Online forums may seem like an ancient tool these days, with social platforms and apps developing at the speed of light and the push to connect IRL (in real life) gaining traction. Yet, in its most traditional sense, a forum is any place where people gather and converse, and on the world wide web that can take place across social media, online community groups and forums. The question is, where is your brand being discussed and more importantly, what are you doing about it?
The idea of tracking every online conversation about your business can be a daunting one, especially as the benefits of doing so aren’t always clear. The name of the game with forum management is engagement. Actively seeking conversation and using it to positively position your brand with target audiences is key.
In learning how to engage with forums to your advantage, the first step is in understanding why they are used. From the sharing of opinions and expertise on social media sites likeTwitter, to discussing topics of interest on LinkedIn or Google + groups, to posing product and service related questions on forums like Yahoo Answers, people are seeking both knowledge and connection. Being actively involved in the conversation means you have a chance to shape the relationship.
Nobody knows the intentions of your brand and the impact of your product and services better than you. So why allow others to steer the conversation, especially when the stakes are so high. You can position yourself as an expert and a brand who cares by connecting one-on-one with your target audiences and engendering long term loyalty. Provide insights, post useful links to your site, respond to customer service queries and deal with any negative feedback immediately before it snowballs.
The natural segmentation of audiences by forum is what makes tracking and engaging in conversation much easier. Open forums likemoneysavingexpert.com and Trip Advisor are obvious choices for businesses in the finance and hospitality industries. More niche topics of conversation can be found on sites like Reddit and 4Chan. As always, search engines and some keen Booleanquery skills will work hard for you.
These tools enable businesses to target specific groups of people and conversation topics, not just for your own brand, but for your competitors and wider industries too. As well as being a marketing tool and a great repository of customer service responses, tracking forums and groups provides rich insights on what is being said, by who and how influential they are.
Fortunately, manual labour is no longer required to monitor and scale your online conversation.Google Alertsallows you to set up daily or weekly emails to inform you of what is being said and where. Alternatively, following influencers who have large online platforms or joining groups with big memberships means you can be exactly where the action is taking place and respond in a timely fashion.
Social listening tools are key when it comes to tracking mentions of your brand. Tools likeBuzz Sumo and Brandwatchutilise keywords and hashtags to see who are the biggest influencers, and follow the main themes of conversation, they also tell you the most common sites your brand is being mentioned. These tools allow you to more effectively respond and gather insights.
If handled well, online forum engagement means a growing cohort of informed, connected and impressed consumers along with a shiny brand image.
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