Even with your best disguise, it’s difficult to get away with being an imposter on a forum.
For some, link building with forums is setting up pseudo-profiles and starting conversation threads, perhaps dropping a subtle link to their website if and when the opportunity presents itself.
You might even to be to stick around and inanely comment every time you can, hopefully hanging around long enough to stick a link in your forum signature.
Even when done with the best intentions, you’ll stands out like a sore thumb and rile a few of the locals. Whereas you might get away with it once or twice, it’s really not a sustainable tactic, nor does it do you any favours with communities you really could do with getting on your side.
It’s easy to spot imposters and the backlash you face when you’re caught out isn’t nice — believe me. Here are a few less-spammy tips for using forums in your online marketing efforts.
N.B. These tips assume you’re not already knowledgeable in the subject of the forum
Repurpose popular forum content
This tactic errs more on content creation than link building, but they’re two sides of the same coin, so here we go.
Forums are amazing places in terms of the expertise people share.
The lengths and detail at which people go to help each, debate problems and resolve issues is incredible, especially given the people have rarely connected in real life.
One thing you can do relatively easily is mine this knowledge for your own content.
Forums are the perfect place to start if you’re looking for content inspiration.
Try searching for your head terms and related terms in the forum. What you want is the posts that have had the most input and have provoked the most discussion. When you get your results then, refine the search by ‘Replies’.
(Most forums have the option to sort by replies and views. If not, you’ll have to scan the threads manually.)
It’s a good idea to cross reference the topic on a number of similar forums. Usually this gives you a breadth of opinions and tid-bits of advice to include in your created content.
If the topic hasn’t been mentioned on one forum, then there is scope for reaching out to the community armed with what you know so far and ask for advice.
Once you’ve finished your research, you can let it guide your content.
Reach out to high profile members
Forums are a great place to reach out to people who know about your market.
If you’re working in a difficult niches, finding appropriate figures of authority to try build relationships can be a bit tricky.
High profile forum members are prime candidates here.
Whereas they might not have Hollywood-metrics in terms of Twitter followers etc, they’ll know the industry you’re working in better than anyone.
You might want to ask for their feedback on content you’re developing, interview them on your own site or simply pick their brains about the industry.
There’s no need for any smoke and mirrors here; just be honest about who you are.
Robert Kozinets has spoken at length is his book Netnography about the important of being completely honest when researching using online communities for market research or any other purposes.
If you decide to lie or mislead people about your intentions, you risk your own and, worse, your client’s reputation.
You’d be surprised how receptive people are when you’re upfront.
Encourage client use
One, perhaps obvious (and quixotic) point to suggest, is to actually use the forum in the manner it is intended to be used by the client.
The cop-out here is normally: (a) ‘Where am I going to find the time?’ and/or (b) ‘What am I paying you to do?’
The question is, why wouldn’t they want to get involved? If you really care about your business and industry, why not try invest you’re own time in one of its online communities.
“A consultant is someone who receives the business goals from the client, but then they communicate the strategy back to the client, and say, “What we’re hearing from you is this is what you want to achieve, but in order to do that we’re recommending that you pursue these different methods, which we’re going to help you with or maybe we’re going to actually bring on different resources or we’re going to help manage resources within your own organization and staff this project.”
If your role is as a consultant and then you should encourage your client to grow their own presence wherever their market is online, not simply in forums.
You can hold their hand at first, with a view to letting them stand on their own two feet one day.
As I say, perhaps this obvious and dislocated from reality. Still, it would be nice…