Forums provide an awesome online venue to accomplish a variety of things – learn more information on a specific subject, collaborate with your peers, receive feedback on a marketing tactic, business technique, product or even a particular service, to become part of a community and of course… to market yourself.
Being consistently active on four different forums, I have enjoyed all the benefits mentioned above one time or another. However, the last benefit – marketing yourself, must be done discreetly. In other words, if one is to market themselves in a forum which is comprised of an active community, marketing one’s self should be subtle. In reality the only true way to market yourself effectively is not to market yourself at all but rather to contribute quality to the forum. When you do that, you market yourself naturally.
I am pretty active on forums throughout the week when not overloaded with work, but usually try to stay offline over the weekends. Once in awhile I check into Small Business Ideas Forum where I am an administrator just to make sure someone has not flooded the forum with a bunch of spam. This weekend I did not necessarily come across the usual spam but rather a bunch of useless posts from a member. Looking back on their history, I found that 99% of their 60 some odd posts were useless, filled with nothing more than one line statements that added absolutely no quality to the threads they were posted in. What did I do? I removed them of course as it was a blatant attempt to simply promote the link in their signature file.
With that, I am inspired to list 6 ways NOT to promote one’s self on forums.
1. Lack of Quality – The member I mention above lacked any quality in what they had to say. Sixty plus posts with nothing more than welcomes to new members. Now there is nothing wrong with being friendly. However, when you have nothing more to say than “Welcome to the forum…” over and over again, forum members will view your motives as purely selfish. Your only reason for being there is to obtain links from the forum, promote your signature or both and people are smart enough to see right through that.
It is only when you contribute substance to a forum, that people will then see some value in what you have to say and who you represent yourself to be. When all you do is litter the landscape with meaningless one line posts, then you will be viewed as a litterbug, nothing more.
2. Lack of Knowledge – This is where a forum member spouts off about something but either has no evidence to back up what they say or is merely stating opinion as fact. This of course will draw debate and if you are found to be wrong, you look a fool. So back up what you say with studies, statistics or research, especially when stating something as fact. If it is an opinion, state it as such. When posting opinions, use IMO (in my opinion) or IMHO (in my honest opinion) before or after your statement. Then if you are wrong, at least people know it is simply your opinion. In unsure about something, use ASFAIK (as far as I know) or even “I believe” rather than just stating fact as the gospel truth when you are so wrong.
3. Self Promotional – It is okay to promote yourself once in awhile and where applicable. Someone is specifically looking for a service that you know you can provide so you send them a personal message or they are seeking advice on a topic and you refer them to a resource on your own site. These can be acceptable ways to promote yourself.
However, I have seen people take this to the extreme. They come into a forum and do a variety of things that are blatantly self-promotional including dropping links to their own site in nearly all their posts or instead of discussing a topic within the forum, they try to entice people to their own forum and/or blog and as such, draw people away from the forum. Not only will these methods make you look bad, they will likely lead to getting yourself banned from the forum or at least moderated.
I have received business directly from my involvement in forums but I have never invited it. It has always come to me and is a result of someone seeing some quality in who I am and what I have to say. This leads me directly into my next point.
4. Lack of Character and Integrity – Sometimes forum members reveal that they are unethical, shady or just downright mean. Their forum posts reveal that they are untrustworthy or unscrupulous in their business dealings. Even worse, they attack other forum members with nastiness. They are a mean person of which no one wants anything to do with them. And yet, they have their businesses listed right there in their signature file. I cannot imagine why someone would think this is a good way to market themselves. This is especially bad when they are just one person out of many in the organization. They shed a bad light on the entire company.
5. Forum Spammers – Finally we have what I like to call the “drive-by” forum spammers. They register as a new member only to drop a link or post the same self promotional sales pitch in multiple threads. The result? Maybe a few people see the spam but it is not there for long. Soon enough a moderator such as myself will see it, delete it and ban the user. Forum software even has filters where you can ban a users IP address or watch out for specific trends. Even if these things were not so, does the forum spammer really thing someone is going to buy from them as they invade a community? I don’t think so!
6. Forum Etiquette – Every forum has its own set of rules. It is your duty as a member to find out what is acceptable and what is not. This can include how to set up your signature. Do they allow links? If so how many? How long can your signature be? Some forums do not allow you to post links that are of certain type of nature. This can include links to porn sites, gambling sites or even affiliate links. What is the general subject matter of the forum? If search marketing for instance, don’t post things that are off topic unless they have a specific thread for that. There are forums that do not allow discussions of a political nature or discussion of religious topics. Even others discourage talking about specific products and companies.
The bottom line is that each forum is different and if you are to be an outstanding member, you have to play by the rules. If you don’t, you might get slapped and even publicly humiliated. That doesn’t amount to good marketing.
In conclusion, the best way to market yourself in a forum is to not really market yourself at all but rather to be a consistent member that contributes quality and substance to the community. When your motive is to help others, contribute good content and become an integral part of a community, you end up marketing yourself without even trying.