Jun 15 2016 | by JON FLETCHER
In a brief foray away from technology we held a birthday party for one of my young children that was completely free of computer and console games. A good old traditional comeback was ‘hide the thimble’ and yes, we actually do possess a thimble! It was hidden in the bread bin, behind a plant and under a cushion but alas all were too easy and the thimble kept returning before the adults had time to properly discuss the latest family gossip. Eventually I managed to hit on an idea that stumped the kids completely. The thimble was in the room, visible and was hunted for over 15 minutes by 5 children without being found. The place… in the middle of the dining room table, by itself, nothing else on the table, seen from any position in the room. It sat there so naturally that it simply blended into the background.
We are so used to looking for Social Media in the usual places; Facebook behind the sofa, Twitter under the plant pot, Pinterest behind the picture frame (see what I did there) that we fail to see Forums in the middle of the table. And what an oversight! These relics of a bygone age (def: ‘more than 5 years ago’) have a marketing punch that’s way beyond their text heavy appearance.
Let’s start just there, ‘text heavy’. If you want to let search engines (def: Google) know what’s on your site you need words... lots of words. Sure, they are getting rather good at recognising what is in an image but that is not in the same league as a simple collection of letters describing a thing or a concept. Not only do forums have these handy words in abundance but they also curate them excellently. Forum posts are collected into ‘threads’ usually focussing on a single topic and those threads are organised into sections. Perfect for showing a search engine exactly what the content is about and how it should be indexed.
Better still, because the content is mostly ‘user generated’ it can be present in vast amounts allowing not only important key phrases to be written about and indexed but also those very specific long-tail phrases - the type that only a few people will ever look for but if you have thousands of them… bingo!
The humble and often forgotten forum is a powerhouse of content and indexed phrases. A forum we support for Caravanners (www.caravantalk.co.uk) has over 1 million posts made by around 50,000 members and is visited over 3 million times per year. That’s a lot of everything.
Now Facebook has its squillions of users and Twitter rivals news empires for up to date information about anything, but Forums have a trick up their sleeve to take on even these giants. Most forums are topic specific, which means that it’s easier for search engines to see that they are very relevant for particular topics. This is key to their success and fits the truism that ‘the things that work best on the web are ‘cheap’ and ‘niche’’, the latter in this case.
Now don’t just take my word for this, search for just about anything other than a brand, product or service name and you’re pretty much guaranteed to come up with a Forum. You must have had the experience by now of getting stuck with something at work or home and ended up searching on the web for some help. I bet you ended up in a Forum.
People are looking for help, looking for information and those who help them find it will at the very least leave them with a positive impression. At best they’ll be led to your product or service and buy it now and in the future.
A simple forum post may look unimpressive, the few replies only count for a handful of individuals but take a look every now and then at how many people have seen the thread. We pointed out to a new client a couple of years ago that although a negative thread about their company only involved 5 people it had been seen 30,000 times by others. It works both ways, positive and negative. Rest assured that the negative has a tendency to spread faster than the positive so it’s a good idea to redress the balance at least occasionally.
Forums are every bit as powerful as the big social media players - arguably much more powerful, and they are far easier to interact with in a controlled manner… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Executive summary: Forums good!
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The Social Marketing Secret...Forums