Sunday, January 27, 2013

Are Forums Useful for Social Media Marketing?

In the rush to grow followers on the biggest social media sites, it is easy to overlook the value of social media marketing within forums. But social media forums like LinkedIn groups, specific topic forums, and Question/Answer groups like Quora are an opportunity to use target marketing instead of a shotgun approach. Although your audience may be smaller, it is more receptive to your message because it is already interested in the subject.

This article addresses how you can use social media forums as a key element in your social media strategy. First, it is important to recognize that social media marketing in forums is not for everyone. Since forums are based on individual membership and individual contributions, social media marketing within this context works best for people in consulting, public speaking, or analyst functions. Although it can be used carefully for sales functions, it isn't a good place to blast out corporate messages.

Before getting engaged in social media marketing within a forum, follow these four steps:
Read the group terms. Individual groups have different norms, which are almost always documented. Most forums strictly forbid sales pitches. Some allow them, but only in a specific section of the group. Some prohibit job posting. Read the group terms carefully and abide by them. You won't be effective in social media marketing if you are breaking group norms.

Listen first. Before providing any posts, listen to get an understanding of what the group finds to be interesting, and what generates a lot of responses. This will help you to tailor your messages to the most effective topics.

Contribute second. Before posting any messages that could be construed as self-serving, provide thoughtful commentary and insights on others' posts and questions.

Message last and least. Post on topics related to your business. Your objective should be to casually inform, not to persuade. An heavy-handed attempt to sell will be seen as a group norm violation and could get you tossed from the group.
Here are some specific ways forums can be used for business objectives.

Research. Many analysts ask questions within the forums to identify ideas for their reports and to find experts to interview.

Product Research. Forums are a good place to ask members about their biggest needs or about their product preferences. Questions such as "how important is a keyboard on a 4G mobile phone" help both developers and marketers plan their work.

Product Feedback Post Launch. After a product is launched, forum members may appreciate the opportunity to show their expertise by commenting on the product or service.

Distribution Partner or Developer Searches. Many groups allow postings to recruit partners as long as it follows group guidelines.

Prospect Identification. Potential customers are lurking in groups. It's important to abide by group norms and seek first to inform, not to sell.

Share events and webinars. Groups are a great place to spread the word about your topic or industry-related educational events. You are bringing value to the group when you share events, especially if they are free.

In conclusion, forum participation can be an effective element in your social media marketing as long as you abide by group guidelines and focus on contributing value and informing rather than selling.
LJ Beatty is an experienced marketer and owner of WikiThreads, a Dallas custom t-shirts business. LJ frequently writes about how small business owners can market more effectively using internet marketing, social media, customization and branding. in the small business marketing blog Quick Takes. If you are interested in Plano embroidery, t-shirts Dallas, or small business marketing, See LJ's latest post in her blog Quick Takes.
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