Because of the anonymous nature of the Internet people are generally more skeptical when it comes to doing business online. Owing partly to famous Internet scams sensationalized by the media and too bad personal experiences online, people are less likely to trust a party whom they’ve never met in person.
As an online business, you face the challenge of building trust and loyalty without the benefit of a physical handshake, a face-to-face meeting, or even a smile. To this end, online forums can provide an excellent way to build meaningful relationships with people and attract new customers.
By joining a forum in your area of expertise, you gain access to a community that shares your interests as well as a pool of potential customers. There are countless forums dealing with just about any topic imaginable. The vast majority of forums do not charge you a fee to register or post messages. Many allow you to include with your posts self-promotional “signatures” that you can use to promote your business and link to your website.
A good way to locate a forum relevant to your line of business is to do a keyword search using one of the major search engines. Why a major search engine? A Google search for “website marketing forum,” for example, will not only return dozens of relevant forums on website marketing but will also give you an indication of how highly they are regarded by the search engine giant, as gauged by how high they rank for that key phrase. Forums that rank higher on the search engine result pages (SERPs) are the ones of which you’ll want to become a member.
Forums allow you to share knowledge and gain a reputation as an expert in your field. Offering concrete advice that are immediately useful to other people is an especially effective marketing technique. Once you’ve gained credibility in your field, you will be sought after for your professional expertise without your having to promote yourself.
Participating in forums is also an excellent way to humanize yourself and your business. When people deal with you, they’ll know that they’re dealing with a real person, not a nameless, faceless business entity. By staking your reputation online, you demonstrate that you are willing to accept some degree of accountability for your actions.
If you’re a generally honest and agreeable person in the real life, there is no reason to hide behind a company name when conducting business online. The personal qualities that make you likable in the real world will also make you likable in cyberspace. Indeed, establishing meaningful relationships online is a lot like making friends in the real world. After all, on the other side of the terminal is a real person with real emotions just like you.
Another key to meaningful online relationships is to create an atmosphere of openness and transparency. Although you normally use a nickname to start and respond to posts in public forums, you should use your real name in private correspondences. It is good practice to begin your messages with a salutation, addressing them by their real name whenever possible. A little courtesy can go a long way in building loyalty and trust.
Apart from selling your personal qualities, you must have something of value to offer to people– and at prices that are fair to everyone! On a venue where your personal reputation is not at stake, you can price a widget for any amount you want and hope someone will come along and buy it. When you do business on forums, however, you must be extra value-conscious when pricing your product or service. If you overprice your widget, you risk receiving flames from other members that could harm your reputation. This is why it’s so important to research what other members are charging for a similar widget and to price yours competitively. Often you’ll end up charging lower prices to members of your forum than to other customers with whom you have not developed as close a relationship for the same widget.
Building positive relationships is about making people feel important. Just as you want to feel good for having sold your product or service, people want to feel good about having bought it. This is why it is so important to promptly answer their questions and attend to their concerns. Listen to their inputs and incorporate their ideas into your business practices. This is how you make your customers a part of your team. It’s not a stretch to speak of your customer as a member of your team. When you really think about it, no business can exist without its customers. Teamwork is not limited to interacting with other members of your company. It also takes teamwork to build a constructive, mutually beneficial relationship between you and your customers.