forum just to get the hang of things, and then move on to others.
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The easiest way to find forums is to search keywords pertaining to topics your customers would be talking about. For example, let’s say that you are a realtor. You might want to look for forums about the area you work in, such as Arizona forums. This will lead you to the City Data forums, a huge community discussing moving and relocation to specific areas. As a realtor, you will likely find lots of people who are house hunting that you could sell a home to.
Here are a few more examples:
- If you are a wedding photographer, a search for wedding forums will lead you to the forums on WeddingWire, The Knot, Project Wedding, and others where wedding vendors can help brides in their area with their wedding planning questions.
- If you are a social media consultant, a search for social media forums will lead you to the Warrior Forum where social media consultants can answer questions about social media for people who may need their services.
- If you sell jewellery, a search for fashion forums will lead you to The Fashion Spot, a forum where you can talk accessories with fashion lovers who might want to purchase from your collection.
Before you create your forum account as a newbie, be sure to browse through the forum to ensure that there are lots of recent conversations to participate in and that those conversations are full of real discussion. Some forums are not moderated, and thus may look like they have lots of discussion, but are in fact full of nothing but spam.
Note that the point to finding forums your customers engage in is not to sell them on the forums. It’s just to get exposure for your business to the right people. I’ll discuss how that works later in the post.
2. Join the forum as a person.
People on forums like having discussions with people. While you will be able to promote your business, you will want to create your account under your name, not your business. In other words, be Joe Smith, not ABC Business.
3. Make sure to read the rules.
Once you find your first forum and create your account, start by finding the forum rules. Most forums are pretty strict about self-promotion and moderating out discussions that do not meet their guidelines. If you familiarize yourself with the forum rules, you will not waste time posting things that later get removed by a forum moderator.
4. Complete your profile for forum marketing.
Most forums allow you to have a profile where you can share some details about yourself, including a short paragraph about yourself, your website link, your social media profile links, your location, etc. This is where you should make a personalized effort to introduce someone who visits your profile to your business.
Think of one to two sentences you would use if you met someone at a networking event. Something simple like “I’m a social media consultant who helps small businesses get results from their social media marketing. If you have questions about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram, I’m the person who can give you answers!”
5. Add a signature with social media etc.
Most forums also allow you to have a signature. This is a piece of text that is added to the bottom of each of your forum posts. If there are any rules pertaining to how you can use your forum signature, they will be included in the main forum rules or above the box where you customize your forum signature.
Some forums, for example, may have requirements you must meet before you can add a forum signature to your profile. These include being a member for a certain period of time, making a certain number of posts, or getting “thanked” by other members for your posts a certain number of times.
The best way to approach your forum signature once it is available to you is to browse the forums and look at other people’s signatures. Then make your signature fit the common theme.
6. Add valuable insights to threads.
Once you know the rules, complete your profile, and set up your forum signature, you’re ready to start posting to the forum. The goal is not to sell your products or services in the forums, but look for people having discussions that relate to your products or services. Some may have direct lead-ins to get people to your website, whereas others may just get your business name in front of a customer for exposure.
Let’s use the wedding photographer as an example. They may want to participate in the following discussions.
- A bride asks where the most beautiful wedding venues are in the area. The wedding photographer can answer that they have shot some amazing weddings at a specific hotel, a specific church, and a specific park. Chances are, if the wedding photographer has a link to their website in the signature, the bride will visit the link to see the photographer’s portfolio to check out photos from those venues.
- A bride asks how she can make sure she gets the photos she wants. The wedding photographer can suggest that she create a checklist of must-take photos for her wedding photographer to ensure specific people and moments are captured.
Both of these discussions have the potential of leading a new client to the wedding photographer without them specifically saying, “Hey, buy my services.” All it takes is a good, thoughtful answer and a forum signature.
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