The Value of Forums
There are literally thousands of online forums that cover a wide range of topics. Forums provide individuals, who share a common interest, with a meeting place for open discussion, and a great gathering spot for "water cooler" talk. When used properly forums can be an excellent business tool and resource. By providing well thought out, helpful responses posters can develop a reputation as an industry expert. Establishing a reputation within forums will eventually lead to solid business contacts and relationships.
Forums, online discussion groups, can be found on many websites. Companies, individuals or groups often have their own web-based forums, which are a good source of technical information or just general discussions. They can be closed for private use only or open to anyone to post messages, which are usually sorted within different categories, or topics. Posting to forums is obviously effective when an immediate answer is not required. Forum can be found by searching for topic or subject with the word 'forum' or 'forums'. Forums are a great way to participate in a community that is discussing a particular topic, or communicate with a group of people interested in the same topic.
Rules & Regulations
Before you post to a forum its important that you read the Charter or description of the forum and determine what is appropriate. It is probably not a bad idea to monitor a newsgroup for a few days prior to posting. Understanding what is accepted or not accepted in each newsgroup will go a long way in befriending the participants.
Spam is generally frowned upon, if you require information on general forum etiquette I'd encourage you to read the article at: http://www.small-business-software.net/etiquette.htm . Rules and etiquette can vary from one group to another, so don't assume what is acceptable in one, is acceptable in another.
Some forums require that you register and provide contact information in order to post a message or respond to messages. The registration is typically simple and requires that you submit general information. An email confirmation is required in order to confirm the information; once the confirmation is responded to posting privileges are granted. Some forums do not require registration and you can post anonymously.
What to Look for In a Forum
Because time is valuable it is best to frequent forums that have a lot of traffic, this will ensure that any posts receive maximum exposure for little effort. The most recent posts should be have current dates and it should be clear that there is regular activity on the board.
Some forums are moderated, which means posts are approved prior to being made public. This means that if you post to a moderated forum, there will likely be a delay between the submission and the posts appearance in the forum. Moderated forums tend to have a lower 'noise' ratio and have less off-topic posts. The downside to moderated forums is that like moderated newsgroups they are usually less popular because of the lag time between posts.
Most newsgroups allow for posters to include a signature on any posts. This is your opportunity to mention your products and services. Use this as an opportunity to tell other forum visitors what you want them to know. Be sure to provide an url to your website, as the link will not only refer potential clients but it will help search engine ranking.
Forums can contain generic information or be very topic specific. Try the following resources to find forums that meet your needs.
Forum Directory - http://www.small-business-software.net/forum-directory.htm
Forum Directory - http://www.forumdirectory.com
Forum Search - http://www.forumsearch.tk
About The Author
Sharon Housley manages marketing for NotePage, Inc. http://www.notepage.net a company specializing in alphanumeric paging, SMS and wireless messaging software solutions. Other sites by Sharon can be found at http://www.softwaremarketingresource.com , and http://www.small-business-software.net