5/16/2009

Part II: Online Community Forums, Engaging the Audience

Online community discussion forums transcend the everyday social dynamic. Forums allow people to come together to share their interests, experiences, insights, discoveries, needs, gossip, without the social awkwardness inherent with typical social gatherings. The internet affords a certain anonymity or subterfuge, if you will. Individuals of all ages, from all walks of life and all corners of the world are free to engage on another in discussion at all hours of the day or night without fear of being reproached.

The most significant factor that distinguishes a discussion forum, at least the really good ones, from other social media outlets is the focus on a specific field of interest. What are you interested in and how precise do you want to get? Think about the automotive industry, for a second. How many automotive brands are there and how many lines within each brand? Well, there is an community of enthusiasts for every brand of car and every extension of the brand. Let's take the BMW brand, for example. You have the 1, 3, 5, 7, X, Z, M series and variations therein. The more niche oriented a forum becomes the more highly focused the audience and the more specialized the information.

Much of what you find on the more heavily trafficked sites will be groups of extremely knowledgeable enthusiasts eager to share every possible minutiae of information about their interest. Now, of course, just like in any group, there will be some that know very little about a whole lot. With out fail though, the amount and depth of your knowledge will be exposed in short order. But, for the most part forums can be gold mines of information.

Enthusiast groups play a couple of key roles as an audience. They are both captive and willing participants? For what, you might ask. The automotive industry figured out a long time ago that some of the big online communities could be fertile grounds for product feedback. This allowed them to engage their consumer directly and determine what features needed to be modified, added or removed. The forums provided them direct access to valuable real time information.

For the casual user, online communities provide a vast wealth of information. Ask and ye shall receive. For those looking to position a brand, forums are the mother load. What could be better than having a broad section of your target audience all gathering in one location? The trick is figuring out how to communicate with them, what appeals to them and how do you gain credibility in their eyes? For well known brands this is easy, but for lesser known or new brands this can be a time consuming challenge. A line I like to use is, it's a marathon not a sprint. Far too many companies expect results over night. You really have to be patient and smart. Be creative and offer incentives to the audience. What benefit is there in your brand? How will their experience be enhanced through the use of your brand? The right place to start is with a consultant or agency that has cut their teeth in the trenches of the industry you are looking to gain recognition from. Ask the right questions of the right people.



Go Full Throttle Media! Share the experience, sell the dream...
FTM
Seth Horne

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