Online marketing programs often focus on a number of components, from guest blogs to social media, but often opportunities for forum posting are lost in the shuffle — usually on purpose.

Why? Posting on forums has gotten a bad rap primarily because so many marketers go about using forums in the wrong way. They are, admittedly, a favorite haunt of spammers and a forum that is not well-managed will begin to look as though spammers are the only participants. But as long as you follow best practices with your own posts, identifying opportunities to post on forums within your targeted industry should be an important part of your online marketing efforts.

Done correctly, posting on a forum can have as much impact as a guest blog, according to some SEO experts. With the ability to build an authoritative voice among the top goals of your online marketing efforts, revealing your expertise within communities frequented by businesses you wish to target is an excellent vehicle for establishing credibility with key audiences.

Identify opportunities

Just as you carefully identify social media channels and establish just the right social media presence to support your brand, you need to put similar effort and thought into building your brand on forums. Carefully select forums within targeted industries that can advance your authoritative voice, while avoiding forums overrun with spammers as well as those hosted by your direct competitors.

Depending on how narrow your niche, try to zero in on forums that offer a minimum of 1,000 members and that are active on a daily basis. Your professional network can be a good source for recommending active forums. There are also forum hub sites to consult, such as Board Reader, that allow you to search for forums using specific keywords describing your targeted sector.

Just as spammers may have turned you off from the idea of participating in a forum, you do not want to come across as a spammer yourself. That means keeping your company’s services or products very low key, particularly after you’ve first joined a forum community. Be careful not to look like you have alternative motives for adding your expertise, even though that is essentially the case. Other than gaining a few no-follow links, don’t worry about links. Instead, keep in mind your ultimate goal: to be seen as an authority on the chosen subject.

As you fine tune your forum marketing strategy, remember that this is an ongoing part of your overall online marketing efforts and not simply a one-shot campaign.

Build your presence

How many times have you actually read a site’s user agreement? Probably very few. But as you sign up for key forums, you will want to carefully review the site’s documentation and familiarize yourself with its policies. This is the quickest way to learn what is allowed and what is not. For example, can you place links or mention your business? If so, under what context? Can you include your business name in your signature? These details should be available for your review, along with any restrictions placed on new forum members.

Carefully build your profile, and concisely explain your business and background so when fellow forum members want to learn more about you, the most relevant information is readily available. Choose a user name and avatar that is professional and easy to remember, and preferably easy to associate with your business. This may or may not mean using your company’s name.

Show your expertise

While you may be anxious to get started, be sure you have read enough other posts to get a good feel for the forum and its “voice” before you begin posting. Carefully consider a few targeted areas for response where someone has posted a question related to your specific area of expertise, rather than making your presence known across the entire forum. Just as with social media, avoid debate over social issues that could alienate potential participants. Some forums are very tight-knit communities, while others will have certain quirks. Learn who the most influential users are among forum posters and be careful not to step on their advice or you may find yourself shunned from the community before you even get a start.

When you do response with expertise, back up your advice with links to other trusted sources, as appropriate. Respond quickly to any follow up questions or requests for clarifications. Maintain respect for others, even if you disagree with their advice.

Avoid sales talk

Finally, save the sales pitch. One of the most common mistakes is to immediately make a pitch for your product or services. While it can be very tempting, remember that you goal here is to drive traffic because of your authoritative voice and the relevant information you can provide. From that standpoint, forum marketing is quite similar to social media marketing. If anything, you should be even less blatant about promoting your business on forums than on Facebook. If you are patient, you will successfully build traffic over time as you gain the respect of other users who then seek out your profile to learn more about you and your business.

That respect is much easier to gain if your image is one of a helpful participant and not a slick salesperson. The more objective you keep your answers, the faster your reputation will grow across the community as a trusted expert. Soon, other forum users will directly ask for your input. When you begin to get these direct inquiries, you can then mention your services without sounding like you are driven by other motives.

Additional benefits

Besides building your own expert authority online, you can gain some additional advantages by frequenting a few key forums on a regular basis. One, you are likely to extend your professional network. Secondly, online forums are yet another excellent way to monitor the pulse of an industry. Finally, you may learn more about your competitors and not just your targeted audience, which can help you to become more relevant in the marketplace.

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