Today many small businesses run in a global community. There is no easier way to connect with potential customers than through online forums. The key is to give in order to get.
Online forums offer a multitude of ways to expose your business to highly targeted audiences. Here are a few ways for a small business owner to use forums to their advantage.
Before You Post
Do Some Research – Take a look around the forum. Read some of the previous posts. Find out who is visiting these forums and what they are discussing. Make sure that this is your target market and that discussions cover areas that your business is in. By doing this you will get a sense for the demographic you are dealing with and be better prepared when submitting your own posts. Be sure to read the forum guidelines and follow these procedures. This will help to ensure moderators do not remove your posts and that you are not blasted by other users for inappropriate post content.
Your Online Business Card – Many forums allow you to create a profile. This should be the task you complete before making that first post. Include your name, company name, website URL, a mini bio of yourself or your company and a picture. This will make it easier for a potential customer to virtually meet you and connect with you. A picture helps to bring a personal level to this online introduction. If the forum settings allow you to link keywords to your site (or use HTML in the body text), take advantage of this.
Be sure to check the settings box, which will automatically include your signature and/or profile on every post. This way every post will include it and all viewers of your post will constantly be reminded of your business. Remember in advertising, repetition creates recognition and this is what you want to build for your business.
Give – Giving valid, useful advice is key to using online forums for business. The number one reason people use the Internet is to find information. They have questions that need answers. If you have the answer or can give them a nudge in the right direction, this is what will make you shine. Be helpful and friendly in all your posts. You never know who is reading it.
Ask – Online forums provide a method for two-way discussion. This is great if you are looking for feedback on a new business idea or want to poll your potential customers to understand them better. Some discussion forums offer a polling feature, which allows you to do a mini survey to hundreds and potentially thousands of viewers. This is also a great way to test market new ideas you may be thinking of adding to your product mix.
Link – To grow your online business, you need traffic. To get traffic, people need to find you. To find websites, people use Google. Google loves links. When posting responses or questions on forums remember to include links to specific areas of your website, if it makes sense. For example, someone posts a question about body cleansing and you sell cleansing products on your health related website. If you know the answer to their question, provide it in your response, and offer a suggestion to visit a particular page of your site to read more about cleansing or to purchase cleansing products. As long as you are offering valid information in the post and/or answering a question, then offering additional information via links, can only help drive traffic to your website.
The other advantage of placing additional links to your website from within your posts is that Google is bound to find them. Remember – Google loves links.
Hint: Don’t use your website or company name as the link text for these links. Use your keyword or keyword phrases.
Receive – For many of us, the sheer act of helping someone out is enough to really make our day. Unfortunately that doesn’t pay the bills. What you’re looking for are new customers. Every viewer that looks at your posts will be reminded of your company and brand. Next time that person needs your products or services, it’s more likely they may remember your posts (especially if you helped them out in the past) and contact you for potential business.