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How useful is an online forum in building a personal brand?

Forums can be especially useful if you are working in a knowledge-related field and selling products or workshops. Set up a forum for each product or workshop where users/ participants can discuss what they have learnt and ask questions. You then have four decisions to make. Whatever model you choose, the value of a forum comes in three ways.

An interesting question came up the other day on a forum I belong to, which was "how useful are forums in building your personal brand?" This was very timely as I’ve recently been taking quite an interest in how professionals can build a brand based on information and information products.

Forums can be especially useful if you are working in a knowledge-related field and selling products or workshops. Set up a forum for each product or workshop where users/ participants can discuss what they have learnt and ask questions. You then have four decisions to make.

  1. Will you moderate posts or not? Moderating posts lets you vet comments and questions before they become public. Not moderating them creates a more open and trusting environment. It shows you’re not afraid of feedback, and lets you address points that only one person may make, but many may be thinking.
  2. Will you allow open access, or will you restrict who can join? A restricted forum becomes part of your product – it has a value because of its selectivity. At the same time, however, it will be hidden from the search engines and from casual viewers of your site. It will grow your brand equity among those people who are already your customers, but it does nothing to communicate your brand to new prospects. An open forum, on the other hand, will show up on search engines, and give new people an insight into your business
  3. Will you participate or not? Is the forum a mechanism for your customers to interact and learn from each other? Or is it a mechanism for them to have access to you (or one of your staff), ask for clarification, get more knowledge, etc. If you participate it provides yet another channel for you to show your knowledge and skill. In an open forum you should use this to help past users but also to whet the appetites of prospects: be careful not to give away everything! In a closed forum you can be more open because they’ve already paid, and this is effectively ‘post sales support’, but again be thinking about the up-sell to a more advanced product or workshop rather than just giving it all away
  4. Will you use a packaged 3rd party forum service, like Yahoo groups, or will the forum be part of your site? Packaged services are easier to set up and maintain, but tend to have a very regulated format and you can’t brand them visually. A forum can be built into your site quite easily by your web developer, and gives you much more control over the layout and content, but of course involves a set-up cost.

Whatever model you choose, the value of a forum comes in three ways:

  1. It gives you a showcase for the value of what you do. Clients will discuss what they got out of your products, and how to get more. Even if you have a closed forum, this provides you with valuable knowledge for your sales and marketing, and a source of leads that you can follow up for detailed testimonials and case studies. Look for people who have been particularly successful using your products and ask if you can use their story to help others understand the value of what you do
  2. By looking at the questions and comments in the forum you’ll discover what people find most valuable and least valuable, what is most confusing, whether they think too much or too little time or space is devoted to particular topics, etc. The forum effectively becomes your R&D tool for future editions of your products
  3. If people are regularly requesting a particular piece of information or service that they think is missing, consider turning it into a separate product. That way the forum becomes an R&D tool for future products too

1 Comment

  1. make your own Facebook application easily!

    I learned about this through the Mashable blog post:
    Widgetbox – home of my own blidget (which allows you to embed a blog widget of my recent posts) has created a simple Facebook application builder: The App Accelerator.
    Whatever you can …

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