The tens of thousands of internet “forums” that attract users who have common interests have recently become of interest to marketers – particularly niche marketers. There are forums for every imaginable topic. To see an example of the specialized nature of forums, look at www.big-boards.com. To be sure they represent a potent marketing opportunity and medium. But they can also be a negative force in marketing if used incorrectly. So before you invest in forum marketing make sure you understand the milieu.
An internet forum is a discussion room that operates via the internet. In a sense, they are an evolution of the newsgroups and email bulletin boards that were so prevalent ten to fifteen years ago. Topics get put on the collective forum table and discussion ensues via “posts” to the forum – essential via messages that get posted for everyone to see. Today, you can also consider chat rooms and interactive blogs as a style of forum.
There are two general styles of forum: moderated and unmoderated. Most long-lasting forums are moderated. That is, that all posts are reviewed by a “moderator” before being made public. In this way, the forum protects itself from undesirable spam, crazy people, and profane, obscene, or off-topic material. Unmoderate forums are just that, unmoderated.
Most forums have rules that govern the content that is acceptable to the forum. Violating these rules will draw the contempt of the entire forum. There is no better way to shoot yourself in the foot than to have your forum marketing efforts earn the disdain of the entire forum membership! In newsgroup days, this was called “flaming” (as in ‘shot down in flames’).
On the other hand, if used carefully, forum marketing can be a great way to boost website traffic. Many forums while banning overt advertising or self-serving posts, do not mind a little appropriate discussion or referencing of products, services or features. Many forums also do allow the author to include a link to their own site.
To make sure you don’t run afoul of forum policy be sure to check out their rules, avoid overt selling (forum members are very sensitive to even subtle selling), and make sure that your posts offer good reasons to refer to off-forum content in your site.
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