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How to Build Your Business With Discussions

by Michel Fortin

Bulletin boards, message boards, and discussion groups are excellent and often overlooked marketing tools. They can be quite effective because they help develop relationships with prospects and customers. From building customer loyalty to providing customer assistance, participating in group discussions or even moderating your own can help you build an excellent reputation with, and significant business from, discussion group members.

Similar to ezines, discussion lists are done through email. But the difference, however, is that subscribers may participate in the discussions as each person's emailed contribution is mailed to every other subscriber. On the other hand, discussion board messages are posted on a web page -- the top of the page being the most recent post. And the advantage of discussions boards over discussion lists is the fact that posts can be viewed by anyone.

Participating in these types of public forums is an effective and cost-effective way to build traffic. Not only are you capable of adding a signature file at the end of each one of your posts (the length of which depends on the group's guidelines), but you also have the ability to refer to key pages on your site  -- as long as they are relevant to the topic(s) discussed.

For example, I maintain an online article archive on my site at http://SuccessDoctor.com. During my discussions I often post links that lead to some of my articles as a way to back up some of my arguments or to offer further information. Not only does this help to keep my posts short and to-the-point, but it also gets people to visit my site if they wish to obtain more information on the subject matter or if they are at all interested in the topic being discussed.

Nevertheless, there are many topic-specific groups available on the Internet, ranging from interests to industries. And contributing ideas and articles to them are great ways to promote your expertise. For example, each time you participate in an online discussion you gain visibility and credibility for the few days that your message remains posted. But the key, however, is to participate in discussions in which your target market is likely to congregate. In short, hang out where your potential customers do and your posts will be far more effective.

Moderately Speaking
While participating in group discussions is an effective marketing strategy, moderating your own group can help you gather a lot of useful information, such as marketing research and customer feedback. For instance, surveys and polls can be easily conducted in your group, and clients can be invited to provide suggestions on how to improve your product or service.

Additionally, by holding a live, topic-related online conference (also known as "chats" or "chat rooms"), you can demonstrate your knowledge and establish credibility with an audience that has chosen to listen to you. Some even allow you to record a transcript that can be published and promoted. So first, you must find a forum or board where your target market is likely to congregate. There are quite a few online conferences and forums on the Internet. Here's a partial list of some forum providers with which you can start working:

     - Delphi Forums -- http://www.delphi.com,
     - Talk City -- http://www.talkcity.com,
     - BeSeen -- http://beseen.com,
     - Reference.com -- http://www.reference.com,
     - Town Talk -- http://www.dynapolis.com/towntalk,
     - Parsimony -- http://us.parsimony.net,
     - Annapolis -- http://avmcyber.com/forum,
     - MindSpring -- http://www.pipeline.net,
     - America Online -- http://www.aol.com,
     - Yahoo! Chat -- http://chat.yahoo.com,
     - Starting Point -- http://www.stpt.com,
     - Directory of E-Conferences -- http://n2h2.com/KOVACS,
     - NeoSoft -- http://www.NeoSoft.com,
     - The Globe -- http://www.theglobe.com,
     - Forum One -- http://www.forumone.com,
     - Inside The Web -- http://www.InsideTheWeb.com,
     - Dejanews -- http://www.dejanews.com,
     - Pathfinder -- http://www.pathfinder.com,
     - People Talk -- http://www.people-talk.com,
     - Suite 101 Discussions -- http://www.suite101.com,
     - Cyberforums -- http://www.cyberforums.com,
     - Community Chat -- http://communitychat.com,
     - iVillage -- http://www.ivillage.com,
     - ThirdAge -- http://www.thirdage.com,
     - ZDNet Forums -- http://www.zdnet.com/cc/forums.htm,
     - RemarQ -- http://remarq.com,
     - And CyberTown -- http://www.cybertown.com/clubs/forum.html.

Be my Guest
If you have found a forum in which you wish to initiate your own discussion or live conference chat, or one in which you wish to become the featured guest, first monitor the forum to get a flavor of what is being discussed. Verify previous topics so that you can choose one that's original and compelling to the forum members. Then start putting some ideas down.

Generally, forum administrators or discussion moderators will ask you to prepare a proposal for your own conference, or to email them a topic that you wish to cover. If so, express your qualifications on the subject matter. Include a recent article you've written that's somehow related to your proposed topic or expertise. Give a short profile with a list of credentials. Look at your proposal from their perspective. When you're pitching your idea, let them know that you're interested in doing a great conference that will, among others, help increase traffic.

If accepted, then prepare a short introduction as well as a list of suggested questions that the administrator can ask of you while active in the forum -- it makes it easier for them, and they'll appreciate that. After the event, get a copy of the transcript for your own use, edit it for style and professional appeal, and publish it in your various marketing efforts.

However, be careful. While the conference does handle itself quite like a verbal discussion, since it is written in an printed medium there are copyright and privacy issues that you must not ignore. When people type a question or a message, even if it's in a plain conversation, they're still the legal copyright holders of their messages. While you could simply omit their names, get their permission anyway -- similar to testimonials, names add credibility.

Ultimately, use discussion lists, discussion boards, online chats, and Internet forums to help build your traffic as well as your credibility. And the beauty of it all is the fact that you can do it right from your own home or business -- no traveling is required :)

[This article has been condensed in great part from "101 Power Positioning Tips For Turning Your Business Into a Powerful Magnet." See  http://SuccessDoctor.com/power.htm.]

About the Author
Michel Fortin is a consultant dedicated to helping businesses turn into powerful magnets. Visit http://SuccessDoctor.com to receive a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning." He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 90,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.

Tags: E-commerce and Internet



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