When I speak with clients about the need to listen to social media to know what people are saying about brands, products and services, most of them understand the need to monitor the most prevalent social outlets: what people are discussing on blogs, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I usually suggest that it’s also possible to monitor YouTube and Flickr (are people tagging or describing videos with brand terms?) as well as LinkedIn. Yelp and Foursquare are two other important venues, particularly for local businesses. But what about monitoring web forums?
Forums, you ask? You mean those old-school bulletin boards and message boards? The ones that grew up in the age of AOL and are frequently the platform for heated discussions (we called them flame wars back in the day – are they still called that?). According to Wikipedia, modern-day web forums first appeared in 1996, growing out of bulletin boards and Usenet electronic mailing lists.
It seems to me that web forums may be the front runners to what we now call social media. They are communities of like-minded people who engage directly with each another. Participants build trust with one another and rely on key members of the communities as authorities. One key difference is that in forums many participants assume aliases or screen names and in today’s social media most participants are transparent with their identities. However, forums still represent an important part of social media community management; therefore, it’s important to listen to the conversation on forums in order to create and maintain a comprehensive social media plan. Popular forums such as CNET, Gaia Online, Jalopnik and Gamespot have millions of unique visitors monthly, topping most blogs and websites.
There are a few ways to effectively monitor forums; it’s a bit more manual than setting up a Twitter query but well worth doing, given the volume of people you could potentially be listening to.
- Sign up for an account at boardreader.com, a forum/board aggregation service. You can setup queries by typing in a search (for a brand, product, category, keyword) and then selecting the “Show Tools” link at the top of the query. Your queries can be emailed or fed into an RSS reader so you can monitor them daily.
- Use GoogleAlerts to monitor discussions for your keywords or brand. Most people already have Google Alerts activated for their brand; make sure you’re receiving discussions as well as news, blogs and video and consider adding some alerts that are keyword-based vs. brand-based, if you haven’t done so already.
- Sign up for individual forums that are applicable to your community. You can often receive new posts in your RSS reader or via email; some forums software will allow you to subscribe to individual posts (to see followups), users, or keywords/topics.
- Use a comprehensive (read: paid) social media listening service such as Radian 6, Alterian SM2 or Sysomos. Make sure that the solution you choose does include forums and newsgroups; not all of them do. Boards are notoriously hard to pull into a listening tool because their structure (threaded conversations) is different from other platforms and many boards use proprietary software. Therefore many listening providers subscribe to boardreader (see above) or other aggregators such as omgili to do the heavy lifting for them, then they pull the results into their dashboards. Then you get to see everything in one place.
Are you using information gathered from forums in your social media strategy and planning? Are you engaging with forums participants to build your community? Please share your experiences in the comments.