In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I talk about the best ways to market your online endeavors on forums (without being a spammy scuzzball).
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DPP039: Using Online Forums to Market Blogs, eBooks, and More
Hi everyone, I’m Tristan Higbee, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.
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Taking care of business
I just got back from 9 days in Turkey, which is why there was no episode last week. I’m recording today in Sarajevo, which is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and my home for the next month. If you want to see photos of my travels, you can check out my personal blog at TheAloof.com.
Ok, so this podcast episode is a bit different. Usually I talk about a handful of ideas that aren’t really related, but today, everything I’m talking about is related to one central topic, and that is using forums as promotional tools. In other words, it’s about using forums to build traffic to or awareness of a blog, product, service, or anything else you’ve got going on online.
Chat rooms and ICQ instant messaging are the things I remember most about my early days on the internet, but forums aren’t too far behind after that. These days, forums are deeply unsexy as far as online marketing is concerned, but they continue to be great places for people with specific interests to find like-minded people online. From a marketing standpoint, forums aren’t nearly as hip or hot as sites like Instagram or Pinterest, but I actually think that forums are one of the best ways to promote websites, blogs, and ebooks. So here are 8 tips from my experience that will help you make the most of forums for promotional purposes.
1. Pick the right forum
Choosing the right forum in your niche to participate in makes a really big difference. Ideally you’re already an active member of a forum or two. If not, hopefully you’re at least aware of some of the popular forums that cater to your niche. If that’s still not the case, do a Google search for “crochet forum” or “college admissions forum” or whatever is appropriate for your niche.
If there are multiple forums in your niche, I suggest that you focus on being active in just one forum at first. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, and focusing on one forum gives you the best chance to become a prominent member of the community. That’s hard to do when you’re trying to post in half a dozen different forums all at once. Once you’ve become established in one forum, then you can determine whether joining another would be appropriate for you.
If you’re not already active in a forum and you have multiple forums to choose from, there are four points to consider.
- How large and active is the forum? You won’t get much traffic from a forum that has 30 members and the last post was six months ago.
- Do you like the look of the forum? I’ve chosen to participate in certain forums because I just like the way they’re designed. We’ve all seen forums with black backgrounds and red text and banner ads all over the place. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but it’s not the kind of place I enjoy spending my time.
- Does the forum allow signatures? Some forums don’t allow signatures, which will make it harder for you to get traffic. That’s something I’ll get to in a minute.
- And finally (and perhaps most importantly), do you like the community that has built up around the forum? You’re going to be spending a fair amount of time there, so make sure you like the kind of discussion that’s going on. Forums can bring out the worst in people. I guess it’s the combination of anonymity or pseudonymity mixed with an obvious passion for whatever the forum subject is. But some forums are definitely worse than others. If the forum is full of young teenage boys calling each other homophobic or racist names and that rightly doesn’t appeal to you, you probably won’t be eager to spend much time there.
So choosing the right forum is the first step. The second is to…
2. Choose your username wisely
Your username is your brand out there on the forum for everyone to see, so you definitely should put some thought into it if you haven’t already registered for the forum. Ask yourself what message you want your username to convey. Using your name as a username gives your interactions with others a more personal feel than if you just used the name of your blog, book, or business. And it’s important that your username fits in with your niche and the forum. For example, if you’re posting to a realty forum and the forum community has a very professional feel to it, you’ll obviously want to steer clear of usernames like “justinbieberwifexoxo1999.”
The real question here is whether you should use your name or your blog’s or business’s name as the name that’s displayed on the forum. I think you should use your name, unless the norm in the forum is to do otherwise. If I were to join a writing forum to promote the Digital Publishing Podcast, for example, my username wouldn’t be DigitalPublishingPodcast. It would be something like THigbee or TristanH or TristanHigbee. People on forums want to interact with people, not nameless and faceless entities.
On some forums more than others, people are more likely to use pseudonyms, and that’s fine too. Do what’s appropriate for the forum; that overrides anything I say here.
3. Put a link in your signature
Your signature is the couple lines of text that appear below each one of your forum posts. Putting a relevant link there is the backbone of any solid forum-based traffic strategy. It’s how you’ll get the majority of traffic out of the forum, so it’s a pretty important element to have and optimize.
A standard signature will include the name of your blog and maybe your blog’s tagline or what your blog is about. If it’s not a blog that you’re promoting, replace the word “blog” there with website, business, ebook, product, or whatever the case may be.
Keep in mind that you could choose to be more specific with what you link to. You could link to an especially positive review or to a particularly helpful or interesting blog post. You can also link to a newsletter signup page to help grow your list, though that might be a red flag for people who are trolling the forums looking to call out spammers. Try out different things and see what works best for you.
4. Craft your profile carefully
Your profile is what people see when they click on your username, and it usually consists at least of your avatar or profile photo, a short bio, and a link to your website. Usually, the profile photo should be a picture of you. Again, we like to know that we’re interacting with a real person, and a photo gives a face to the name and helps create a more personal interactive experience. If you prefer anonymity, or if the forum you’re into trends to not using personal photos, then use anything you want as long as it fits in with 1) the feel of the forum, and 2) the image that you want to convey of your blog, website, business, ebook, or whatever. Using the realty forum example again, you wouldn’t want your profile pic to be a funny animated .gif of a guy getting hit in his private parts with a baseball. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to use a serious, black and white photo of yourself if you’ve got a fun and colorful blog about funny YouTube videos.
Your bio should include relevant information about you, or any information that would entice people to click on the links in your profile. Again, make it professional, but don’t be boring and one-dimensional. Sure, talk about how much experience you’ve got in your particular field, but also talk about any other interesting information about yourself. If you’re on a rock climbing forum, you could state that you’ve been rock climbing for 12 years, that you are an avid backcountry skier in the offseason, and that you love watching Breaking Bad. This kind of stuff gives people more reasons for them to interact with you or relate to you.
And while we’re on the subject of getting people to interact with you, be sure to include a line in your bio (preferably at the end) saying that you welcome people to contact you with any questions or comments. This can help people feel comfortable about coming to you for any additional help or information beyond what you provide in your forum posts.
Some forum profiles have a space for your website’s URL or the URL of your favorite website, so be sure to use that when possible.
And then take advantage of any other profile features your forum might have. Some forums let you enter your Twitter handle, for example. Others let you enter your other interests. Use these things to further differentiate yourself from other people, to establish yourself as an expert in your field, and to set yourself up as a person people want to interact with.
5. Don’t be spammy
When you’re hanging out with people in person, you don’t shake their hands and immediately stuff a business card down their throats. That’s what creepy or obnoxious people do. You want to get to know the person a little bit. The same applies in forums.
Sure, you’re using the forum to promote your site or product, but that shouldn’t be the only reason you’re there. No one likes it when the forum user’s first and only post is, “Hey guys! Check out my awesome blog!”, so don’t be that guy. Take your time to become a valuable member of the community, which leads to point #6…
6. Provide quality content
We’ve all heard that “Content is king” line for getting traffic to your blog or getting people to sign up for a newsletter, and it can also be applied to forum posts. For example, don’t just respond to a question there on the forum by saying “Yes” or “No,” but justify your response with a helpful reply. Or be funny. That works, too. Again, it depends on the niche and forum. The overarching principle should be to provide the best content you possibly can. When possible, link to other resources both inside the forum and other places online to provide even more helpful content.
Another tactic you can use is writing content especially for the forum. Think of it like guest posting for the forum: you provide your own content for free to the forum. At the end of the forum post, you can include a line of text that says something like, “This was written specifically for the Whatever Forum. If you found this information useful, check out my blog at WhateverIsAwesome.com.” You’re adding value to the forum while at the same time giving people a reason to check out your blog.
Having said all of that, not all of your posts need to be long and epic. Quality content can be as simple as posting a funny YouTube video that a lot of people in the forum community can enjoy.
7. Start new threads
If someone opens up a thread to read it, that person is obviously going to read the first post in the thread, right? That first post in a thread gets read more than any other, so being in that position is a really great way to leverage your forum posting.
Going further, it can be even more helpful when you start the right kinds of threads. If you’ve got genuine questions about something, then by all means ask about it. Open questions tend to get lots of views and replies. If you don’t have any specific questions, a great way to go is to ask people’s opinions on a topic that they all can have input on. If you’re posting to a mountain biking forum, for example, ask people what they’d do if they had $5000 to spend. Other examples are things like asking people on a Corvette forum to post pictures of their sweet ride, or encouraging members on a photography forum to post links to their portfolios or to their favorite photos or piece of equipment.
8. Post often
Forum posting isn’t the best passive traffic strategy. You can’t just spend a week posting multiple times a day and then sit back and expect the traffic and interest to keep coming in forever, because it won’t. The threads that you spend all that time and effort posting in will eventually be pushed further and further down the page until they disappear from page 1. Participating in and getting traffic from forums is very much an active process. To get the best results, you really need to commit to it and make it a regular part of your blogging process.
But above all, just try to enjoy the experience. Hopefully you’re talking about things you like, so it’s not like posting to the forum often will be a horrible chore for you. The idea is to be active in the forum for the forum’s sake but also build traffic or interest in your project while you’re at it. On top of that, forums are great way to get post ideas for your blog, so keep your eyes peeled.
Pick of the week
And that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. My pick of the week this time is a WordPress plugin called Standout Color Boxes and Buttons [link]. The plugin makes it really easy to have different colored boxes show up in your WordPress posts and pages. I’ve used it a few times on my personal blog (in this post, for example). I’ll write about a place I’ve traveled to and show some pictures, and then create an information box at the very end of the post that includes nuts and bolts information on prices, directions, or things like that, and that colored box has a light blue or green background. The colored box goes around whatever text or images you put inside it. It’s a free plugin in the WordPress plugin directory and is very easy to set up and use.
And that’s all for episode 39 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog.
Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.