Internet is all about communication between people. Those people belong to some groups. People with similar interests form groups where they are able to discuss about their area of interest, to help each other and to learn more about other members. One of the most used ways for communication between like-minded people are web forums. How this can help to your business?
In order to have success on the Internet you have to have repeat visits. In order to people visit your site on a regular basis you have to constantly make your content fresh, to make regular updates. You can post articles relevant to your business, you can post the latest industry news and you can have a web forum.
One of the main advantages of web forums over before mentioned techniques for having a “sticky” web site is that after some time, web forums are “self going”, at least in some way. In other words, you won’t have to spend your time in creating fresh content – your forum members will do that instead of you! This doesn’t mean that you won’t have to do anything. Depending on the size of the forum, there are people called moderators who take care that the discussion is going on the right way. Companies have management, web forums have moderators. Some popular web forums have more than 50,000 members, and anytime you can find at least 200-300 people online. Corporate forums don’t have that many members but you will also need at least one person who will be responsible for your forum.
Web forums are great because this is one of those ways that help you to stay in touch with your visitors and customers. Visitors need to complete the registration form so this way you will have their names and email addresses. This way you can offer them to subscribe to your email newsletter. Like in subscription forms for email newsletters, don’t require too much information from your visitors. Every member of your forum will have an unique username and a password.
Web forums are consisted of categories. So if you are in Internet marketing business your forum can have categories like Email Marketing, Search Engines, Domain Names, Web Hosting, Web Services and etc. For the start, it is better to have fewer categories that will be more general. Later you can make more categories that will be more specific. Every category should have a moderator who is usually very knowledgeable person about that category who will start interesting discussions and, therefore, engage other members to post their answers.
The most important thing in having a successful web forum is quality of posts and then number of posts. Quality and only after that quantity. When you start your forum, you will probably have a low posting activity. That’s why you will have to “persuade” your forum members to be posters and not only lurkers. This won’t be so easy.
At first, in lack of discussion, maybe you will need to post interesting news about your industry and to post smart tips that you know that are of interest of you members. Later, with increasing your forum membership base you will have more and more posting activity. In order to build your membership base you can ask your members to invite their friends to join the forum. Also, you can offer a contest based on quality and number of messages. For example, you can start with choosing the Member of the Month. Winner will be chosen by other members based on quality of his/her posts. It is great for increasing loyalty. Another good thing for increasing your forum activity is to say, for example, that people with more that 30 posts will get an e-book and members with more than 100 posts discount on your products. Usually web forum software categorize members in groups so new members with less than 10 posts can be in Newbies group, with less than 100 posts in Juniors category and with more than 100 posts Addicts. Forum software usually offers a so called Avatars feature so your members will be able to place an image below their username. There they can place their photos, too. Also, quality web forums software offers that members rate posts.
Web forums are great supplement for articles and email newsletters, for getting a better feedback. For example, when you post an article on your web site or in your email newsletter, at the end of your article you can make a link to a discussion about that article and topic on your web forum. Also, you can include subjects of your most popular threads on your main page.
Having a corporate web forum is a value-added service to your visitors. If you build a quality web forum they will appreciate it very much because you are the one who provides them with source for gaining new knowledge. Also, with web forums you are building ongoing relationship with your members. Some of them are your clients and many of them can be your clients. It is up to you. With providing great answers in your forums you will increase your credibility that can persuade your members to buy your services. People buy from companies they trust.
Web forums are very useful for companies in one more way. For example, if you are a software company, you can (and you should) make several categories in your forum for your products and services. There, your members will be able to ask about your software, to give tips for maximizing its possibilities, to give suggestions for future upgrades… So this way, many of your forum members will serve as your technical stuff. Did I say free of charge?
Quality web forum makes the web site very “sticky”. People are coming back to read new messages, to check if they have private messages, to post new messages… They will be notified each time someone replies in thread they watch, if they chose that option.
Actually, the only disadvantage of web forums is the amount of time to get it up and running, to have an ongoing conversation and good members activity. Later you will have to spend your time for moderation, in order to make sure that members post appropriate messages, that they are not spamming and that the discussion is on the right track. However, good news that your reward will be higher profit, as well.
There are quality free and fee based web forum software. Recommendation for free forum software goes to Simple Machines – http://www.simplemachines.org and for fee-based forum software for vBulletin http://www.vbulletin.com .
Dejan Bizinger is a Contributing Editor for Infacta. Infacta is email messaging services company providing powerful, yet easy-to-use award-winning Group Mail, software for sending highly-personalized email messages and Group Metrics, software for email tracking. For more information visit: http://www.infacta.com