The old-fashioned “forum” is (surprisingly) very popular with the automotive enthusiast community, even today. There are hundreds of automotive forums (big and small) devoted to specific vehicles, brands, or activities. There are also Facebook “fan pages” devoted to specific models or vehicle interests. These are online communities that – when leveraged correctly – can help you build your business.
Here are some tips for finding and then marketing your site/brand to these communities.
First, Find The Communities that Matter
One of the best tools you can use to find online automotive communities is Google.com:
- Start by searching for forums specific to a vehicle brand or vehicle model that’s relevant to your product. If, for example, you plan to sell steel bumpers for Jeep Wranglers, you can search for “Jeep Forums”, “Wrangler Forums,” or even “XJ Forums,” “Rubicon Forums”, etc.
- Don’t forget to search for forums by interest too. If you plan on selling your steel bumpers to Wrangler owners who like to go rock crawling, you can search for “rock crawling forums,” or get a little less specific and search for “off-road forums.”
- To find fan pages on Facebook, you’ll want to search for vehicle and brand names in the main Facebook search bar.
TIP: Once you find a fan page on Facebook that’s devoted to the Jeep Wrangler (for example), you can use the main Facebook search bar to find related pages. Just determine the exact name of the Facebook page (it should be the title of the page), then start typing “Pages liked by people who like [insert exact page name here]” and Facebook will suggest the the rest. This search will give you a list of similar pages that you might not otherwise find.
Next, Decide Where You Want to Focus
The dirty little secret of social media marketing is that “half-assing it” won’t work. If you want to just do the minimum, do not bother with this tactic*. Focus on something else, as the ROI will be much better.
*Seriously, don’t bother. This isn’t something we’re saying to try and motivate you, we’re saying this because you will waste time if you try to market your site/brand on social media without putting real effort into it. That’s because social media success hinges on authenticity. You have to genuinely care if it’s going to work. If you don’t care, that’s OK. There are plenty of other tactics you can work on.
But if you’re willing to invest some serious time and effort into marketing your site/brand on social media, the next step is to choose one or two communities where you think you can find the most success. Generally speaking, you want to look for communities that:
- Have hundreds of active members and thousands of total members. Most forums, for example, will list membership stats at the very bottom of the page. Take a look at the number of people listed, then compare that to what you see on threads. Are the threads getting lots of posts every day? Are the people posting the same folks over and over, or are their new names? Does it seem like hundreds of different people are posting daily or weekly?
- Have lots of comments on new threads and/or likes on new posts, ideally within a few hours. While it’s true that some forum threads (or Facebook page posts) aren’t going to get much of a response, this should be the exception rather than the rule. If you see lots of forum threads and/or page posts that aren’t getting a reaction, the forum or fan page is probably dead.
- Encourage businesses to participate in discussions. Some forums and fan pages have very specific rules limiting business participation. Others do not. Look for forums or fan pages where other businesses are responding or sharing, even if they’re not listed as official sponsors.
Finally, The Keys to Forum and Fan Page Marketing Success
The fundamental concept of social media marketing is pretty straightforward: Imagine you’re at a party, imagine your mom is watching you from the corner of the room, and conduct yourself accordingly. Don’t boast or belittle, don’t be gross or offensive, don’t be argumentative, etc. Be welcoming, gracious, helpful, kind, etc.
But here are some more specific tips to help you (and/or your team) be effective marketing your site/brand on a forum or fan page:
1. Focus on building relationships. Social media marketing is NOT about promotion or sales, at least not directly. It’s about making friends and influencing potential customers. Therefore, set a goal of making a friend on the forum or fan page every time you interact.
2. Be helpful. Helping people out is the BEST way to build a reputation on a forum or on Facebook. If someone has a question and you know the answer, share. Take the time to write out a careful reply. Take pics to show them how, etc. It’s the little things that people really love.
3. Be genuine. You need to be genuinely interested in the forum or fan page if this whole thing is going to work.
4. Be active. This seems simple enough, but a lot of companies fall short here. Don’t join a forum (or start commenting on a fan page) unless you can set aside time to do it daily. That way, if someone has a complaint or reaches out to you for help, you will respond in a timely manner that people will appreciate.
A Note About Company vs. Individual Accounts
When you join a forum (or create a profile on Facebook), you can do so as your official brand, or you can be yourself. Both approaches have their pros and cons:
- Signing up as an individual is usually free, and as long as you’re not overtly commercial about your company and what you do, you should be able to participate this way free of charge.
- Signing up as a brand/company gives you more gravitas, but it also usually comes at a price. People tend to give more respect to the official opinion of a brand than they might to the opinion of an individual, but forum owners (and Facebook fan page administrators) tend to demand payment if you represent your brand and participate regularly.
Generally speaking, we advise that you join the sites under your own name, and then be up-front about who you are and what you do. That way, no one accuses you of being a “shill,” and hopefully they’ll give your opinions some credence as well.
A final word of warning: use caution. We’ve seen countless examples of company employees losing their patience on a forum or fan page, and generally this hurts the brand. As difficult as it can be to communicate with strangers on the Internet (who can be abusive and rude), it’s critical that anyone acting on your behalf be mature and diplomatic at all times.
Still, if you are careful, strategic, and genuine, forum and fan page participation can be a great way to build a business. Good luck!