Successful Affiliate Marketing With Online Forums

Posting to relevant online forums is a tried and tested way of successfully marketing a product or service you are promoting as an affiliate and remains a popular technique with people who are serious about their Internet business and establishing their online reputation.

Forum posting should be an integral part of your overall marketing plan.

Online forums are a type of social networking site, but unlike many such sites, online forums are places where people regularly participate.

Often this is two to three times a week and may even be on a daily basis. They ask real questions because they want a solution to their problem or they want to make a helpful contribution to the discussion taking place.

Why you should participate in online forums

As a marketer promoting a product or service as an affiliate, there are two main reasons for forum marketing:

The first reason for posting on forums serving the niche or market segment you are targeting is that your readers are already interested in your topic. They are a warm market, so there is no need to “qualify” them as you would have to with writing free reprint articles. Prospects from a warm market are much more likely to make a purchase than unqualified leads.

The second reason is that your signature can contain a link back to your website. This is the equivalent of your resource box in article marketing. Your goal is to get the prospect to go to your website. It is there that the selling is done, not on the forum.
Forum commenting to promote a product or service as an affiliate is free, but it does take time and some effort on your part as it must be done in a subtle way.

Each forum has its own rules and has an etiquette to follow. Most online forums are moderated. That means your post will

have to be approved before it is published. Overtly promotional posts are unlikely to be published.

Take a little time to view some potentially suitable forums to get a feel for them and check out their rules.

How to promote your affiliate product or service

Forum marketing takes time, not only to do, but also before you will start to see the fruits of your labours. The following five steps will set you on the path to forum marketing success:

The first step is to select one or more suitable forums in your niche.

It would be a good idea to only join one forum if you are just starting out in this type of marketing. You can join other forums when you have become established in the first forum. You will, however, need to follow the remaining four steps, but they will be second nature to you by then.

To find suitable forums, make an Internet search for your niche + “forums”. For example, “Type 2 diabetes forums”.

The second step is to sign-up and complete your profile.

Make sure your forum signature includes a link to your website. If the forum allows it, include a good photograph of yourself. Properly and fully completing your profile is important because many forum members will view your profile. Putting a face to your name will help you stand out from the crowd.

The third step is to introduce yourself to the forum.

Most forums will have an “Introductions” section, which is designed for this very purpose. Don’t just say “Hi!” or “Hello forum”, give it a bit of thought. Explain who you are and why you joined the forum (for example, to give and receive advice and offer assistance to other forum members).

The fourth step is to add value to the discussions in the forum.

You need people to notice you. You will need to post regularly for that to happen. If they notice your posts, it builds trust and they will also see your links. After you have created a great, informative topic or insightful reply, you will see your profile count grow and your signature URL clicks follow.

Establish yourself as someone that is there to improve the community.

Do not post unless you can add value to a conversation. This is where most people fail with forum marketing; they only post to get their links published. Spamming the forum will very quickly get you banned and all your posts removed.

The fifth step is to build up positive feed back.

Most forums have a feedback system. Give positive feedback to other posters. It will be reciprocated if your contributions benefit the forum.

Positive feedback helps to establish you as a reputable member

of the forum. Better still, if someone is looking for the product or services that you offer, they will come to you, over a new member with no reputation. So, don’t let this golden opportunity pass you by.

Don’t log onto a forum, make a post, and then stop posting just because you haven’t been successful in attracting visitors to your website. The key to successful forum marketing is to be regularly involved. Aim to post at least two to three times a week. This should start to build up your overall credibility.

Online forums are a good place to establish your expertise in your subject and to build a relationship of trust and confidence, not only with other members of the forum, but also with forum visitors. Adding value to the forum and receiving positive feedback help establish your good reputation.

People prefer to do business with people they know and trust and will follow the link in your forum signature. This, after all, is why you are doing forum marketing.

When the visitor reaches your website:

give them even more helpful information;
provide a cogent reason for them to join your mailing list; and
make sure you tell the visitor what you want them to do.
They may not buy the product or service you are promoting on this visit, but you can keep in contact with them by email to continue building your relationship with them.

Use your forum marketing to establish a relationship of trust and confidence,which your website and regular email communications further develops into a long-term relationship that benefits both you and your prospective customer.

Does Your Forum Suffer ‘Toxic Forum Syndrome’?

As a student of human nature, as well as a long-time forum member and owner, I am in a good position to offer some general thoughts (call it a rant if you like!) and guidelines regarding ‘net based forums. I guess I am as qualified as any to comment from the user’s side of the equation. Currently, I read or post to a least a dozen forums per day, some revolving around my line of work and others related to my hobbies and interests: fitness, health, bodybuilding, longevity, weight loss, audio-video, military, law enforcement, firearms-to name a few.

I can also comment from the owner’s side, as my two forums-Fat Loss Revealed and Bodybuilding Revealed-have over 10,000 active members. Not the largest forums on the ‘net for sure, but not small time either.

This article is not about how to market a forum to “drive” traffic or anything like that. Rather, this article is concerned with the culture of a forum, which directly impacts its long-term success. These comments are based on what I have seen and experienced, as both a long time forum user and owner, about the major downfalls and mistakes that ultimately lead to unhappy members.

Forum Culture

Every forum has its own culture. That culture always starts with the owner of the forum. It’s a direct reflection of what the owner does, or does not do, with their forums, such as the moderators (mods) they choose, how much power the mods are given, how much personal control the owner maintains, how active he is, and so on. The forum reflects the personality, values, goals, etc. of its owner. The “buck stops” with the owner of the forums, as he is literally the captain of the ship. As an owner, if you wish to run a successful forum long term, you should be on the look out for the following problems.

The Member Cabal

The member cabal is inevitable on any forum, but it’s not inherently a negative. All it means is that a group of long term “regulars” have formed their own clique. It can be a helpful, productive group that’s supportive of new people coming into the forum, or it can be highly damaging. It’s up to the owner of the forum and the mods to keep an eye out, and keep firm control over the member cabals that form. The type of cabal will be a direct reflection of the forum’s culture, which reflects on, as mentioned above, the owner of that forum.

“Beating up the new kid”

This is a logical transition from the above, because it usually, but not always, involves the member cabal. Many forums have a culture where every new person is “initiated” or generally hassled, simply due to the fact they are new to the forum. I recall one forum I visited regularly, which had a guy with an avatar that said something like “I sh&% on the new guy.” Mods, as representatives of the owner, should not tolerate this behavior, as-if not cut off early-it will only grow.

It’s the perfect way to assure a small group of people run the forum, and if it’s not prevented early on, the owner can literally lose control. New members looking to join won’t when they see the abuse, or else it will turn into one of those forums with a few active members and a bunch of lurkers, as few will actively participate due to the abusive member cabal. On the other hand, a friendly member cabal welcomes and accepts new people, and helps the forum grow.

On my forums, for example, my “regulars” are one and all friendly, helpful, and welcoming people. That’s because I have great mods, and make sure the forums are always going in the direction I feel they should, based on my overall guiding philosophy and principles.

The Moderator Cabal

Similar to the member cabal, but potentially much more damaging to a forum, is the moderator cabal. Again, it’s pretty much inevitable such a cabal will form when you have people working together, even if it’s a virtual work space. And again, there is nothing inherently wrong with it, but the owner of the forum needs to keep a very close eye on the moderators. Pecking orders, cliques, etc. will form, and unless the owner of the forum keeps a tight handle on his forum, it can quickly get out of control. I have seen forums where there was more drama behind the scenes with the mods than could be found on the forum! Like any office space-virtual or otherwise-the culture starts from the top down, so the owner must put time into the back end of the forum, as well as the front.

I know too many forum owners who have let their mod cabal essentially take over their forums, chase off members they don’t like, chase off, or generally harass, other mods they don’t like, and so on. The owner of any forum who takes a “hands off” approach will have a mess on his hands sooner then later. I spend at least a few hours per day on my own forums making sure they’re all running smoothly, supporting members and mods equally, and assuring the ship is heading in the direction it needs to, as reflected in the mission statement of the forums.

To finish my point, and continue with the ship analogy: big ships develop a great deal of momentum, so setting the course early, and making small adjustments, takes less energy and time than attempting to alter course once that ship has gotten it’s full momentum up.

“Mod as God” syndrome

As the member cabal section transitioned perfectly into the “beating up the new kid” section, the mod cabal transitions into this section. The “Mod as God” syndrome is, without a doubt, my personal peeve. It can be all the members of a mod cabal, or an individual, and it’s very destructive to any forum. This syndrome appears to start when a mod decides the section they mod, or the forum itself is their personal fiefdom. These mods often set different standards for themselves than for the members. Like the member cabal, they may insult, belittle, or generally hassle a member they have taken a dislike to, and if that member attempts to defend themselves or respond, the mods will ban them or use other penalties at their discretion.

This double standard is damaging to the morale of any forum and unacceptable behavior by the mod(s) in question. It’s also a very common problem on many forums where a mod has decided he or she has additional rights above that of the members, and their word is law, even if they are often responsible for the problems.

A similar issue is favoritism, where one member can say or “get away with” far more than others. Mods should be objective and fair; once they decide their word is law, they are no longer able to objectively carry out their jobs. Again, this comes about due to the owner of the forum not being the true overall guiding influence on the forum. The only word that is law on a forum is the owner’s-period. However, if the owner is not an active participant, and/or allows mods to abuse members, then sides with the mod (even when it’s obvious that mod is way out of line), he loses authority and credibility with the members.

The forum ultimately suffers. Productive members of the forum will leave, the cabals will stay and grow stronger, and the forum will cease to be relevant within its intended niche.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I have been banned from forums. A few times temporarily (though I will generally not return to that forum anyway), and a few times permanently. I’m not proud of that fact, but I am also not the least bit ashamed of it either. Whenever it’s happened, it was for one of the reasons I mentioned above.

Personally, I simply will not tolerate the “mod as God” syndrome as either a member of a forum or as the owner of that forum, and when a mod attacks me-or is clearly being biased or playing favorites-I will let them know it. I will not tolerate it on my own forums, and if I feel a member is right and the mod is wrong, I will side with the member. That has never happened on my forums, however, and that’s because I’ve stepped in long before it ever got to that point. I don’t put my mods in a position where they have to defend themselves, and they know I will deal with it well before that.

The members of my forums know I always take a fair and objective approach to the issue or dispute. It’s part of my mission statement, and is an essential component of a healthy, successful forum.

The Missing Mod Syndrome

There are also forums where you know there are mods somewhere, but you can’t figure where, or even who, they are. They don’t seem to do any actual moderating, don’t keep the forum running smoothly, and may show up to lock a thread after some flame war has been taking place for days or longer. These “hands off” mods and owners tend to end up with a ‘free for all’ type forum. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that if that’s what the owner wants and the members enjoy, and such forums have their own niche, but they are not for me and not what I recommend owners strive for. They are generally a big mess of flame wars, member cabals, and a waste of time for those people who actually want to talk about and read about relevant topics that such a forum pretends to offer.

Conclusion

One or more of the above pitfalls can produce what I call “Toxic Forum Syndrome.” The forum is sick and is in need of fixing. Obviously, prevention is always better than treatment, so it’s best to be proactive and “hands on” as the owner of a forum, rather than reactive. Members of forums will probably recognize the above categories from forums they visit regularly, which should help them decide whether to move on, or attempt to be part of the cure vs. the problem. I identified these problems over many years as a member and user of forums, so when I decided to start my own forums,* I was fully aware and prepared to avoid them. So far so good…

* = Access to my Fat Loss Revealed and Bodybuilding Revealed forums comes with the purchase of my ebooks under the same name.

Author Bio

Will Brink is an author, columnist and expert in the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences.

His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media , MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Exercise For Men Only, and numerous others.

Effective Online Forum Usage

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
- Herbert Simon

Online forums, message boards, and newsgroups are now ubiquitous. These powerful communication tools offer many strong benefits. However, forum participation can also become a destructive addiction, where the benefits are overshadowed by negative side effects.

Here are some potential benefits of regular online forum participation:

* Intellectual exchange

* Learning new ideas and refining old ones

* Enjoying community membership

* Influencing the forum’s evolution

* Contributing to others

* Making new friends and contacts

* New business leads

* Keeping up with current events

* Learning about new opportunities

Here are some potential negative effects of excessive forum usage:

* Reduced concentration and focus

* Reduced productivity

* Chronic procrastination

* Increased pessimism and/or apathy

* Being distracted by endless debates and idle gossip

* Gradually substituting tribal group think for your own intelligence

* Impaired social skills, neglected relationships, and a weakened social circle (a consequence of substituting online socialization for face-to-face conversations)

* Reduced energy (forum participation is sedentary compared to more active social outlets)

* Reduced self-esteem

* Career and income may suffer (including loss of employment)

* Forum addiction

Since the early 1990s, I’ve participated in many different online forums, message boards, and newsgroups and have experienced many of these positive and negative effects at various times. I ran a popular game developer forum for almost two years, so I’ve had experience both as a participant and a forum operator. On the positive side, I’ve learned many great ideas, made valuable new business contacts, and even met my wife on a local computer bulletin board system. On the negative side, I found excess participation to be a huge time drain (and very addicting as well).

Here are some suggestions for using forums effectively and avoiding the negative side effects:

1. Take a Forum Fast

First, if you’re currently active in any forums, go on a forum fast. Stop visiting all forums for a while; don’t even lurk. I recommend a fasting period of 30 days, with a bare minimum of 14 days. This will help you break any unconscious habits and regain your perspective, so you can intelligently evaluate the role forums should play in your life. Otherwise, you may be coming from a place of unconscious habit and will likely overestimate the value of continued participation. If you’re currently a forum moderator, take a forum vacation, and enlist someone to temporarily assume your moderation duties. Redirect the time you would have spent in online forums to something positive like exercising or reading books. If you don’t think you have the discipline to do this, simply make a post in each forum explaining that you’ll be taking the next 30 days off, and if any forum member catches you online, you’ll pay the first person that emails you about it $100. This should give you enough leverage to stick with your fast.

2. Reassess Your Forum Usage Habits

Once you’ve completed the initial fasting period (and not before), take a fresh look at your forum participation habits. Imagine that you just discovered each forum today for the first time. What are the pros and cons of participation? Is this the best use of your time, or can you imagine something better? If you’re using forums to get specific information, would it be better to simply read books, articles, or blogs? If you’re using them as a social outlet, would it be better to join a local club and meet people face-to-face? Looking back on your previous pattern of behavior, would you say you were addicted? Did your usage pattern become unconscious? If so, how do you intend to prevent that from happening again?

3. Clarify Your Expectations

If you decide to participate in online forums, clarify your expectations. Whether you intend to use forums for market research, to make new contacts, or as an outlet for your humorous wit, get clear on why you’re there.

4. Establish Reasonable Boundaries

To limit the risk of forum addiction, set clear boundaries for yourself and write them down. You can limit the number of times per week you check each forum, the total amount of time you spend participating, or the number of posts you’ll allow yourself to make each week. Track your weekly usage on a scrap of paper to keep yourself consciously aware of your participation habits. Don’t go dark and succumb to unconscious habituation. Establish clear boundaries such that if you cross them, you know you’re at risk of falling into a pattern of addiction. And if that ever happens, it’s time to immediately begin a new fasting period.

5. Let It Go

If you find yourself repeatedly succumbing to forum addiction or other negative usage patterns, you may decide it’s best to simply do without. At the time of this writing, I no longer regularly participate in any online forums or message boards. When I clarified my intentions, I realized my #1 reason for participation was to contribute and to help people. But using forums as a contribution outlet was inefficient, since it would too often lead to lengthy (and mostly unproductive) debates. I found that sticking with one-to-many outlets like writing articles and maintaining a blog were a much better use of my time. Blog comments still allow some interactivity, but the time required to manage them is reasonable and the personal relevance of most blog comments is extremely high.

6. Replace Online Socialization With Face-to-Face Contact

Regarding the social aspect, online forums are a poor substitute for meeting people in person. While there’s certainly some social benefit to forums – many people have met their spouses in online forums, including me – it’s important to physically spend time with human beings instead of via a computer screen. If you need a new social outlet, join a local club or association, especially one that meets weekly. I found that when I joined Toastmasters International and began attending meetings and competing in speech contests, my interest in socializing via online forums fell dramatically. Even the best online communication pales in comparison to face-to-face, belly-to-belly contact.

7. Be a Dabbler, Not a Fixture

Another tip is to treat forum participation as temporary. If your goal is to make new business contacts, then dive in and participate actively for a while, maybe 30-90 days. Make new friends and contacts, collect private contact info, and then abandon the forums. Continue to develop your new relationships via one-to-one communication like email, phone calls, and if possible, face-to-face meetings (such as at industry conferences). Temporarily dabbling in many different forums is a more effective way to build contacts than pushing a single forum far beyond its usefulness.

You can also use the dabbling method to gather general information on a subject. Seek out a number of relevant forums and bookmark them. Then spend a few hours scanning each forum once every six months to soak up the current wisdom. Whenever you have a specific question, pop in and search the forum archives. If searching turns up a blank, feel free to post a new message, harvest the answers, and disappear.

8. Avoid Addiction

Online forums are tricky beasts. At the time of this writing, my feeling is that ongoing daily participation in any single forum for more than a few months is almost invariably unproductive. Eventually the initial benefits like gaining knowledge and making new contacts produce diminishing returns. And then the negative effects like forum addiction set in. Regular participation (even from unconscious habituation) will still provide some benefits, but the longer you participate, the less efficiently those benefits are realized.

Close cousins of forum addiction include online gaming addiction, web surfing addiction, blog addiction, email addiction, and news addiction. The common pattern is that unconscious habituation overrides conscious, clear-headed decision-making. If you ever find yourself with such an unproductive habit, take steps to reassert conscious control. Use a period of fasting to regain your perspective, reexamine your motives, set clear boundaries, and find alternative outlets. Manage your forum usage consciously to serve your goals, and avoid the trap of addiction.