In about four weeks I am moving to Zurich. As a result, I’ve been lurking in English expat forums trying to glean as much information as I can to help make the move easier.
There is a lot of reading to be done on the forums as members volunteer opinions, answer questions, organise meet-ups and generally just chat with others over the internet. The question begging to be asked is: Are forums social media sites?
We have come to think of social media sites as those similar to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube. But despite the lack of fancy APIs, forums still provide a platform for user generated content as well as encouraging social interaction and networking.
Any social media manager will tell you that their main purpose is to 1. Raise awareness about their brand and 2. Create dialogue about the brand. Forums are incredibly useful in that they create an opportunity for dialogue that you do not get with Facebook or Twitter.
What are the advantages of getting engaged in a forum?
In an earlier post about KLM’s social media strategies, I wrote about KLM’s forum for their frequent fliers. The forum was instrumental in providing feedback to the brand and generating ideas to improve the airline’s services.
Forum participation also allows for reputation management strategies, brand awareness tactics, and even link generation. Undoubtedly, most marketers are already familiar with these tactics. However, there are some who may find themselves eschewing forums for newer and trendier networking sites.
These days, forums exist mostly to fulfil niches. However, niches do mean relevant and related content, audiences and engagement. This means that companies can leverage the forum members’ expertise and engagement in order to promote their brand to a captive audience.
Of course, there are other benefits to forum participation beyond just marketing. They often provide destinations for help with specific problems that can be hard to find elsewhere. And they are great places for networking with other professionals. Often, just being involved in the conversation translates to staying in the loop for current trends within your chosen industry.
The biggest advantage that forums offer is its self-sufficiency potential, wherein users are expected to run the forum themselves as well as their interaction with others. Unlike Facebook Fan pages where the administrators keep the fans engaged through regular updates or contests and events, forums require less direction. Yes, there is a certain level of moderation required on forums but active users can take some of the responsibilities themselves.
What are the disadvantages to using forums?
The general pace on a forum is slower than Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes it might take days before a question is answered on a thread. Furthermore, forums require users to search through the topics for the thread most relevant to them.
The amount of reading on forums may also seem daunting to some individuals. Forums are good in that there is a lot of information available and archived in one place. A significant downside to this is the fact that sometimes, a user will have to read through a lot of information before eventually finding the answer they need.
At the end of the day, it comes down to common sense whether a forum is appropriate for your company or not. Some products will lend themselves well to discussions while others are better off gathering followers on Twitter. It might even be the case that your brand only needs to engage on a number of forums through one employee. Regardless, it is beneficial for social media managers to be aware of different strategies available to them.
Interesting blogs on the use of forums.
Other good examples include New Look which you might like to register to / try out.
Some of the issues you point out can be easily remedied with the proper strategy and implementation:
– Having concise subjects in the forum that cover specific areas.
– Having a search engine built in to the site to find specific quires
– Having members of staff / moderators to monitor their specific areas and provide relevant feedback and to help direct users to the relevant sections.
– A clear and easy to read / locate FAQ section
As well as helping with brand and CRM issues, setting out the forum like this also helps with search and semantic SEO terms – even more so now Google Plus displays feeds in its searches – which is why it is also important to have your all of your social sites feed to the forum too.