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A rant about forums

So a large part of our social engagement activities at Ironman 4×4 are based around getting involved with communities online. In the 4×4 industry there are a couple key areas in which I’ve found people to gather. Facebook – especially in Facebook Groups and Forums.

Forums and why they are great

For users these forums can be a great resource for learning, knowledgeable advice (if you pick between all the false and miscommunicated info) and excellent ideas. They provide a community of people all with similar passions, objectives and in the case of the 4×4 industry, vehicles, a place where they can share and communicate their experiences.

Now obviously forums have become a good place for people to sell products – and also provide post purchase support, which is where many companies have gotten involved and joined these communities. In my opinion,
this is fantastic for the forums, as it provides a greater knowledge base and greater interaction between the users and the brands from which they’ll likely purchase from – not 10390003_10152504130601096_7679525818402816515_nto mention the fact that many users report issues publicly on forums before contacting the manufacturer for help.

Unfortunately Forums are increasingly starting to see barriers to entry for businesses. I completely understand why Forums are doing this – to decrease spam and make a few bucks, but unfortunately it also limits the quality of the users across Forums – and thus the overall value of the forum to users.

Background

To give a bit of background, Ironman 4×4 is currently involved in some 90 forums internationally and 86 Facebook groups. That’s a lot of different message boards, many of which aren’t as regularly frequented as others. Now of these forums, we only have two we are financially active on and these 2 forums are none-vehicle-specific forums which produce the overall greatest volume of engagement (they combined create about the same amount as all the other forums combined), but they also provided a model which gave us proof of concept. We were involved in these forums for a number of months before we decided to become financial members, and the reason we did this was mainly as a way to improve communication with users on there forums, i.e. so we could use Tapatalk and get more private messages stored. There was no push from these forums to enforce us becoming financial, it was more of a volunteer freemium model – something I’m a big fan of.

To the rant

So as I’ve stated, I’m not against paying for something that’s providing us with value, but there do need to be some checks in place.

I’ve recently come across a number of forums, all run by a single individual and being positioned to businesses as a network – awesome I congratulate them on taking the initiative in organising and getting this happening. But unfortunately this network also bars all businesses from being involved within the forums (even if they afrustrated guyren’t actively selling anything and are just there to service/help it’s users) unless they want to become financial. Now as stated I’m not against being a financial member, but there is a great cost when forums become financial (especially when we operate over so many) if they all required you to be financial the overall cost would be obscene!

Now to make matters worse, this networks’ pricing is significantly higher than any of the other forums we are involved in, and I’m talking even the two that provide over 50% of our conversations! I’d love to be involved in their communities and help their users, but how do I justify such a premium expense on forums that a) are unproven and b) have significantly less involvement when I can contact the same audience through other channels i.e. other forums and FB groups and significantly less or no cost.

Personally I think some forums have an over inflated sense of their value.

So I pose this question. How do you measure of justify paying for involvement in a community where you aren’t directly selling a product? It’s a core branding question at heart, but where money isn’t limitless there needs to be lines drawn.

This Index comic really represents what I believe a non-financial businesses involvement on forums can be:
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