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How to Use Groups & Forums to Market Your Small Business

Market your business by sharing your knowledge.

With the cacophony of noise online, how do you get the word out about your business and website? The answer is to be proactive and out there!

Site owners have to literally use everything and anything at their disposal to build awareness. You cannot wait to rank well enough for search engines to send you traffic. We all know relying on organic (free) search engine rankings alone is not a valid business plan *.

Email lists (How do you build that list without site traffic in the first place?) and social media are the first two things that come to mind for most site owners. But most stop there.

One commonly overlooked and underestimated venue is groups and forums. Yes, forums are still powerful to showcase your expertise and build awareness for what you have to offer. But, forums are also a great way to add to building your brand and being perceived as someone folks will want to work with — and trust.

But it takes time and only if done properly!

Be Helpful and Share

Let's get this out there right away! Using groups and forums doesn't mean that you post all about your business, how great you and your products or services are with links to your site.

Nor do you wait to stalk in the background for a segue to promote what you have to offer. For the most part, you will only mention your business if you are asked specifically by another group or forum member.

And then it's best to note for the inquirer to PM (private message you). This shows you respect the reason the group exists — to share and collaborate. Not for opportunities for you to promote yourself.

I hear you… “How is that marketing my business if I don't even mention my business?” So here are the 3 basics to start with:

  • Find groups and forums where you can share either your business or personal experiences. You want to participate in a way that helps others via sharing your experiences. By doing so you put your expertise on display while soft-selling your business.
  • Complete your forum profile with a photo of yourself noting what you do and why you do it to entice folks to visit your website.
  • Create a two line signature file that includes your name and your slogan that is a link to your website. That's it! No hyperbole, no long winded about you. No list of links to all your social sites.

Next, a few additional things to get in place and keep in mind as we participate.

Tips on How to Market on Groups & Forums

  • Make a note of the questions that get asked repetitively and then write an article solving that issue and add it to your blog. You can then link to that helpful article on your site from the group or forum when the question arises again.
  • Use a photo of yourself, not an avatar. You are the face of your business, don't hide that. Instead, let's members know you are a real person and humanize your interactions.
  • Select a forum username that reflects what you do. Think intuitive and professional! Stay away from informal or hobby-type names.
  • When responding, always start using the username of the person you are helping, preceded by the @ sign (@username). Most forums will then send that user a notice that there has been a reply to their inquiry.
  • Only mention your services or products in your response if they directly match what the group member is looking for. Then, make a very brief mention and link to your site for more details.
  • Refrain from posting generic responses that are thinly veiled excuses to mention your business or get your signature file posted. You are there to help, not promote!
  • Link to other sites and resources in your responses as well, so it's clear you are not there only to sell your wares.
  • You don't have to stick with business-only groups and forums. Instead, find forums that discuss your hobbies and non-business interests. Then, make a short and sweet (one sentence) mention of your business in your forum profile. People like doing business with people they know have grown to trust and have similar interests. You never know who may reach out.
  • Start your own forum on WordPress. There's BBPress and several other WordPress plugins. You also have a choice of other stand-alone CMS options such as phpBB, SimpleMachines, and VBulletin.
  • Last but not least, show your personality! With all the competition online, there is only one you. Use that to your advantage!

One more thing… All groups and forums have posted guidelines and rules that they expect all members to abide by. Seek those out, read them and live by them—no better way to lose credibility (or worse, get banned) than by ignoring the posted rules.

While groups and forums can help build awareness for your website, your brand, and your reputation, they can also help generate leads. As with anything online, this takes your commitment to build your profile and to show other members what you are made of.

Don't squander that opportunity by being too self-serving, aggressive, or sales-pitchy!

At your service,

WordPress Consultant Judith