Newsgroups, forums and bulletin boards. They go back rather a long way in the ancient history of the Web…some as far back as the late 70′s and early 80′s, like the WELL (born out of the Whole Earth Catalog days.) And they remain a key place of conversation and opportunity for engagement.
Yet marketers often overlook them. Likely because those using them have guarded them well as a place for people, not companies. Although some companies have done well. For fans of Anne of Green Gables, production company Sullivan Entertainment has done very well providing forums for Anne fans. Mostly because they clearly understand the value of the newsgroups. While they may monitor them, they stay away from always trying to upsell – but rather wrap the forums access with merchandise. They built a brand following, long before blogs, Social Networks and Twitter popped onto the scene.
Forums, newsgroups and bulletin boards can be excellent sources of information. Sources that 98% of “reputation monitoring” services don’t cover. Gaining access in an automated fashion (i.e. through an API) is not always easy either.
But these social media channels are very active to this day and perhaps the least untouched and least touchable, by marketers. If you’re a marketer looking to push your product, tread gently. Protocols are strong in newsgroups and aggressively enforced.
As we do research into Social Media use, we spend a fair bit of time in these channels. There’s three key things I’ve taken away from spending many an hour validating our search results in them;
1. They are a channel that marketers have had little true success in. They are a place to truly have a conversation with your potential or current prospects. To do otherwise will end up in tears.
2. They are a very rich source of insights for public relations practitioners, product managers, researchers, sociologists an marketers. Perhaps a much undervalued one.
3. Not all online spaces are susceptible to marketing and public relations activities. When people just want to socialize, they can and will, make a place of their own.
A fairly decent free monitoring tool is BoardTracker; although not comprehensive, it does a pretty good job of digging into these channels. No reputation management tool has yet been able to conduct an automatic crawl however, and due to the technology, it may be a while yet. Our mediasphere360 is about as good, but manual validation and review remains vital.
So next time you’re planning for Social Media engagement, having a look around newsgroups and forums; you may be quite surprised at what you uncover. Good and bad.
(Author: G. Crouch)