Practical Ecommerce

Using Forums to Generate New Business

As a small business owner, I am always looking for channels to reach a new audience. One way to do this is via established forums.

Forums help many small businesses to profitably grow revenue. In Nielsen’s recent “Global Survey of Product Purchase Sentiment” PDF, web-based forums tied with social media in their likelihood to influence buyers’ purchasing decisions.

Why Forums?

Forums are masters of search engine optimization. If you can establish a presence on forums that are related to the products you sell, this could give you a big boost. Forums receive high search engine rankings because some of the more established forums are over ten years old. In addition, forum members generously link into and out of their interest-based communities. Search engines reward all of that rich user generated content with premium placement.

Where to Start with Forums

First, identify the most influential forums that can benefit your business. Say you make a niche product for owners of guinea pigs. You might try a web search for “guinea pig forum vBulletin.” vBulletin is the world’s most popular forum software platform. A search on Google with those keywords reveals that GuineaPigCages.com is a forum with over 24,000 members. To find a forum related to your business, search a keyword that describes your business + forum + vBulletin.

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GuineaPigCages.com — a vBulletin forum for guinea pig owners.

GuineaPigCages.com — a vBulletin forum for guinea pig owners.

How Can You Grow Your Business?

Forums often offer sponsorship opportunities, which can run from $10 to $500 per month depending on the size and influence of the forum. This might be a good investment for some merchants, but not all. Make sure you do your homework to validate this forum will provide customer leads and traffic before committing to any sponsorship.

A vigilant team of volunteers often moderates forum threads. You can’t expect to register on a forum today and post a message advertising your products and services. You will be flagged and the forum will delete your post.

If you aren’t ready to sign up as a forum sponsor, you might want to establish yourself as an expert and find questions and topics in need of response. I found this to be a very effective way in establishing myself as a trusted source of product knowledge. Avoid any links or mentions of your products, services, or business until sufficient time has passed for you to prove your expertise, and worth.

Sell Your Products on Forums

Forums often contain “buy/sell/trade” classifieds sections. But you can’t expect to register at a forum and begin posting products for sale immediately. Forums typically isolate vendor listings into sub-forums. Some forums are beginning to convert their classifieds into transactional marketplaces. My favorite platform for this is Panjo, which works with vendors and forums to help small businesses sell product directly. The forums may ask for 0.5 to 20 percent of the final sale price for successful transactions.

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Panjo helps small businesses sell on forums.

Panjo helps small businesses sell on forums.

Sites like Bimmerforums are upgrading their legacy forum-based classifieds into transactional marketplaces. These upgrades afford small businesses a great opportunity to partner with forums on a performance basis.

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Bimmerforums is upgrading its legacy classified section to a Panjo-based transactional marketplace.

Bimmerforums is upgrading its legacy classified section to a Panjo-based transactional marketplace.

Forums are not a place to promote your entire product catalog. They can help you to introduce a product or special pricing in a way that will get enthusiastic and vocal members talking. This kind of behavior explains why forum networks like Huddler and Internet Brands produce purchase conversions at three times the industry average.

Finally, if you have a large and dedicated customer base, consider launching your own forum. In the automotive space, for example, Pelican Parts has done an amazing job giving over 180,000 customers and prospects a forum to converse.

Jerry Jao
Jerry Jao
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