Saturday, October 27, 2007

Forums and E-Mail lists as a marketing tool

In case you haven't noticed, I do a LOT of online networking. I love it - I'm a bit of a homebody anyway, and online networking allows me to keep in touch with folks, talk about stuff I'm interested in anyway, and feel just a little less alone when I'm at home working in my pajamas.

But, the question one forum friend asked recently, can it bring me business?

Well, in my case, it has - just in the last three months, I've fielded about a dozen inquiries from folks I met on a couple of forums that I'm active on, several of which have turned into profitable jobs. The best part is that, since I was active on the forum and they'd been reading my opinions on topics that mattered to both of us, these folks had already checked out my work, often read my blog, and knew that I would be a good fit for them before they even called me - which saved me time prequalifying, and led to much more productive and interesting conversations.

So how do you do this? There are a few main points to consider:

Choose the right forums: the best forums for you are ones where a) your market is likely hanging out (you do know your market, right?), b) there's a decent amount of activity on the list, meaning that there are plenty of interesting conversations going on that you can jump in on, and c) the topics are ones that you can get interested in and contribute to.

Be active, be authentic, and be passionate: what's worked for me is jumping in on conversations that I care about and can offer something worthwhile to - whether it's about business, marketing, design, or even product/service recommendations. Sometimes, I'll even just step in and rant a bit. The point is to be real, show off your personality, and to remember that this isn't about a sales pitch - this is about connecting.

This isn't about a sales pitch - this is about connecting. Seriously - nothing will turn off a bunch of forum-goers sooner than coming in with this big sales pitch every time you join a conversation. Leave that for other marketing vehicles, and focus on the conversations at hand. The only exception to this rule: it's perfectly fine to do a quick "here's my company" intro e-mail when you first join a forum, it's fine (and actually recommended!) to do the occasional post if you get an award or some press coverage, and it's fine to offer folks a link to your site if they post a message looking for a product or service that you offer.

Have a good e-mail signature. This can not be stressed enough. Your signature should include the basic contact info (your name, company name, brief description), along with your phone number (if you want folks to call you), URL and blog URL (also if applicable). It should also contain a bit of info that makes it easy for folks to figure out what your company is and what they'll find if they go to your blog or site. My signature, for example, introduces my URL by saying "see a full portfolio at or read my thoughts on marketing, design, life and other trivialities at" By ending things this way, people read what I say, and then I've made it easy for them to know who I am, what I do, how to learn more about me, and how to get in touch with me. The quick "and other trivialities" at the end lets them know that while I'm passionate about what I do, I don't take myself too seriously. After all, I'm in my pajamas.

Don't be a jerk. It's fine to be passionate - great even. I swear to you that the most common times for me to get calls from forum members is when I've written really passionately about something - even when it's not related to my field. But badmouthing another member or being generally pushy, rude, or obnoxious is a major no-no, no matter where you are. Be passionate, but also respect the opinions of others. Don't, however, hesitate to speak your mind (professionally) if it needs speaking. Remember, casual doesn't have to mean unprofessional.

While forums and e-mail lists can be a great marketing tool, the important thing to remember is that this, as with all the marketing things that you do, should be FUN. The great thing about forums and e-mail lists is that it's like marketing that isn't really marketing. You're having conversations, making friends, developing community - and in doing so, you're helping your business grow in a way that should be natural, fun and best of all, organic.

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