Getting an online business off the ground can be a daunting task for even the most experienced marketing veteran. The quickest option for generating sales, paid search, requires a dedicated budget and can prove costly if left to an inexperienced marketer. Search engine optimization is option 1A, but, as recent history shows, requires constant maintenance due to updates pushed through by Google. These Penguin and Panda updates have caused SEOs worldwide to develop an overwhelming fear of cutesy animals. Social media? While popular, many critics openly wonder if advertising on platforms where users intent is to browse, and not buy, can work. Where can a marketer turn?
Well, as it turns out, to an often overlooked source for prospecting leads: the industry related Online Forum.
I can hear the skeptics now,”Forums?!! Are you kidding? Those things are only good for spam!” True, many forums have a well deserved reputation as a spammer’s delight, with many posts leaking links like a rusty pipe leaks water. This is not, however, a good reason to look past the online forum as an opportunity to grow your brand. Indeed, amongst this overgrowth of spam, your legitimate presence can be amplified tenfold if the content you provide is worthy.
So. let’s talk strategy. The best advice I can give is to first address any forum posts related to your brand. This is great opportunity to clear up any misconceptions related to your business and be proactive by helping customers with issues. Do not underestimate the value of this strategy. I’ve found that most forum members appreciate it when business owners maintain an active presence.
Even if your brand is not well established, your business can still benefit. Participate in conversation related toward your niche and answer open questions whenever possible. This will help establish you as an authority in your field, and this new status can be used to capture prospects.
Be respectful of the forum rules. Try to refrain from dropping links or email addresses when prospecting, as any moderator worth his salt will consider this spam and boot you. In some cases, forum members themselves may take offense and make your stay less than hospitable. Take it from someone who has been RickRolled, cursed, even booted from a forum while working for a client, it’s not fun. If you absolutely need to leave your email for contact purposes, try spelling it out (Your name at yoursite dot com) or encourage them to DM (direct message) you on the forum.
It is also important to not take on more than you can handle. Forum prospecting can be a time consuming process, and any inroads made are just as easily lost if you do not actively monitor and maintain your presence. Start with a single forum and master it before adding others.
Finally, if you have any special offers available, promote them in the signature space provided. Be sure to include expiration dates and update your signature line regularly once an offer expires. This is a great way to increase your reach as new members reading your posts to gain knowledge will always see your most recent offer. When it comes to advertising, as the saying goes, “You can’t beat free”.
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