When I opened my first martial arts school (some time in 1998?) the only traditional form of marketing I did was to pass out a few flyers. I made less than 1000 of them and handed them out at different schools in the area. This brought in a few students and proved to be a good return on my investment.
However, it was another form of marketing that really increased my school’s enrollment–nearly tripling enrollment. I used forum marketing. It was perfect because there were many martial arts forums and bulletin boards with members who belonged to my exact target market. I could easily get the word out about my new school and stir up some interest by getting involved in different conversations. The best part was that it was all free!
This worked like a charm for my martial arts school, an offline business, and it still works wonders today. When I started experimenting with Internet businesses and different ways to make money online, I figured forum marketing would be just as effective because they haven’t changed much since the late 90s. I was right.
Forum marketing isn’t new, but I don’t understand why so many Internet marketers and Internet entrepreneurs neglect to use them as much as they should be used. It’s pretty mind-boggling actually. I managed an Internet marketing agency with over 50 ‘Internet marketing professionals’, and less than a dozen of them readily included forum marketing in any online strategy, and out of the dozen, less than a handful knew how to effectively implement forum marketing tactics.
The Benefits of Forums
Forums and online bulletin boards are great marketing channels that should really be part of any Internet business’s online marketing strategy. Here’s why:
- Forums are highly targeted marketing channels. There’s a forum or online bulletin board for just about any topic or niche where you’ll find others who are as interested in your product, service, topic, etc. as you are.
- High traffic sites. Forums generally attract a lot of website visitors because they are continually updated with user generated content, reviews, feedback, etc., and the search engines love fresh (i.e. new) valuable content so they tend to rank forums high in search rankings.
- ‘Big’ names visit forums. Forums attract a number of different users, and beyond your everyday forum member, your industry’s experts, reporters, bloggers, and writers will lurk in forums, too. Some of them will even participate. This is a great way for you to potentially attract their attention, and they in turn, can help spread the word about your offering.
- Forum posts can stick and spread virally. Popular forum threads can stay at the top of forum boards and be seen over a long period of time. If one of your posts becomes popular, your message has the opportunity to be marked as a “popular post” that will remain on the top of forum threads for a while. Think of a popular post as a best selling book. As long as your post sells (i.e. generates views), your post will stay on the best seller’s list (i.e. at the top of forum threads). Likewise, as with anything else popular, there’s a good chance that other members will spread popular posts virally across the web.
- Great for relationship and trust building. Forums allow you to get into genuine conversations with potential partners, affiliates, and customers. If you post regularly and provide valuable content, you’ll begin to build a strong relationship with forum owners and members which eventually will grow into a higher degree of trust. Having this trust with your target market is priceless–it’s great for the long term growth of your Internet business.
- 99% of the time, they’re free! Aside from premium forums, most are free, so you can get the word out about your Internet business without any monetary cost.
Now you know why you should be using forum marketing. When you do start taking to the bulletin boards, keep these forum posting techniques in mind.
- Piggy back off existing “Popular Posts” or “Popular Threads”. These forum threads are viewed regularly and are viewed the most. If you can slip in word about your offering, then you will get a guaranteed traffic boost–just make sure that your post is in line with the subject of the thread. Don’t simply spam the thread with an out of context post about your offering.
- Don’t post only about your Internet business or offering. Be tactful about things. Rather than create a new post only about your business, try to write about an interesting topic that adds value to the forum community, then slip in word about your business. Once in a while, it’s okay to create a new forum post solely about your product, but do so only once in a while. The best time to do this is when you simply want to announce that you have a valuable product to offer that you think will help or be of use to other forum members (it also helps to give some kind of discount or added value to forum members when you do this). After, however, don’t create a new post. If you have a valuable offering, people will respond to your post and you can then engage them by leaving replies.
- Add a signature promoting your Internet business. This is basic, but I want to highlight a major point. Don’t be outrageous about trying to get people to notice your signature. This can backfire as people are smart enough to know that you’re advertising your business. Instead, leave a simple message with a link back to your offering. If you post valuable content to the forum, people will recognize your forum username, and will want to check out other links you provide and promote (e.g. your signature link).
- Create multiple logins. This is a “shady” tactic, but many Internet marketers do this unbeknownst to the public. It’s up to you if you want to use this tactic, but do so at your own risk. If you do, create a number of different usernames for the same forum. Each username will be used to push your product or service. When you create these additional usernames, you need to do so using different IP addresses (using programs such as Hide My IP). Also, when you post with these usernames, you need to use a different IP address from the one you use everday (i.e. the IP address associated with your main forum account).
- Post regularly. Reply regularly. Being good at anything requires consistent action. With forum marketing, make sure to post regularly and reply to other posts often, too. The more you do this, the more other forum members will notice you. You will slowly become a forum regular and more people will begin to know and interact with you. This will help your overall forum marketing and your reputation.
- Offer to moderate. If a certain forum proves to be a goldmine for your Internet business and you’ve become a recognized member of the forum through contributing a lot of valuable posts, consider offering to be a forum moderator. By moderating the forums, you gain a certain degree of trust and some flexibility with a forum’s owners. As a result, you will likely be able to get some free advertising or major discounts on banner advertising within the forums.
- Start your own forum. In addition to the above, consider creating your own forum. This isn’t for everyone because maintaining a forum can be time consuming, but if you have some experience, creating and managing a forum isn’t much work. I recommend this tactic if your Internet business has a large target audience. When you have a large audience, your forum should grow organically as more and more people get involved in conversations. The key here is that you need to participate and keep conversations going until you reach a certain ‘critical mass’ where users generate a steady flow of activity and content. (Spending a couple hundred dollars on PPC or Facebook ads to drive traffic to your own forum website will help, too.) By starting your own forum, you have complete control of your own advertising. You can also create a new passive income channel by selling ad space on your site and using Google Adsense. (Here are two examples of forums I’ve created in the past to help with my own marketing: MMA Philippines and Nightclub Photography.)
I’ve been able to generate a load of business through forums alone, and if you’ve never gave forums much thought, you need to. They are highly targeted marketing channels that cost you nothing! Use the tips I wrote about above and watch your traffic numbers increase–even overnight!