In terms of social media communities forums are a rather under-utilized source of traffic for blogs and websites. Yet forums present excellent opportunities for exposure, building your reputation, sharing your expertise, obtaining business referrals and even potential joint-ventures along with links and traffic to your blog or site. I have successfully got business and found suppliers through forums as well as continual links to my blog and site.
There’s a knack to getting the best from a forum, however. And, like most social media related things, relationships trump promotion of self. First and foremost forums are places to develop, listen, learn and grow trust, not to pimp your wares.
Overt pimping of your wares is likely to get you banned quite quickly.
A forum is a community with written and unwritten rules of engagement and etiquette which everyone is expected to follow. They keep the forum a pleasant place for everyone. The rules are usually posted in the forums, so take the time to read them. You can also learn them by registering in a forum and then lurking (not posting, just reading) for a while before you start interacting.
Like any other community, forums also have networks of people who know and trust each other. You need to be a guest until you’ve developed and established trust too. Luckily, it’s not hard to do if you have the right approach.
Here are 9 steps for getting free traffic from forums.
1. Register for an account – then lurk
Register for your forum account and fill out your profile. Then spend a few days browsing through the posts on the forum. Get a feel for the forum and its style of interaction.
2. Start posting (but go slowly)
Once you understand how the particular forum operates,start by posting an introduction. Then you can move on to answering questions. If you have questions, ask them – but watch that 1) you don’t ask questions that have already been asked, often hundreds of times – search the forum first – and 2) don’t ask questions on which you could do a Google search – it wastes time and annoys forum members.
3. Build your reputation
Simply, continue making good posts. Answer questions as thoroughly as possible. Seek to establish yourself as an expert on the forum by helping people with their questions and demonstrating your expertise. Build respect over time as the more respected you are in the community, the more clicks you’ll get on your link.
4. Welcome others to the forum
You can also post to other people’s introduction threads and welcome them to the forum
5. Answer other people’s questions
Provide as full an answer as possible and include any useful links. The less self-serving the links the better, except if you have a something like a blog post that actually addresses the question or expands on it.
6. Share your opinion
When you do so, make sure you say it’s your opinion so that people don’t confuse it with fact. And contrary opinions can be useful in highlighting an alternative option, however a good rule of thumb is to keep it respectful, helpful and on-topic. So go ahead and share your opinion – just ensure you aren’t stating your opinion as fact.
7. Add information
When you comment on posts, take the opportunity to contribute additional information that adds value to the thread. Simply adding “I agree” or “nice comment/post” doesn’t add much. Enhance the conversation by adding valuable and useful comment.
8. Add value to the forum
Be the first to post about hot topics and other news in your industry or niche. For example, if you’re a member of a software forum and you see a news article about another company’s upcoming product launch you may want to post about it in the forum. Check first that no-one else has posted on it first.
9. Make your signature work for all
Make your signature reader-oriented and benefit packed. Forum readers are looking for solutions to their problems. Tell them how following your link will quickly and easily solve their problems. For example if you’re directing people to your free newsletter or e-zine, tell them what benefits they will get when they sign up (“sign up to the monthly social marketing e-zine and get a free copy of the Special Report on getting leads with Social Media Copywriting.” Also ensure your links accompany all your posts. You can usually post your site links after any of your posts and you will find people curious enough to click through to them if you are posting valuable content in the forum and establishing yourself as a helpful resource.
10. Network with others
While you can certainly promote your links in most niche forums, you can also use these places to find and meet with potential business partners, suppliers and joint-venture partners.
11. Connect with others
Start a dialogue either on a thread or via the forum’s private message (PM) features. Aim to be a consistent part of the forum for the long haul.
Find a forum by typing your area of interest into Google and adding “forum” to your search,(e.g. “software forum” or “Blackberry forum”, or [name of product] forum).
The key is to spend time, build relationships, be authentic, add genuine value and establish a good reputation first.
Over time you build credibility and links to your sites will follow. Of all my social media communities, forums have sent the most in terms of traffic to my website and blog, even though links have been a by-product. It’s a great feeling to answer a question and have people respond with “thanks, that’s just what I was looking for.” And it’s equally satisfying when someone in a forum helps you out.
I have found being in forums with a genuine desire to help brings big social networking benefits, both in terms of, exposure, assistance, business – as well as traffic and links.
So what are you waiting for? Whatever your business, find a related forum. Spend 10-15 minutes a day helping out,and being part of it. Watch your traffic – and exposure – grow.