Where to talk to customers online?
(Hint: not forums or Facebook)
Before Facebook or Twitter was a blimp on anyone’s radar, you could in fact join hot debates, cry out for help or gain a following online.
These destinations were called forums or message boards and I remember them quite well.
It was early 2000s and I was in my school library sitting at a computer. As a car fanatic, I used to religiously check a certain website, an authority on news and discussions for everything car-related.
It was a car forum by the name of supercars.net. It was founded in 1996 (at the same time as the internet, actually) and reached its heyday at the turn of the millennium. Since then, however, traffic has been dropping off gradually.
Even though forums like supercars.net may be a dying breed, they still exist (and some keep going steady) when centered around topics that people care about. I can think of many forums that deal with everything from SEO to photography to certain brand of tractors as being particularly popular to this day.
But why the slow demise of forums? The reason is that a forum isn’t solving a modern problem anymore. Facebook and twitter became hubs of brand engagement and content sharing among the majority of the internet audience. Forums today survive only because users have built up valuable content over long stretches of time. This pages, in turn are valued highly by Google because they constantly draw a sizable chunk of organic traffic.
This is an attractive proposition to any company. Similarly, rather than following around what your customers say on social media, you can bring conversations on your turf first. Yet, a traditional forum can be a poor tool for the job. Here’s why:
Google knows everything
It’s no secret that most forums degenerate into spam-havens without moderation.
Did you also know that Google can penalize you for having spammy pages? That’s right — Google has an algorithm that can and will let the offending website’s page ranking slide down faster than a rock getting thrown into a lake.
Google even published a plethora of webmaster guides to help site owners familiarize themselves with non-offending best practices. In doing so, Google wants webmasters to avoid being negatively labeled for spam or worse yet, blacklisted for complete removal from its index.
To achieve this, Google will send you messages alerting you of spammy activities on your site. This can be due to two things: 1. User-generated spam content on your forums or blog / article comments 2. A large number of backlinks from negatively rated sites.
So unless you spend all day moderating your forum and building an audience, chances are you will not be anywhere close to achieving Wikipedia-like article quality and Facebook-like traffic flow. Not surprisingly, Google knows this, so tread carefully.
Learn how to get rid of spam
Spam is a necessary evil of forums of all shapes and sizes. If a website is well-visited and in good standing, spammers will naturally take advantage in order to capitalize on the good ranking given by Google and other search engines.
Loyalty -> good content -> participation
By encouraging customer loyalty, you can bring more value to your brand. For example, when you answer a question in your community, other users see it and are able to vote for answers or share their own opinion. This sort of transparency shows the brand in a favorable light and helps build a following of loyal customers.
There’s a flipside:
Quality user-generated content doesn’t just create itself. Brand communities require participation of company staff members (you) to survive. By providing your users multiple, easy-to-use channels to leave feedback, you increase the chances to communicate with your customers.
People are lazy
Everyone knows that people are lazy by nature. Internet users don’t want to read long walls-of-text and they’re not keen on writing long posts either. Site visitors overwhelmingly type in short spurts (certainly not in essay format, unless they have a point to make). When you look at blog comments you are consistently met with comments such as:
“Wow, really helpful! Thanks☺”
These comments don’t really provide much value, but they are usually the ones littering the majority of discussions that aren’t moderated.
All links must lead to your community
Communities need to be linked to be noticed not only by Google but also by your target audience. Here are some strategies to do just that:
· Try to reach out to as many sites as possible so that they can link to your community. Specifically, you should focus on linking specific community discussions.
· Whenever someone asks you a previously addressed question on social media, through a blog or any other medium, remember to link your community discussion.
· Link to discussions when communicating privately to your customers. This will not only save you time in writing out duplicate answers, your customers can also read about alternate thoughts on the matter.
Reach out to your user base
Announce your community in your blog and site landing pages. By linking to your blog on your high traffic pages, you increase the probability of that traffic trickling down to your community.
Sometimes you must spend money to attract the user base you need. By reaching out to your user base in Facebook or signing up for targeted Google Adwords, your community traffic can get a big boost.
Reevaluate your online presence
Sometimes you can easily engage with your customers on forums or social media — and sometimes you just can’t. If customer requests on social media or a standalone forum falls on deaf ears, it may be time to pull the plug.
Businesses need to weigh the resources of maintaining the page and the benefit it brings them. Many companies are joining the trend of closing down their Facebook pages and YouTube accounts due to a lack of engagement and traffic.
Helprace (http://helprace.com) is a customer service software to make your company the envy of your competitors. Helprace allows you to stay ahead of the curve with a feedback community centered around your brand. Helprace also offers a ticketing (helpdesk) system and a knowledge base to keep your company literature centralized.
For more information on our wide range of services & to find out how we can make your company a winner among your customers, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org