3 Tips for Marketing within Small Online Communities

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    Guest Author: Megan Webb-Morgan

    A study from Social Media Explorer found that 90% of the trackable online discussions around banking occurred in online forums, and those online communities ranked first or second in all business sectors. Small online communities represent a significant opportunity for reaching out to new customers.

    In a recent Business.com article, SEO guru Nick Stamoulis suggests, “While larger social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn might have millions of members and therefore a much farther potential reach, small and hyper-specialized social communities instantly connect you with exactly your target audience.”

    Tactics for marketing to industry peers, partners, and customers within small online communities are vastly different from traditional online marketing. You can’t post advertisements and expect that to suffice – you need to become a valuable member of the community.

    Just as social media marketing is centered around follower engagement, marketing within small online communities is centered around thoughtful discussion, valuable input, and relationship building.

    Engage in Discussions

    No matter what business sector or niche they are dedicated to, message boards, forums, chat rooms, and mailing lists are all centered around one activity: discussion. A member starts a new forum thread by posting a link, question, article, image, or other content and inviting discussion on the topic. The discussion generated is far more valuable than the original content. This is in direct contrast with many social engagement strategies, which focus on shares and don’t take into account the discussions that go on beneath the fold.

    Any contribution you make to a message board needs to keep this fact in mind. Posts that are clearly marketing-oriented and don’t add value to the discussion will quickly be deleted, and your account will soon gain a reputation as a spammer (if it isn’t outright deleted as well). Before you can engage in any marketing, you need to establish yourself as a valuable, contributing member of the community.

    • Post answers to members’ questions. The answer should not be, “My business/product/service.”
    • Ask questions that could help your business or your customers.
    • Comment on interesting posts and topics.

    Keep your tone professional and informative. The key is to brand yourself as an authority in your industry whose word can be trusted.

    Post Valuable Content

    Similar to your online marketing strategy, any content you post should be of value to the people looking at it. However, when participating in online communities, it isn’t enough to post a link to your business and ask members to visit. Such threads will be ignored, derided, or deleted. Remember that the only way members will react positively to your presence on the board – and go on to visit your business – is if you provide value.

    • Post links to news articles, blog posts, or whitepapers about your business sector that could be valuable to others. Establish your knowledge and professionalism before you start touting the merits of your business.
    • Many boards use a member rating system to assess each individual’s social stock. The more you post, the higher your stock rises. Some boards even enable members to rate the quality of each other’s posts.

    Build Relationships

    Small online communities are just that – communities. Communities are formed by relationships. You wouldn’t throw your sales pitch at everyone in your hometown town – whether in your office, at the gas pump, or in line at the grocery store – because people would soon start crossing the street to avoid you. Instead, you need to build relationships with members of your community that, once again, provide value to all parties involved.

    • Building relationships on forums is comprised not only of public discussions, but also via private messaging. Members use the board’s direct message function to expand discussions into other areas, offer and ask for advice, and seek opinions of respected members.

    Once you have established your presence on a forum, proven yourself to be a valuable member of the community, and built relationships with the board’s power players, marketing opportunities will arise: from referrals, to offers of partnerships or affiliate marketing, to appropriate occasions for self-promotion.

    Guest Author Bio:

    Megan Webb-Morgan is a business blogger for a variety of business blogs worldwide. She works for Resource Nation, a leader in the B2B lead generation industry.