Your customers hang out online in forums, groups, and communities, but you aren’t sure how to reach them. Just telling people about your products makes you feel sleezy – you didn’t go into business to spam people, but to help them. Even thinking about searching out your customers creates anxiety in the pit of your stomach: you fear being banned or worse: alienating potential customers.
But what if online communities could be a fun way to get excited & happy customers instead?
Forums are a great channels to engage with potential customers and get the word out about your business
For a bootstrapper, it is a very attractive option because it is a very low cost way of attracting people. It can take significant time investment, but pays off very well in the long run.
Posting in places customers hang out tends to get a bad reputation because the most common thing I see are owners posting unhelpful information about their business – which is exactly what we want to avoid. Posting links and advertisey information will only hurt you.
But, doing it the right way is a powerful and useful thing. Combined with a strong product, a good content strategy, and website optimization, it can easily outperform many other strategies over the long run.
The right way to participate on online communities
The first rule of thumb is not to advertise directly – if the forums allow signatures, put your info there instead of just creating posts talking about your product – those are sure to be flagged as spam.
What I would recommend instead is getting involved in the forum as a helpful member, and directing them to your solutions when it makes sense – especially if you have other info on your site which can help them.
For example, say you sold products to help people save for retirement. Imagine someone posted to a forum something like “Hey, I want to invest in property X for retirement. Is this a good idea?” You might respond with something useful – a few common things to look out for, and then say “you know, I actually wrote an article about this – how to get started with real estate investing for retirement (with link).” This would get them to your site where hopefully you can convert them, or at least start a dialog.
The real secret here is that you won’t be able to link back to your site or product with every posting you make – and you shouldn’t. When you invest honestly in improving an online community where your customers hang out, they will want to be supporters and customers of yours. This is how you can build strong customer loyalty, trust, and a network of people helping your business succeed.
It takes work, but it will give you an edge over competitors who only use traditional marketing methods.
Let’s start your community sales funnel now
Let’s try it out – get started with talking to your customers directly right now. Don’t put this on a to-do list for later, or think to yourself how you really should try it out – take action.
As in all my articles, these actions steps will only take you a short 15-20 minutes and set you on the right path.
Complete the following steps – some you may have already done during customer development, research, or because you are interested in your market, but do them now anyway.
- Search out an online community where your customers hang out. For this exercise, don’t spend too long trying to find the “best” place, any one will do. Common places might be online forums, facebook, linkedin groups, or industry associations.
- Once you find one, join the community, and use your real name as your username. Browse the first page or two of discussion, and find one in which you have something useful to contribute.
- Since this is your first time here, read the entire thread carefully, and add your own advice. Don’t link back to your site at all at this point, just try to be helpful.
- Smile to yourself: you helped another human being!
That’s it for today! By intention, no sales will come to you from this interaction, but, you dipped your toes into the water. Come back to this place a few times a week and contribute honestly. If there is an opportunity to add your site and sales pitch to your profile or signature, do so.
The final tip is to be consistent. Over time, people in the community will come to trust you and recommend you to others, thus creating a network effect for you and your business. Once you feel comfortable helping in the first community you find, invest the time to find places where more customers hang out, and try to frequent one or two places a week to give helpful advice and spread the word about your good work.
Like this post? You might also be interested in my work in progress, Bootstrapping Growth, a guide to sustainable growth for solo entrepreneurs.