When Yuri interviewed me one of his questions was in regards to finding clients through forums. I thought I'd expand a little on that question and talk about how to use forums to market yourself and your business.
One of the best ways to market a business has always been to network with others. Many businesses rely on word of mouth advertising to gain new clients and customers in the offline world. Online the same basic idea of networking can also prove valuable to new and existing businesses.
The web is one very large social network offering you a chance to connect with like minded individuals as well as potential customers. Within the web as a whole are many types of social networks. Some examples of social networks are:
- Social bookmarking sites
- Community sites like MySpace and Facebook
These are by no means the only examples of social networks on the web. Even the wikipedia linked above is an example of a social network. I'll focus my thoughts on forums, but this discussion will apply to any social networking site.
The Best Way To Market Yourself Is To Become Part Of The Community
The most important thing to understand when trying to benefit from a social network is that you don't want to actively market yourself. Many people make the mistake of joining a forum and starting a few threads talking about the wonders of their products or services. Actively promoting yourself like this doesn't work.
The only way to successfully market yourself through any community is to become part of the community. All communities have a way to tell when someone is motivated only to help themselves. Communities want to see you motivated to improve the community. Anything else and the community will soon turn against you and you can do more harm to your business than good.
So what's the best way to participate in the community? It's definitely not about comment spamming in posts to forums and blogs. Some ways you should participate include:
- Answer the questions of other members
- Provide useful resources
- Raise interesting discussions
- Write thoughtful posts
- Post regularly
- Get to know the other members
Each of the above involves being active in the community. The reason becoming part of the network is successful is because people are much more likely to help someone they know than someone they don't. They are much more likely to buy from someone they trust than someone they don't trust. Participating lets others get to know and trust you.
Adding Links In Forums
It's ok to add links back to your site under certain conditions. If the forum allows it you should add a link or several links to your site in your forum signature. Some won't let you add a link, but many do. Most people will visit your site through your forum signature. You don't need to point it out to them The know it's there and if you truly become part of the community they will visit through your signature link.
In general you want to be careful adding other links to yourself in your posts.When it's appropriate it's fine to do so, but try not to make them too self serving. If someone asks a question and you've written an article that answers their question link to it. Do mention that the link takes them to your site. They're going to figure it out anyway so best to be honest.
Before adding links to your signature or in posts check the forum rules to see what is and isn't allowed.
Learn The Rules Before Joining The Community
Most forums will provide a page or more of rules. You always want to read through the rules to understand what is and isn't allowed in any social network. Most forums will give you a second chance if you break the rules without meaning to, but some may not. In some communities you only get one chance to make an impression.
Beyond the written rules of the forum it's also a good idea to read through some of the threads before posting yourself. It may be allowed to add a link to your site in a post, but the forum members may turn against anyone who does. Spending time reading through a forum will teach you the unwritten rules, which may be even more important to know than the written rules.
A typical rule is that one of your first posts should be to introduce yourself. Every forum I've ever seen has a section for new members to introduce themselves and this is usually one place where you can talk about your business and link back to your site. Don't go overboard talking to yourself, but mentioning something about yourself in your introduction is usually encouraged.
What Type Of Forum Should You Join
Most people naturally think to join forums that are related to their industry and it's certainly a good idea to join these communities. Forums on topics related to yours can provide useful allies in marketing your site. Your best bet in finding link partners is in related industries. People within your field are more able to send targeted traffic your way. You can also learn quite a bit from others who know about your subject.
Another kind of forum to join, however, is one where potential customers and clients spend their time. Industry related forums can prove to be an excellent source of information and like minded people, but they are unlikely to buy your products of make use of your services. By finding forums where your customers spend their time you can set yourself up as an expert on your topic and prove to others that it would be in their interest to do business with you.
In the end it's all about giving to the community. The more you give the more you are likely to get back. If you come into a forum and promote yourself you'll likely lose that community now and forever. Whatever your business there is probably already another forum member in the same industry and all you do by actively promoting yourself is send more people to those other members.
It can take time before you gain customers, but if you truly join the community and help to make the forum a better place people will start to visit your site. Join forums related to your industry if you're looking to build relationships for thing like links and join forums where you think potential customers spend their if you want more customers. Both types of forums can be valuable ways to market yourself and your business.