Forums: The Forgotten Social Media

They aren’t sexy, they seem ancient in web years, and they don’t get talked about as much as they once were, yet forums are still one of the best sources of quality traffic. Done right they bring consistent traffic month after month, traffic that does stick around and subscribe to your blog and inquire about your services.

Note: I hope you’ll forgive a little self indulgence in this post. As I mentioned last week I recently helped start a new small business forum and it’s been occupying much of my time and my thoughts. Since it has I thought I’d share how and why forums have been a valuable source of business and traffic for me over the years.

Forum Traffic Is Sticky

A few months ago while discussing social media referral traffic I displayed an image showing a few sources of referral traffic to this site. The image deserves another look here.

Time on Site and Bounce Rate from Social Media Referrers

You’ll notice that Webmaster-Talk and Teaching Sells arguably provided better traffic than either StumbleUpon or Sphinn.

Visitors from each bounced less and stayed engaged with the site for a good deal of time. I surmised on the original post the reason for the engagement here was based on my engagement there. Both are also forums.

Teaching Sells isn’t technically a forum, but it does contain a forum, which is where the above traffic came from.

Social sites like Digg have the potential to drive greater numbers than any forum, but they don’t drive the same quality, because they don’t allow the same level of engagement on your part at the site. Old school internet as they may be forums still allow you to show who you are and what you can offer better than your typical social site.

Networks like Twitter and Plurk are great for getting out short messages, but there’s still a lot to be said for having more than 140 characters to make your point.

Forums Are A Source Of Customers

Most people look for forums on similar topics as their site. It’s natural since your topic is what you’re interested in and you’ll meet like minded people who share your interests.

The missing links
photo credit: me-2007

The people there will be peers and you’ll have have plenty to share and discuss. Your peers often provide a good source of links, a good source of blog subscribers, and a good source of people to partner with on future projects.

There’s another type of forum though, that can prove just as beneficial. It’s the forum where your customers spend their time. I’m a firm believer that marketing yourself is about determining who your customers are, finding where they spend their time, and building a brand in that space.

For me that’s meant participating in small business forums and that participation has led to more clients for my business than any other source.

Forums Are A Source For Market Research

The same communities that hold your customers are a great place to do market research. What better way to find out what your customers want than to ask them and listen daily to the questions they ask.

By listening to what your market is saying you gain the information you need to tailor your business to them. It’s easy to think we know what our customers want, but it’s no substitute for actually having them tell you what they want..

Another discussion
photo credit: Jacob Bøtter

Forums Are An Online Networking Group

If you own a small business I’m sure someone somewhere has suggested joining an offline networking group as a way to find new clients. You may have joined one and you may or may not have had success with it.

Forums, especially small business forums, can be the online equivalent of networking groups. It doesn’t take long to build a rapport with people working in other industries.

Through the relationships I’ve built I have a list of go to people when clients inquire about services I don’t offer. I know I’ve made it on the shorts lists of others as well, which has led to new business on both sides.

Again I hope you’ll forgive my romp through forum land and one last pitch for our new small business forum I recently helped get started. We already have an active community of great people with knowledge and experience across a variety of industries. We’d love to have you join us.

Do you still or have you ever participated on forums and have you found them to be a good source of business? In what ways have you found forum participation to be a valuable part of your business?

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