(Ping! Zine Issue 39) – Since the very beginning of social media, this bright, new and exciting avenue for online marketing has exploded all over the Web and is on the minds of almost every Internet marketer. First categorized as leveraging sites like digg.com for traffic and links, social marketing has matured. And with it comes a broader scope of Internet marketing. If it has something to do with being social or conversational and there is a marketing aspect behind it … it can be categorized as social media marketing. That being said, forum and blog marketing are some areas within social media marketing that have been used for a while but not as effectively as they could be.
Forums have been around since Alta Vista was hot. They are places where people can post questions and get answers, share comments and concerns and the search engines love them. AskJeeves, before it was turned to just Ask.com used to pride itself on allowing the searcher to ask a question and return a relevant answer. This is often how users decide to search and now that Google and other popular search engines are more adequately indexing and ranking results they can provide this service to the end user. Often times, search results contain a large number of forums. A Google search for “looking for a good affiliate program” returns a slew of forums and answer sites. And if we expand the definition of forums to include user reviews, recommendations and social conversations the list grows longer. Take these statistics under consideration:
71% of online shoppers read reviews before making a purchase. (Forrester Research Group)
Reviews drive 21% higher purchase satisfaction and 18% higher loyalty (Foresee Results Study, January 2007)
In a study of 2,000 shoppers, 92% deem customer reviews as “extremely” or “very” helpful. (eTailing Group)
63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. (CompUSA & iPerceptions study)
86.9% of respondents say they would trust a friend’s recommendation over a review by a critic, while 83.8% say they would trust user reviews over a critic. (MarketingSherpa)
92.5% of adults say they regularly or occasionally research products online before buying them in a store. (BIGresearch )
26% of search results link to consumer-generated content (Nielsen BuzzMetrics)
These studies show the market is engaged in a constant discussion. This means putting your company in the middle those discussions in a positive manner can greatly influence buyers. But getting involved in forum and conversational marketing requires some research, tact and plenty of time to be an active member of the community.
Finding Your Audience
Because I am an Apple computer fanatic I will use Macs as an example through the different areas of forum marketing. If you are marketing for Apple and you want to find your audience, start by finding keywords that people are using.
Google Keyword Selector: This tool provides a look into the search volume for related keywords in Google. Knowing this, you can better target the current most active forums.
KeywordDiscovery.com: This site allows us to find keywords related to a phrase we enter as well as the search volume of these terms.
Google’s LIVE search keyword suggestion: This is a great tool for Internet marketers. It allows us to see other searches that might help us find what we are looking for, therefore finding relevant results and more of them.
IceRocket.com, Boardtracker.com & Boardreader.com: These sites allows you to type in a search term like “iPhone reviews” and get a list of forums that are discussing this topic, in order of freshness.
l Purchase Sites: Diving into sites that sell these products and posting reviews is a great way to get involved into conversational marketing. For example, check out the comment section for a particular product on a popular retail site like BestBuy.com.
Flying Under the Radar is the Key
When you are doing any type of forum and conversational marketing the first rule is to stay under the radar. If you get called out for openly promoting your company, the conversation is going to get ugly. And because these are third-party sites you won’t have control over what is said.
Do not over promote. Add valuable feedback on threads and, where appropriate, give your two cents on product reviews. If you are marketing on a Mac forum I would not suggest going to 30 threads and saying “the iPhone is wicked awesome!” Instead, find threads that talk about the iPhone but also the iMac, G5, iPods and other topics. iPods too outdated? Comment that there are newer iPods out there and that the iPod shuffle just had a price decrease. If someone is slamming G5s for being to expensive say “They are expensive but I have one I use for video editing and I wouldn’t want any other piece of equipment.” Just be careful to not oversell. Also for forum marketing, if all you do is go around to different threads and talk about one topic you will get banned – its important to also write posts on unrelated topics or a different vertical than what your company is working on.
Forum Marketing for Link Building
Link building within forums can be a great way to get new links. The best part is that there is a cornucopia of forums out there. This means that you will be able to obtain one way links with specific anchor text not only in your signatures but also embedded within your content. The key here is finding sites that allow “dofollow” links. Try the “search status” Firefox plugin – it shows you which sites allow “dofollow” links.
Added Benefits from Forum Marketing
An added benefit of forum marketing will be search engine result pages pulling up your threads that you started or in which you contributed. We buid backlinks to forum threads we have started to help in two areas. The first is to increase the positioning of our positive comments in the search engine results pages for a particular term like “iPhone user reviews.” The second is to increase the power of our backlinks on these forums by building backlinks to these threads which increase the power and effectiveness behind this technique.
When administering the forum and conversational marketing technique for your clients you will often find negative comments about a product or service. This is a great time to use your accounts and your team members to leave at least comments with some type of positive spin on the thread. Be careful of the time in between posts – each profile should not have this as their first post, so that each profile appears to have been active before finding and commenting this specific post. This shows that you are an active user, not just a marketer doing damage control.
With these guidelines you will find success with forum and conversational marketing. If you’re using forum marketing for your clients, you will want to be able to show a return on their investment. Choose an analytics system that shows your engagement marketing and viral marketing stats or contact a company that can guide you and work with you to make this tactic a success.
Article by Joe Whyte