Digital marketers are spoiled by the riches of robust data and analytics. Gone are the "Mad Men" days of ad creation based on a gut feeling, placed in a public setting and measured with guesswork from subsequent sales increases. Now we can measure real visitors, their actions on our website and the direct impact on our bottom line.
The problem with having all of this data at our fingertips is that sometimes we forget that there is still value in executing marketing efforts that don’t have immediately measurable results. When paired in conjunction with objective efforts, subjective efforts are still valuable for growing brand awareness (which of course is the foundation of traditional PR).
So what does this have to do with forums? Blogging in forums is a modern, disruptive way of native advertising.
What is Native Advertising?
Native advertising is the development of online content to mirror the platform in which it is published. Traditionally, this word is used to describe a paid blog/journal placement in a respected publication, recommended widgets within a piece of content or even lists that appear to be authentic rankings but are in fact promoted. However, native advertising can also mean unpaid content in places such as forums, so long as the intent is to blend in with the native posts.
If you were looking at native advertising based on traditional analytical principles, you might say it is a waste of time because there is not a direct call to action back to your website. But it is not. In fact, the best digital marketing leaders are on forums creating value added information everyday.
Native Advertising in Forums
Native advertising on forums, in particular, is writing thought bubbles, questions and answers, conversation starters or anything adding value really, on a forum in a way that blends in with the other content, but which is still promoting your brand. Some places that digital marketers are taking advantage of forum blogging include:
Blogging in forums means no immediate link to your website, no internal linking strategy, no company branding, no clear number to track your success. But you will find EVERY digital marketing leader doing it.
You can test that theory. Here are a few marketers killing it within forums by doing native advertising:
So What is the Return?
You may not be able to attribute the direct ROI right away. However, you will see results over time, such as:
Visibility: You are opening yourself up to be seen by anyone looking for information on that topic, from colleagues, to other influencers, to your target market.
Amplification: Forums are condensed search engines that create an environment in which it is easier for you to be seen and heard.
Connection: With a smaller, more targeted audience you are able to make quicker more personal connections within the topic you are writing on.
Creative Liberties: In a forum you are not limited by content strategies or brand guidelines. You can write based on your gut and this is where the real meat comes from.
Who Should Be Blogging in Forums?
Marketers should always “have their finger in the air” testing which way the wind is blowing. There is no industry that this is more relevant for than the rapidly expanding software as a service (SaaS) faction. Software companies are most often built lean to maximize growth and retention while minimizing efforts and startup expenses.
Finding the right channels to not only create possible new acquisitions, but also build awareness becomes an important part of the big-picture marketing strategy to effectively grow your SaaS product. Native advertising can gather relevant insights for all stages of customer development.
- Customer Discovery: Achieve Problem/Solution Fit – Concentrate on finding insights on how others might look at your product from an outside perspective.
- Customer Validation: Achieve Product/Market Fit: Concentrate on continuing customer research but also build authority and brand awareness.
- Customer Creation: Drive Demand – Look to start more engagement and better understand efforts that are creating the most value to implement into future native advertising strategies.
- Company Building: Scale the Company: Try to get more of the team involved in forums and teach them how to better engage based on past findings.
The Proof is Not Always in the Data
The moral of the story is that despite the lack of tangible ROI, there is still a lot of value in engaging in intangible efforts like blogging in forums. Whether you are an established Fortune 500 or a lean SaaS startup, you should have a healthy mix of marketing strategies and evaluate what is delivering best for your business.
Digital marketers are making connections, identifying potential client leads, and growing their authority within their space by blogging within venues that their customers are active – forums! And if you’re not already doing it, you should start today.
What is your favorite social forum? How often do you engage? Let us know in the comments.