Blogging and mainstream social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube get all the attention these days. What about good ol’ community forums?
Community forums have been around a lot longer than the newer social media channels. Some even consider it the original crowdsourcing platform for content. Traditionally used as customer support tools by manufacturers and industrial distributors, the discussion threads were primarily text-based. However, the more modern incarnation of community forums support rich media content, file attachments and social sharing options.
According to a survey done by GlobalSpec (Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector – 2011), 33% of industrial companies provide an online discussion community for customers, and 32% provide one internally for employees. (See chart)
Blogs have great search engine optimization (SEO) benefits that community forums will have a tough time matching. However, blogging is labor-intensive and creating a constant flow of new content has proven to be a hurdle for manufacturers and industrial companies.
A community forum overcomes this challenge because new content is user generated. Community members ask questions relevant to their needs, seek answers from others like them, users express their opinions and experiences with your industrial products, teach and learn from one another. This kind of user-driven content that focuses on them and not on the manufacturer is the very essence of social media marketing.
How do industrial companies benefit from a community forum? By listening carefully they can get a much closer understanding of their customers, how they use and feel about their industrial products. This kind of market intel is invaluable.
Blogs are supposed to provide the same kind of market intelligence benefits but posts usually have very few comments if any at all, making it hard to get a good read on the readers. This is because studies have shown that industrial professionals tend to be passive users of social media (they like to consume content but rarely comment or generate their own content).
Similar studies have shown that engineers and industrial professionals prefer more peer-to-peer interactions for work-related purposes. Community forums are perfect for these kinds of conversations. “Ask an Engineer/Expert” is a feature that is found on many industrial websites.
Niche blogs written by in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can be just as effective. For a good example of this tactic, see Indium Corp.’s “From One Engineer to Another®” blogs.
Community forums have their own drawbacks too. They are:
- Requires a large number of members actively participating in conversations. Smaller industrial companies may find it difficult to build this large following. Instead, consider starting a group on LinkedIn with a focus on your niche.
- It does require someone/team from the company to moderate the forum to prevent abusive language, personal attacks and outright SPAM. It will require some amount of labor.
- Topics and posts are centered on the needs of the community and are not optimized for keywords and phrases. The company (you) may not see any direct SEO benefit from a community forum.
Examples of industrial community forums
Let me give you two examples of very active industrial community forums. I’ve written about both these companies in the past and how they are successfully using this social media channel to connect with engineers and generating high quality leads for sales. Click on the links to read more details.
- Element14: The company behind this social community success story is Farnell (part of the Premier Farnell Group), a UK-based distributor of electronic, electrical, industrial and maintenance, repair & operations (MRO) products and Newark, their U.S. distribution arm. See How a Global Distributor’s Online Community for Engineers Pays Rich Dividends
- TI E2E™ Community: Texas Instruments (TI) Engineer to Engineer Community Forum. See Content and Social Marketing: Connecting and Engaging with 10K+ Engineers
Building a community forum is one of the content marketing tactics that you can use to move industrial prospects and leads through their buy cycle. You will find six more such practical content marketing tips by downloading my free white paper 7 Content Marketing Tactics to Sell Industrial Products.