A community will be created around your business, even if you choose not to participate. You have clients, customers, and fans who will talk about you. Sometimes this will happen offline with friends (and potential customers), but more likely it will be on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.One of the ways to control this conversation is to create a community where this audience can engage with you, such as a forum platform. Sure, some people will still chat about you elsewhere, but a forum can act as a hub to draw in these conversations and connect with current or potential customers. More importantly, a community forum can be an important tool in your business strategy. Let’s look closer at how a community forum can add value to your marketing mix. Choosing the Right Idea For Your Community:
The first step is to choose the right idea or concept for your forum. There are very few businesses where adding a forum does not make sense. If it doesn’t directly make sense, it might only take a tweak or a creative mind to find the right fit.
Let’s take a faucet maker. Not a very exciting topic, but here are several ways they could make use of acommunity:
1- Create a community forum about faucets, sinks and toilets. A broad topic with appeal.
2- Create a Question and Answer Community where people can ask questions and experts can increase their credibility by answering.
3- Create a support community so current customers can get help, and future customers can search and find solutions 24/7.
One of the best things that will come out of this is amazingly fresh SEO content, and an authority website upon which you can build your brand. As it grows, you can use the ad spaces to promote your own products.
Choosing the Right Tool
There are so many forum software options, that it can make your brain hurt. Here are some of the main things you will want to consider when selecting the right tool:
Integration: Customers are tired of creating more accounts, so why not give them an option to use a service they already use? Look for a solution that offers an ability to signup with twitter or Facebook. If you already have an account system, why make them create another username/password to access your community? A Single Sign On (SSO) system is something important if customers have access to other areas of your site.
Usability: Will people know how to use it intuitively? It’s super easy to use Facebook and Twitter. Yourcommunity platform should operate in the same way. Don’t make your customers figure out how to engage. Look for solutions that focus on good user experience.
Managing the community: You don’t want to be bogged down by forum software with endless knobs and switches. You want a solution with front-end moderation, and simple ways to find what you need.
Gamification Choose a solution where good content gets recognized in the community. Some of the elements of Gamification include badges, titles, leaderboards, ranks and special permissions. Don’t choose forum software focused on punishment (banning users, restricting access) and has very little in the way of encouraging good behaviour.
Making It Look Like Your Brand: Choose a solution which lets you go beyond the Geocities color palette. You want something that makes you look good. Brand integrity is more than using your logo and basic colors. You want a software platform that can keep things seamless and fit into your ecosystem, without jarring the customer.
Mobile: Choose a solution that understands mobile, and makes it easy for people to use your forum on their smartphone. Sure there are apps that can make things easier, but they control the experience and serve ads you can’t control.
Launching Right And Growing
Launching a community is tough, and it takes work. It’s not enough to put a forum up and wait for something to happen. You want to have someone who is dedicated to work on it. This person should work to seed the forum with content, and make sure it’s not empty when you launch.
You need a strategy to market the community, to invite key people and to ensure you identify key individuals who can become part of the moderation team as your community grows. Other tactics like inviting users in your order confirmations or promoting the community in your monthly newsletter are things this person can help champion.
What are those benefits again?
So besides not having to pay Facebook to talk to all those fans you got to like and follow you, your owncommunity gives you a couple of other benefits:
You own the data: You have access to the data of your users, and can integrate it to other aspects of your marketing.
It’s your domain: It’s on your domain, on your house rules. No fear of the rules changing, where not only 25% (or less) of fans can see your content.
SEO: You benefit from fresh content that search engines love.
It makes content marketing easier: You have a mountain of content you can use to re-purpose and use in other collateral.
In short, a forum offers you lots of benefits, and you should consider it an important part of your marketing strategy.
Adrian Speyer is the Marketing Manager at Vanilla Forums, a community software company located in Montreal. His opinions are his own.