In today’s world, e-commerce is more important than ever, and there are dozens of online channels you can use to promote your products. While it’s true that the more channels you use, the wider the audience you can reach, in fact, focusing your promotions on your true target audience is just as crucial as reaching a broad audience.
In a previous article, we already talked about the benefits of building an online community, and arguably a forum is your best option when trying to build an online community for your business.
Whether you are considering setting up a forum for your business or just wondering how a forum can be your business’ next promotion channel, here are some practical tips (and steps) on how to get started!
What is a Forum and What Are Its Benefits?
An internet forum is an online discussion site where people with common interests can participate in open conversations. Registered forum users can initiate new conversations on a specific topic by creating threads, and others can post questions or replies within the thread.
You may not think so, but an online forum has a number of benefits for business. Amongst other things, an online forum allows you to build relationships, earn trust, establish credibility, and even help promote your products to a community that is already interested in topics relevant to your business.
Tip #1 — Choose a Suitable Forum Solution
Once you decided to create a forum, you need to decide how you want to set up your site, technology-wise.
You can purchase forum software and host it on your own server, use a forum website service, or a website platform with a forum plugin. However, each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some options, while very customizable, are more complicated to set up, requiring server and coding knowledge. Other options are easy to implement, but are limited in terms of customization.
In brief: Find a forum solution that best suits your requirements, and is flexible enough to be future-proof in terms of customizability and functionality.
Tip #2 — Have Some Rules in Place When Create a Forum
In a forum where people are allowed to express their opinions, —which is why we love forums, right?— it’s probably a good idea to have some rules in place.
So you should create Community Guidelines or Terms of Service, outlining the terms when using your forum. Terms may include what activities are forbidden (e.g., self-promotion, using discriminatory or offensive language), what restrictions are placed on new users (e.g., new users cannot send direct messages), how certain users are rewarded (e.g., gaining badges for posting frequently), or what the consequences of violating the rules are (e.g., temporary restriction).
Whatever rules you have, make sure that new users are fully informed of them when signing up, and that the terms are easily accessible to every user.
In brief: It’s your forum, so you write the rules (literally). A forum is not an uncontrolled discussion environment – you own it, and as such, you are responsible for what goes on in it.
Tip #3 — Choose Interesting Topics (And Choose Wisely!)
A conversation is no fun without topics to talk about. So, before launching your forum, initially create a few threads that can help generate new conversations or keep existing conversations going.
For starters, you should definitely create some generic threads related to your business, so your forum can start growing. You should also open a few topics that are more specific to certain subjects, such as a complex issue or a controversial topic. This is a great opportunity for you to start conversations about your product, allowing your customers to become your brand advocates.
Your business forum can also be the perfect place for your clients to provide feedback on your products, so giving you ideas for future developments, as well as spreading the word about your products to others — sounds like a great promotion opportunity, right?
In brief: Creating generic topics can help your forum grow. More specific topics can attract potential core forum users and help your forum become a valuable information source while also promoting your products. And feedback-focused topics are great for consumer research purposes, while also letting users provide help and support to each other for your products.
Tip #4 — Breathe Life Into Your Forum
No matter how interesting your topics are, an uninhabited forum probably won’t be attractive to many users.
If you have a previously-established online community (e.g., on social networks or a subscription list), make sure you invite them to your new forum. An already-existing community can help breathe life into your new forum, potentially become your forum’s loyal members and helping invite other users to the discussion.
Additionally, an existing user base can help your forum grow and generate content for your website.
In brief: Empty forums are not cool. Make sure you let your existing online community from various social platforms know about your new forum — not only will they liven up the site, but they will also generate content for your website that will attract even more users to your newly-launched forum.
Tip #5 — Moderate Forum Conversations
As soon as your forum starts growing, you will quickly find out that moderating posts can be quite a challenge.
So, as well as you and other co-workers moderating posts, you might want to ask other forum members to join the moderators’ team in exchange for some small compensation.
Moderator tasks can include responsibilities such as reviewing posts to check they meet community guidelines, reviewing posts that were reported, approving new members’ profiles, or banning abusive users. Last but not least, welcoming new users, responding to other forum users’ questions, or keeping conversations going can be rewarding tasks as well.
In brief: You should definitely keep an eye (or more) on conversations in your forum. Not only you can prevent conversations being, well, too unmoderated, but showing that the forum is being actively kept taken care of is a sign of a healthy, vibrant forum community.
Tip #6 — Promote Your Products on Your Forum
In fact, on a well-established business forum, you don’t have to do much to promote your products. The forum itself promotes your products, or more precisely, the community on the forum do.
When a potential buyer searches the internet for your product, chances are they will run into your forum and find some valuable information about your product that will be key to their decision. Because existing customers’ reviews really do matter a lot. In addition, the more topics the user base creates, the higher the possibility of people finding your product when searching the web for related keywords.
In brief: Reviews and opinions spread fast on the internet—so do good product reviews. And if a forum gives the impression to a potential buyer that the community behind the product is trustworthy, then they will have the same impression about the product, too.
It’s no doubt that a business forum can be a very powerful tool in your long-term marketing strategy.
Because a forum is great for consumer research purposes. A forum community creates content for your website and provide product support for your products. And the majority of forum users are tech-savvy and are usually open to making purchases online. So, I guess it’s time to create a forum, right?
Do you have any success stories about promoting a product on a forum? What you think makes for a great forum community? Let us know about your experiences or thoughts in the comment section below!