When I am looking to get the word out for a client, I often look at forums for inspiration, because I think the real conversations (since the pre-1995 AOL explosion), have always been on bulletin boards and forums. Forum users are loud-mouthed and honest and you can get a great idea of these things:
1. What they think about your product/site.
2. Which competitors they are choosing over you.
3. Their favorite sources of info (they quote liberally).
When I am in affiliate mode, I read these forums”
Digital Point, WickedFire, Webmasterworld, Sitepoint
The ones with RSS support get my attention first. The others, only when I have extra time, which is never. Before I wrote this, of course, I had to check and make sure the ISN’s forums had RSS, but, whew, they do, per forum. 😉
RSS was the ‘one-issue’ that I made sure I had when I set up my problogwriters forum (moderator needed, btw). There are only a handful of ways to achieve RSS forums for free, and SMF seemed the smartest, due to it’s beautiful integration with Joomla. Security breaches aside (I was hacked twice), this is still the solution I recommend to people.
But back to the topic at hand, forum users are influencers. I’d bet if you named off the top early bloggers, every one of them were forum users first. These people talk, and their ideas created a following.
As well, don’t overlook the SEO aspect. Do a search on a product, most likely you’ll get a forum (or several) in the top 10 results. These predominantly textual sites, much like blogs, are SEOed well by nature. If your product is great, you WANT it mentioned organically in forums. This creates a testimonial that is organically well placed SEO-wise and since it’s off your site, it is seen as user gen trustworthy. Of course, I stress I would NEVER suggest spamming a forum. This will almost always come back to bite you in the ass. If your product/site is crap, stay out of forums. If it is good, someone from your group needs to be in offsite forums on a regular basis with your link in their signature.
Don’t forget to use forums in your marketing push. Bloggers always talk about community. You won’t ever build a blog community that is as strong as a forum, even though some are close (think problogger.net) or any number of mommy blogs. The next post will focus on bringing the successful parts of a forum to your blog.