How to Use Community Forums to Fuel Your Audience Engagement Strategy

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Engagement marketing is becoming an increasingly complex, yet critical task for modern businesses and organizations. Every form of marketing today—from mobile to direct mail—requires an in-depth understanding of your audience if you want to engage with them and stand out.

There are several ways for you to discover the insights you need. You can evaluate your data or survey existing customers to figure out what your target audience needs or you can go to the places where they’re already sharing this information—community forums. Community forums are one of the best (and most commonly overlooked) channels that provide marketers with an invaluable, and often free, pool of queries and topics of interest. 

By being proactive and taking advantage of the expanse of users and information on forums, you can transform the way you engage with your prospects and customers. Here’s everything you need to know to get started on integrating community forums into your engagement marketing strategy: where to turn, what to look for, and how to use your new insights:

1. Take Advantage of All Available Forums

There are three kinds of forums, and all are extremely valuable for market research: major forums, niche, and company forums.

Major forums are useful for evaluating a massive, diverse audience and spotting large trends. Niche forums are much more akin to customer surveys, but on a larger scale. Utilizing both sets of forums in tandem will yield the most effective data to implement change in your customer acquisition strategies. Let’s dive into a few major forums that you can glean insights from:

Quora: A Bank of Questions that Need Your Answers

Quora is a social forum built around a Q&A functionality. It is free to sign up, however there is a massive emphasis on valuable content that is managed by the Quora community through an upvote/downvote system. To date, DMR Digital Stats/Gadgets reports that Quora answers span over 400,000 topics, and the site’s forum engagement has scaled to over 80 million unique visitors per month. Due to its Q&A structure, Quora is a great resource for finding out what your target audience is confused about or having issues with.

Quora

Reddit: The Front Page of the Internet

Reddit is a massive forum and is making a very compelling shift towards the business sector with a buzzing and information-rich BusinessHub. Reddit is the 32nd most popular website in the world, according to Alexa, and has a vast pool of content and highly informed users. This allows businesses to conduct market research on a very diverse group of people, over a wide array of subjects, to find the right influencers and gauge the best topics to engage their audience.

Reddit

Yahoo!: The Most Popular News and Media Site

Alexa reports that Yahoo is currently the 5th most visited site in the world. While it’s known for its email services, Yahoo is also a popular search engine, news source, and Q&A platform. In fact, Yahoo Answers has been around since 2005 and accounts for 4.5 million unique monthly visitors.

SEO

Yahoo also provides Yahoo Groups for users to join in on more niche topics. The overall volume and depth of content on Yahoo allows marketers to compare over a decade of content to find trends, while still researching the needs of current active users.

LinkedIn: The World’s Largest Professional Network

LinkedIn is a powerhouse in the B2B sector—with a website rank of 16th in the world and users totaling 400 million, according to Alexa. Focused entirely on business, LinkedIn’s users can provide valuable insight into any industry.

LinkedIn Groups are also extremely popular and give members the ability to find content and connections in their unique industries or niches. Due to its largely professional membership, LinkedIn and its groups can provide quick and easy research on your prospects and customers.

After you have a general sense of how to engage with potential customers, start tracking forums that serve your specific industry or niche. Niche forums are much more akin to customer surveys, but on a larger scale. Utilizing both sets of forums in tandem will yield the most effective data to implement change in your customer acquisition strategies. Where major, general forums can inspire content ideas and engagement strategy to increase your customer base, niche forums can provide the insights to help make your brand a true thought leader in your space and deepen engagement with your audience. Think about who your target customers are and the right niche forums to find them on. 

Below are some examples of niche forums for specific audiences. If you do not see one applicable to your industry listed below, The Biggest Boards maintains an active list of forums and online communities in just about every category.

  • City-Data: The City-Data forums are home to all kinds of discussions based on physical locations, which makes this a great resource for real estate professionals or any brick and mortar business that is invested in the local community.
  • Stack Exchange: Stack Exchange is a compilation of 130 mini Q&A sites. It’s widely known as the largest community of programmers, with 26 million professional and novice programmers congregating there every month.
  • Insurance Forums: As the name implies, Insurance Forums is an insurance community, bringing together more than 72,500 registered members around the insurance industry and how to succeed in it. You can use the “Forums” drop-down to find the exact topics you are looking to research, such as long term care insurance or retirement planning.
  • /r/nonprofit: Reddit’s subreddit /r/nonprofit is great for news, trends, and questions regarding nonprofit organizations. To find more specific information, use the search bar in the top right and make sure to focus your search just in the /r/nonprofit subreddit.
  • CNET: CNET has you covered on everything tech-related. With a forum for nearly every product and every major brand, CNET is a bounty of information for tech industry leaders. You can find the forums section of CNET in the footer of the homepage.
  • SportsHoopla: This forum is very straightforward and easy to use. It clearly differentiates college and professional athletics, and hosts separate forums for each major sport.
  • myFICO: myFICO’s forum has excellent organization on topics for financial services professionals, covering broad and minute topics from credit questions to loans and personal finance discussions.
  • Education Week: Education Week is a one-stop-shop for news, research, data, events, and forums for education professionals and enthusiastic parents.

If your company has its own community forum, peruse it for valuable insights from your very own customers. And if you don’t, it’s never too late to get started on building your customer community. The Marketing Nation is Marketo’s community for digital marketing practitioners to share their knowledge and thought leadership, learn from other like-minded marketers, access community-based support, and most importantly, help us shape our product roadmap by contributing to our active ideas section which has over 400 customer ideas that have been implemented.

2. Look for the Right Things

Once you’ve decided where to start, jump right into your research by searching for your industry.

If the site doesn’t have a visible search bar, you can use Google. In a Google search bar, type in “site:” followed by the URL of the forum you are using, and then the keyword you want to search for—like your industry, product, or band name. For example, “site:quora.com digital marketing” will display a list of pages on Quora that match the search “digital marketing.”

digital marketing

You can also look for tabs like trending now, topics, read, top stories, or other tabs that are relevant to your industry. Browsing more general topics, in addition to searching for specific terms, will help you find prospects who might be so new to the industry that they don’t use the “right” terms yet or those who are looking for your solution in the wrong places.

Once you have found relevant posts or questions, take note of the following things:

  • Questions: What questions is your target audience already asking about your industry or product/solution? Take special note of any trends that stand out and try to pintpoint at which stage in the purchase cycle certain questions seem to arise.
  • Common misunderstandings: Are there common misconceptions of your brand, product, or industry?
  • Recurring words/phrases: Identifying these commonalities will help you understand how your audience thinks about your industry and interacts with your brand. Even if some of the terms are not technically correct, using (and correcting, when necessary) those keywords will help you communicate.  
  • Opinions about your brand: Find out what your existing customers like and don’t like about your processes, products, or services. (And resist the urge to start defending your brand to angry dissidents.)
  • Opinions about your competitors: What does your target audience like and dislike about your competitors’ products or services?
  • Influencers: Who motivates conversions in your niche? Who do buyers look towards to influence their purchase decision?

3. Integrate Your Research into Your Campaigns for Better Engagement

The data you’ve gathered from scouring relevant forums is actionable, so apply it to your marketing strategies to better reach and engage your audience. These are just a few channels you can integrate your insights into:

  • Email marketing: A better understanding of what your audience is asking at each stage of the funnel will help you create more engaging email marketing programs. Tweak and personalize the content in your automated email campaigns to address specific questions or misunderstandings that are relevant to your audience’s needs and buying stage.
  • Content marketing: A list of real questions and common misunderstandings is a great resource for planning your content marketing plan around. You can also reach out to new influencers you discovered for features or interviews.
  • SEO and PPC: These will be closely tied to your content marketing efforts, but pay special attention to recurring words and phrases that your audience uses. Then, use them strategically in your ads and throughout your content to attract organic and paid clicks you’ve been missing.
  • Social marketing: In addition to promoting all the new content ideas you’ve developed, use your social marketing platforms to influence brand image in light of new insights about your audience’s opinion of your brand and your competitors. What can you magnify and own, and what might need correcting?

You also may need to update your buyer personas in light of some of this new information. Are your customers really who you thought they were? You might be surprised. Make sure to update those profiles so you’re targeting your audience better moving forward. And don’t forget to share your new insights with the rest of your team like sales and customer service. All of your marketing, throughout the entire customer lifecycle, can all be improved by a better understanding of your target audience.

Learn More About Your Audience Today

Community forums are an often-neglected gold mine of data and audience insight. Too many marketers struggle to create effective marketing personas or create content and ad campaigns that really connect from scratch, when the insights we need are right at our fingertips. The best part is that you don’t need to clear your calendar to get started. Just choose one forum that fits your audience, do a quick search, and see what you discover. The possibilities are endless.

Have you already started looking through community forums to discover what your audience is interested in? I’d love to hear what insights you’ve found in the comments below!

 

 

Liz is passionate about creating successful customer advocacy programs that highlight customer success in her role as Sr. Customer Community Manager. In her four years at Marketo she has been able to use customer advocacy through community engagement to help the organization’s goals of decreasing support costs, decreasing engagement barriers between customers, building our customers' personal brands and increasing the creation of product ideas among our customer base.

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Strike gold! Community forums are a gold mine of insight into what your target audience really wants.

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