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How Forums and Discussion Boards helps B2C Ecommerce Platforms

There is to each and every ecommerce community based marketplace site such as Etsy, Artfire etc. something ineffably grand, perfect and ambitious about the idea of ‘Dedicated forums and Discussion boards.’ Ecommercemix’s Etsy clone have garnered the attention not just because of their exceptional ecommerce marketplace turnkey solutions but also because of their dedicated ecommerce forums and ecommerce specific discussion boards. More often than not, sellers and customers find themselves increasing entranced by the features of such forums. There is perhaps a hint of camaraderie that customers and sellers share with one another. To all intents and purposes, this camaraderie may blossom into an intense and an affectionate collaboration. In this article, I will try my best to make you all understand the breadth of implications of having an active internet forum thoroughly complemented with a discussion board.

What exactly is an Internet forum or a Web forum?

An internet forum is a discussion space or a discussion area. Owing to the umpteen changes in internet slang, internet forum has been rechristened as “Virtual community of online users.” The concept of ‘internet forum’ has spawned the idea of ecommerce forums and dedicated discussion boards. While some ecommerce proponents affectionately call ‘forums’ as ecommerce message boards, some other enthusiasts hedge their bets on the appellation ecommerce bulletin boards. Internet forums differ from typical blogs. Blogs allow only the admin/content writer to post content. Viewers may just comment their opinions in Comments section.
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However, internet forums or web forums allow all registered users to post content. Separate conversations are called threads. By the way, here is an interesting fact- Forums are as old as internet. Ecommerce forums predate the advent of ecommerce in developing countries such as India. In economically developed countries such as USA, ecommerce forums are at-least as old as ecommerce industry.

Why Forums?

According to PostRelease, a US based content marketing company, one in every five Americans use forums to discuss the pros and cons of various products of various brands. In other words, Americans use forums and discussion boards to recommend products. In developing countries like India where orthodox marketing practices are already a dying breed, internet forums and discussion boards have started finding their feet in the realms of digital marketing. It is estimated that 64% of women rely on recommendations posted by registered users of various forums and message boards. In e-commerce segment, these figures are on a higher note.

Reddit, known commonly to the digital population as ‘The front page of the internet’ is a renowned web forum.  It isn’t astonishing to see many e-commerce business owners maintaining dedicated subreddits to garner the attention of target audiences for all the right causes. If you haven’t read my detailed case-study on ‘Reddit’, I humbly invite you to read it here. ( A small business ecommerce store generated $70,000 in less than 30 minutes using Reddit )

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PostRelease, the US based content marketing firm claims that nearly 40% of ecommerce business owners look to reach customers by marketing their products on forums. E-commerce growth hackers who are blessed with a creative bent of mind and a high level of empathy uncover insights and formulate solutions required to meet the needs of all registered members of dedicated ecommerce web forums and discussion boards.   

Some forums boast of an impressive roster of insanely active users. Some forums have a rich legacy of over ten years. Reputed search engines such as Google, Bing Search, Yahoo Search reward users’ generated content by featuring the content on their very first page of search results.  Considering the intellectual length and breadth of dynamic business environments, it can be safely asserted that web forums and discussion boards are the ultimate masters of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).   

Exordium- Where to start and how to start?

As your niche is more or less related to ecommerce industry, you obviously hate posting content on forums related to banking, financial services, baking etc. Thus, it is all about identifying the right forums that can positively impact your ecommerce business. You can take the help of dedicated forum hub sites such as Board Reader, Big Boards, and Board Tracker. vBulletin is a renowned forum software platform. All these hub sites provide a list of hundreds and thousands of forums. Narrow down the list to ten potential forums that are worth your time and efforts based on the following criteria:

  • An active forum will have at-least 1000 registered users.
  • A good forum will have a lower minimum of 10000 posts.
  • A genuine forum gets at-least fifteen posts on a daily basis.
  • Avoid forums that are biased. In other words, avoid forums that are run by your direct competitors.
  • Avoid forums that are run by spammers.
  • Forum shouldn’t be too small.

Note: We use PHPBB3 forum software to power our eCommerce forum.

If you already have an active Facebook group with thousands of members, you can even embed the Facebook group inside your eCommerce store and people can become active on it – all happens inside your website. Contact us to get this customized to your existing platform.

The next big step

You will undoubtedly be tempted to get yourself registered on the forum. However, as an experienced ecommerce growth hacker, I suggest you to resist the urge. Spend the next couple of weeks to see if the ecommerce forum has all the afore-mentioned desiderata. Carefully identify what the registered users are posting. Identify the posts that are going viral. If your heart says that this particular forum is for your greater good, perform the following steps:

  • Create an account: Create an account without any further delay. In other words, register on the ecommerce forum and become a member. I am a member of various ecommerce forums. I have observed that seniority plays a vital role in many forums. In ecommerce forums, customers and registered users solicit the advices of senior members. A few ecommerce forums may place a few restrictions on new members thereby preventing them to post genuine content. I proudly assert with immense certitude that our forum (Please mention the link) places no such restrictions. We grant every registered user a few privileges. 

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Here is an important point- Pay close attention- Be professional and act professional. Choose a professional user name. Don’t use puerile usernames such as Terminator@XXX, Hunger Games@123, etc. Use your professional names such as Steve@growth_hacker, Watson@ecommercemix etc. Fill in your expertise with minimum words. Don’t be verbose. Provide links to your industry specific works. Remember, links to your industry specific (niche) works are striking testaments of your expertise. Internet forums and discussion boards are permanent marketing channels. It is wise to be in your wits. Hence, choose a user name that is easy to remember and easy to pronounce. Offensive profile pictures and controversial snaps are best avoided, both in the interest of the forum and your company.

  • User agreements and forum-specific guidelines: As an integral part of user registration, you will be asked to abide by the rules and regulations of forum. Lengthy pointers may force you to skip the detailed guidelines. Here are a few wise words of counsel- Do not skip the agreement guidelines. Look for the following pointers:
        1. Can registered users place links in their posts?
        2. Should registered users pay any premium?
        3. Are commercial and business oriented posts allowed?
        4. Can small players promote their ecommerce businesses?
        5. Are forum veterans given any special privileges?
        6. Can registered users communicate with one another?
        7. Are there any restrictions imposed on a specific niche?
  • Complementary information: To earn the approval of registered users, use a good tag-line. In many of my ecommerce profiles, I use this tagline- An abode of bliss. Taglines should be catchy and witty. Do not share any sensitive information such as your religion, political affiliation etc. However, you may provide your contact details such as email id, mobile number, blog url etc.

You may also share your interests such as favorite past-time pursuits, opinions on diverse non-sensitive topics etc. Remember, a lot of spammers may exploit your contact details and indulge in untrustworthy activities. It is thus suggested to share only the needful. Do not overdo.

  • Introductory posts: Contact the administrator of the forum. Take his permission to post some introductory content. More often than not, a team of vigilant volunteers will act as moderators. You may take their assistance too. There are a few threads with titles such as “Say Hi here”, “Beginners hub”, “and Welcome new users” etc. Introductory post should be a brief write-up on your ecommerce business. Do not post the same content which is already present as a part of your profile. The first few days can be a bit of an ordeal. Without subjecting yourself to too much scrutiny, post a few sentences on your ecommerce business expertise.
  • Valuable contributions: Resist the urge to post marketing content for a few weeks. Spend the first two weeks by contributing decently to the forum. Provide incredibly brilliant answers to the queries of registered users. Prompt responses will be appreciated. The answers you provide should earn the vote of confidence and vote of trust of registered users. If everything seems to be in fine fettle, it is only a matter of time that you can establish yourself as an influencer. Let ‘Trusted expert’ be your sobriquet. Remember, even a slightest tinge of biasedness in your initial posts will tarnish your image. So, stay informed, stay calculative and stay smart.
  • Importance of a forum signature: Forum signatures are blocks of text and images. Embed your website’s perfect landing page’s ideally sized image. While most registered users use the space allotted for forum signatures for displaying favorite quotes and links, there is nothing terribly wrong in following the trend. Initially, use the allotted space for displaying your favorite quotes. Once you become a trusted expert, pleasantly surprise your legion of customers with your new avatar which is an ideal blend of your ecommerce business profile and your company’s website’s perfect landing page image. Stay away from abusive images, flashy images and controversial images.
  • Distance yourself from the drama: Heated arguments will eventually reach the next level and transform into heated debates. Distance yourself from all unimportant posts. Accept criticism only if it is more or less related to the content that you have posted. Otherwise, ignore. Use smile emoticons when you are jovial or casual. If the discussions are getting contentious, do your best to placate the audiences. Move on to pleasant topics. Adopt a positive perspective that opens up a wind for a good sense of humor.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the essentials and ecommerce forum-etiquette, let me detail out the next ecommerce forum-marketing steps that you have to take at the earliest.

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Sponsorship opportunities:

E-commerce forums often offer sponsorship opportunities that depend on the size of the forum and the number of registered users. Sponsorship opportunities run from a modest $10 to an overwhelming $500 per month. If a particular ecommerce forum is in the good books of a good chunk of online population, sponsorship figures may touch $1000 per month and even more. One has to definitely think twice before investing in sponsorships. Do not commit to a sponsorship without weighing the pros and cons.   

Finding new leads in forums:

After you get the first paying customers, insist them to spread the good word. “Referral marketing” will thus trigger profitable returns.

Sell products on forums:

Big forums generally contain classified sections such as “Buy/Sell/Trade.” Once you establish yourself as a trusted expert, you can convert your dedicated sub-forum section into a transactional marketplace. E-commerce forum owners can charge 5-10% amount obtained from the complete sales converts. If you are looking for a longer stint, you may promote your products catalog. Come up with special pricing feature and lucrative deals and post the same on the forums.

Win-Win strategies:

Rely on win-win marketing strategies. For example, you may offer deep discounts to the members of a particular ecommerce forum. But before running such discounts and special offers, take the approval of forum owners and moderators. Otherwise, consequences will be too hard to imagine.

Note:

Every customer who buys our marketplace scripts – Admire ( Lite (single vendor), Multivendor, Digital marketplace software and mCommerce platform ) will have access to dedicated discussion forums. We have integrated ‘Dedicated Discussion board’ module into our marketplace scripts. Multiple sellers can thus maintain their profiles and address the issues of customers. Similarly, customers can either recommend a product(s) or criticize a seller for his/her poor service. 

Here is a piece of advice- If you have a huge customer base, launch your own forum. Alternatively, you can reach out to our team and we assure to design a feature-rich forum for you. You may contact Steve on +1.302.525.8125 or drop a mail to steve@ecommercemix.com. 

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