If you aren’t actively participating in online forums you might want to carve out some time. Participating in online forums, such as those offered by LinkedIn, can help answer questions about running your small business and keep you up to date on industry trends. You also can get support and suggestions for the right tech products to buy for your specific business needs in vendor forums such as our Plantronics Sounding Board or connect with IT pros, as thousands of small business owners do, in small business tech communities such as Spiceworks.
Marketing your business is another area where online forums can help. They provide a great ‘meeting place’ to engage with customers and prospects to find out about their needs to help you better position and market your products and services. Many small business owners find opportunities for partnership and collaboration among forum participants.
Spending time each week to participate in forums may be challenging, but the upside is worth it. Make the most of your time by identifying forums that are in line with your small business. In addition to the communities listed above, you can find forums through a number of search engines, such as Boardreader, Omgili, and BoardTracker (currently under reconstruction).
Once you find forums that align with your business and your needs, here are some things to keep in mind:
Be clear about who you are: You get the most value when it’s clear to other participants who you are and what your small business provides. This is important whether you are seeking information quickly to deal with a crisis or asking a question about an emerging industry issue. Use your real name and consider adding your business information, including your website address, into your signature. Also use your own photo and not an avatar. People want to see who they are having a conversation with.
Engage: A forum or group is your opportunity to showcase your knowledge and give your company visibility. Share industry information and comment on other posts. Ask relevant or thought provoking questions and answer those that other forum participants pose. There are many forum participants who are more inclined to monitor a discussion than actively participate; every time you engage on a forum you are presenting your business to these potential customers.
Avoid the overt sales pitch: A forum is not an advertising channel. You want others to learn about your small business because of the information or insight you share. There’s no quicker way to lose credibility or incur the ire of other participants than by repeatedly talking about what you have to offer or offering promotions. If you have a special promotion, check with the group moderator about rules for making the offer. LinkedIn, for example, has a special promotions tab on its groups.
Reach out to individuals: Once you feel that you’ve connected with someone in a forum who might be a good source for a lead or a potential partner, reach out through the personal messaging system. Use personal messages appropriately to build a relationship or take a conversation further than you might in the forum.
Do you currently participate in online forums? Has it helped your business?