Using discussion forums and online communities to generate leads

If you are a marketer or salesperson, you probably have a strategy for using social media to build your brand. But have you considered the power of niche discussion forums to generate sales and to build your business network? If not, now is the time to take a look at how you can leverage these small-scale, industry-specific, and often private, social networks to your advantage.

Direct marketing in forums

Generally, you don’t want to jump in and start advertising your products and services unless you’re paying for ads in a forum. Most of the time if you do this, you’ll be pegged as a sales person, and you’ll be ignored. Instead, you want to try the following if you want to directly market your stuff:

  • Reply privately to a member who requests service information. Make sure you’re responding to someone who asks about products and services similar to yours. If you just randomly DM a person with info about your company, you won’t get a response.
  • Encourage a client to promote your service. If you have a client who participates in an online discussion forum, ask them to give you a shout out or share info about your product with other forum members.

Again, these options should only be used when replying to a question about products and services. If you or a client go spamming discussion boards with this stuff, you could end up banned from the site, and you could seriously damage your reputation with potential customers.

Relationship marketing in forums

In my humble opinion, though, there are much better ways to take advantage of discussion boards than direct marketing. If done right, you can use niche forums to establish yourself as a thought leader among your key audiences, take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd to answer questions for your clients, and even find answers to arcane industry questions that only true experts could answer.

Here are some things that sales people, recruiters, and marketers should do regularly in online discussion forums to generate leads:

  • Ask general questions about an issue related to your expertise—it may seem counter-intuitive to ask questions rather answer them, but like in-person networking, the art of starting conversations in online forums is a valuable tool for salespeople.
  • Share an update or informative posts about an issue related to your expertise—this one should be obvious.
  • Crowdsource answers for your current and potential clients—take the opportunity to pose questions to industry experts on behalf of existing or potential clients. This is a great way to show the community that you have others’ interest at heart. Not to mention helping you answer tough questions for your clients.

Finding online forums and discussion boards

So where do you find these online communities, forums, and discussion boards? Google, of course. You can also find a myriad of privately-hosted discussion boards in all of the dusty corners of the web. Sites like FindAForum.net are a good guide to some of the self-hosted sites out there. Of course, Reddit is always an option, as is Quora, but being larger sites, it can sometimes be more difficult to make yourself known on those boards. It can also be more difficult to find and attract your audience. You will have to dedicate serious effort to establish your reputation.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention associations. Many of today’s professional and trade associations host discussion forums for unique industries, specialities, and experts. And unlike Reddit or Quora, these communities are almost always targeted to a specific industry or expertise. If you can find a private forum hosted by an association, you may have to pay a fee for entry, but you’ll find that audiences there are much more dedicated to and serious about their topic.

Resources

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