Reddit: 7.5 billion monthly page views.
4Chan: 22 million unique users per month.
Gaia Online: 26 million members.
When was the last time you looked at a forum, message board, or link-aggregating site and thought about the great opportunity to engage with a new audience?
While the exact number of users, members, and page views for these internet communities is difficult to quantify without access to internal analytics, it’s safe to say the numbers are in the millions—and possibly even billions.
Those may be massive communities by any standard, but there are countless others with smaller user bases that nonetheless present a great opportunity for the savvy marketer. Just think about you could do with such niche audiences surrounding every imaginable subject!
Finding Relevant Internet Communities
A simple Google search for “ forum/reddit/community” will yield plentiful results for finding a specific audience.
Often even more specific sub-communities exist within larger communities. These are known as subreddits, sub-forums, and sub-boards — all of which offer further opportunity to connect with very niche audiences.
Getting to Know the Community
Getting to know the community you’re going to be interacting with is crucial. Hell hath no fury like a scorned, virtual pitchfork-wielding internet community. Once you’ve chosen a relevant community to participate in, immerse yourself in it before attempting to market anything on it. Failure to understand community nuances, habits, groupthink, and culture could lead to a highly public marketing fail.
Here are some basic dos and don’ts to keep in mind when expanding your marketing strategy to online communities.
Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t go around posting in tangentially relevant discussions, pushing your product or service. Even if your intentions are slightly veiled, users will find a pattern in your posting habits and be quickly to out you mercilessly as a self or brand promoter. You will be banned and alienate some of those users from your brand.
- Do participate in the community and provide legitimate advice and support on topics your brand is knowledgeable about or considered an expert in. Don’t push your product or services in your posts or you’ll have a swift meeting with the ban-hammer. Establish goodwill and a solid reputation with great advice that—wait for it—actually helps people!
- Don’t ignore users complaining about problems with your brand or service. These actually represent the biggest opportunities to show the community that your brand is listening and is responsive to customer issues.
- Do respond in a calm, kind, and professional manner — even to the most abrasive complaints. Keep a positive tone. Genuinely attempt to resolve the situation for the user. This is important no matter where the conversation is steered. If you come across as rude, unhelpful or uneasy, prepare to be virtually tarred and feathered.
- Don’t post a poorly disguised advertisement for your product or service and run away from it. This is a quick way to get banned as a spammer!
- Do post an announcement with useful information about a new product or service and invite users to ask questions (and answer them honestly!). If you engage rather than just do a hit and run, it will help build your commitment and credibility. Extra brownie points if you figure out how to leverage community input and feedback to make your product or service better.
- Don’t attempt to link-build. At all. Providing indiscriminate links to your own brand’s website will surely get you banned quickly.
- Do post a link to your website in your profile or forum signature, but don’t go around spamming links to your website or posting non-contributory babble just to spread your links.
- Don’t try to mention your brand or website everywhere you can. Be tactical and only do it when it’s going to help someone or provide some sort of value.
- Do offer valuable advice and help for users without promoting yourself or brand. This will build your reputation naturally.
- Don’t try to pretend to be a customer/user who’s had a good experience with your brand/service. Fake reviews and testimonials will reflect poorly upon you or your brand.
- Do represent yourself and your brand accurately. If you try to be too “market-y” or “sales-y”, people will dig up dirt on your brand. Trust me, you’ll receive criticism for it and probably get banned.
- Don’t ignore any public misgivings or past failings surrounding your brand. Pretending something bad didn’t happen will only make things way worse. Authenticity is the best way to polish your brand’s image.
- Do answer the hard questions. Don’t run away from questions or inquiries about less-than-stellar aspects of your brand or product. Answer them truthfully and in entirety. Hopefully, you or your brand is making a faithful effort to correct these inadequacies.
- Do read the community rules and guidelines. If you adhere to them strictly, you’ll also be able to get a feel for what is tolerated and what is not. When in doubt, go back and review them.
- Don’t assume you know how things work and do whatever you want. Be respectful and attentive to details. Remember, the ultimate purpose of a community is not to be selfish, but to be generally helpful and beneficial for all of its members.
Remember, these are real people sitting behind their screens — that is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a strategy to target these online communities.
Reaping the Rewards
If you manage to come across as reputable, honest, and authentic, you may earn access to a highly targeted and effective audience who might even become curious about your brand, thanks to your proven expertise and goodwill.
As is true most of the time, the best way to come across as having such qualities is to honestly embody them. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind before jumping in headfirst along with a careful, thought-out approach.
This may all seem very daunting, as there are a lot of details to learn, a ton of research to do, and things to keep in mind. But the time and commitment can be very rewarding if you’re willing to take on a little risk.
If you’re not sure how to navigate the world of marketing to niche communities, you can always reach out to the experts at Optimum7 for more tips!