I am a big fan of networking and discussing issues in online discussion boards – or forums. I’ve frequently been asked if this is a really profitable way to spend one’s time. My answer is that, if done properly, it can be. In fact, it can be VERY profitable!
Done wrong, you can spend many hours chatting away unproductively when you could be building your business. Let’s look at the difference.
One of the things that makes discussion forums so popular is that they reduce the coldness of the Internet. You get to connect directly with another PERSON and no longer feel locked away behind a cold computer screen. It’s forming those bonds/those connections that makes forums and discussion boards a medium with such powerful potential.
If your time online is intended primarily to build your business, then you need to make sure that you use it most productively. That means you need to balance building relationships with generating new business. Incidentally, forming new relationships IS how you generate new business. That means:
- You need to join the online discussions that showcase your expertise and generate leads.
- You need to join the online discussions that help to solve your business problems and allow you to help others.
- You need to join the online discussions that like-minded people participate in.
My specialties are “Internet marketing” karate, and also cooking. So I frequent discussion boards/forums that focus on these topics. Since the audience that I wrote this article for is “Internet marketing” let’s focus on that.
First of all, not all Internet marketing discussion forums are equal. Some get very few visitors, spend too much time dealing with non-productive issues, and generally won’t benefit YOU. Others get millions of page views a month, are very helpful communities, and have the potential to allow you to generate a lot of business and “connections.” Only you can decide which forums are right for you.
I’ve been using online discussion forums since 1997, so let me share with you a few time-tested “secrets” to getting more out of them. Just a few quick tips that will make your posts more likely to be read and responded to:
1. As a rule, you want to post to forums that get a lot of traffic. Naturally that increases the odds of you making the right connections. The exception is that sites which aren’t moderated and are full of spam, are generally a total waste of time.
2. When posting to forums, you generally want to let people know who you are. If you are trying to build business relationships, you don’t want to hide behind a cute username. Instead, I advise using your own name and even posting your photo or logo where allowed. You should be branding yourself and this is a great way to do it.
3. Posting your photo or a graphic generally has been proven to increase response to your posts. They make you seem more “real” to others who read your post and that allows them to connect more. You allow them to feel that they know you and they respond.
4. To increase the chances of your post being read, or responded to, it’s better to post to popular or “hot” topics. When other visitors see that very few people have responded to a topic, they tend to ignore that thread. Post to threads that you have something useful to contribute to, but popular threads are better than ignored threads.
5. When posting or responding to a topic, use keywords that people using the search engines would use to find that topic. Put those right in the subject line since the search engines do index many popular discussion boards.
6. Where allowed, use a signature file or include a link to your site/product. This pulls double duty by helping your search engine link popularity/rankings and by letting fellow users of the forum know how to find out more about you. Some seem to frown upon posting links to your site for some reason. Done tastefully, I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. Most of the users of the forums that I visit are in business after all to generate MORE business. You can’t do that by not telling people how to contact you.
7. Contribute to the community rather than just feeding off of it. By that, I mean, offer useful comments, suggestions, and feedback. Don’t just post only to promote your products. Don’t disguise the real purpose of your posts - most people can see right through that. If you contribute to the community and offer genuine value, others will notice this and be more open to make purchases from you. It is in accordance with the inviolate natural law of reciprocity!
8. Be civil and polite. Too many people attack others and their products without sufficient justification. Too many people are much ruder on the Internet than they would be in a face to face interaction. Rudeness and lack of civility are noticed on the discussion forums and those who behave this way drive away a lot of business without even realizing it. People who see this type of behavior just make mental ... often subconscious notes not to deal with people who behave inappropriately!
Those are just a few of my thoughts on how to use discussion forums profitably. I post regularly to over 20 discussion forums. I also help to moderate several. Being a part of these online communities can be very helpful to the growth of your business when you adhere to just a few rules. Start applying these today and you may be very surprised at the results.
[Willie Crawford has been teaching others how to build an on-line business since late 1996. Frequently featured in radio, magazine and newspaper articles and interviews, Willie teaches the average guy what the top marketers are doing but seldom talking about.]