The forgotten, resurgent, online forum
Forums have long been a staple of the Internet landscape, whose roots can be traced back to the early web days when electronic mailing lists (such as Usenet) and bulletin board systems (BBS) were the ways people communicated. Over time, a number of forum software products arose. Today, millions of new forum posts go up each day. Japan alone counts two million daily online forum posts to a variety of sites, some counting tens of millions of users.
But online forums don't tend to land mention in the marketing plans of many brands. When Dharmesh Shah and the team at HubSpot evangelized the concept of inbound marketing, the tech marketing world was quick to embrace the seemingly novel concept. The idea that every company needs to be a media company, requires distribution to welcome platforms of target audiences. Some of the most authentic sharing of impressionable peer-to-peer content began, and arguably remains, in online forums. But many brands have missed the history, opportunity, and promise of this forgotten, now resurgent, medium.
Forum administrators and companies built communities around literally hundreds of thousands of niche areas. Well managed forums provide higher levels of trust and engagement than social networks, minus the obnoxious trolling, sock puppeting and other manipulative or malicious tactics used in the past to dominate or derail forum discussion threads. With the advent of advertising and search engines, forums have become a multi-billion dollar business, and an outlet content marketers shouldn't ignore.
The role of online forums in inbound marketing
The benefit of integrating online forums into your content marketing are myriad. First, properly configured online forums offer solid SEO juice to their parent sites (or to the forum itself if it is a standalone). Forum posts have 10x more reach than Facebook posts and Google indexes ensure that those posts live on forever. Not surprisingly, then, Google regularly ranks forum content as among the highest in terms of influence and authenticity. This is quite logical because forums are precisely both influential, and authentic.
Members of forum communities are passionate advocates and participants in their niches. Therefore, they are natural influencers in their chosen realms. And forums laud authenticity, as they don't pay posters or offer tangible rewards. People tend to post on forums for individually driven reasons, and their words tend to be genuine and uncalculated. And when it comes to content distribution, forum members tend to aggressively share their posts in social realms, building their personal social currency, and further pumping the Google juice of the forum itself.
For self-defined target audiences, forums are the true champs. Unlike implied indications of preference or interest such as Google searches, Facebook Likes, or even Twitter tweets, active forum participants invest considerable time and effort into a clearly defined passion or interest. A true forum regular is someone who has shown terrific interest in the topic. "The people you meet on forums are diverse and offer unique perspectives that help drive engaging conversations," explains ProBoards CEO, Patrick Clinger. And this engagement extends into advertising and sponsorship, where the forum regulars - having demonstrated his or her appetite for talking about big screen televisions of mountain bikes - are far more likely to be ongoing consumers of the goods or topics they chat about.
Brands, too, can find no better audience for targeted content distribution within online forums. A smart video or an engaging on-topic article, if done right, can drive free brand awareness like nothing else. Brands, in fact, often see far higher engagement from targeted content spots as compared to targeted advertising in social and online platforms.
Equally important, brands can find enthusiastic advocates and potential sources of truly authentic original content in forums. That's when inbound marketing isn't really marketing at all; It's just people writing about stuff they really like. Testimonials and unsolicited endorsements sans highly paid brand marketing teams and brainstorming sessions.
Surprising stuff about forums
In honor of this year's ForumCon, the folks at VigLink and Technorati have produced a fun and informative infographic on little known forum facts. Want to talk about Hamster's? Go to HamsterCentral to chat with other lovers of this cuddly rodent. What's a thamnophis? A Garter Snake and Thamnophis.com is your forum of choice. From handlebar mustaches to Harry Potter, there are forums for the most obscure hobbies and product categories.
Share it at your next staff meeting when you bring up the idea of a brilliant new strategy you read about on Social Media Today: Inbound marketing through online forums.
Main image credit: ericjoia.blogspot.com