The problem with most social media marketing agencies is that we’re fickle. We tend to keep rushing into the future, adopting anything and everything hot and new and overlooking the rest. In our constant hunger for the latest and greatest, we have mostly abandoned working class heroes like forums and message boards, preferring exciting new money to boring old money. But isn’t any kind of money good?
Unlike Friendster and MySpace, these message boards are generally privatel -held and heavily sponsored. They’re also pretty well monetized, from offering membership levels to running raffles; from placing in-line textual ads to being framed by banners. Additionally, most of the more popular forums have over 5,000 active users and have been online for well over half a decade. Since they’re not tied to Facebook or MySpace, they’re safe from the fickle tide of funding or popularity. These forums don’t care about what happens at Facebook, they only care about whether they can pay their escalating server and bandwidth fees.
What’s even better is that forum application developers such as vBulletin have hungrily adopted all the best parts of all the blogging platforms, publishing frameworks, social networking services, microblogging platforms, photo sharing sites, and social graphic services. It’s pretty amazing how comprehensive and mature these message board suites have become.
How do I know this? About a year ago I picked up a new hobby: shooting sports. I knew nothing about it but I knew where to go: forums and message boards.
There has been a real renaissance in both blogs and message boards because of social media and the ability to share, cross pollinate, and make easy reference to not only boards but to threads and replies. Most message boards have adopted all of the modern conveniences offered by blogs, including RSS feeds, email reminders, email updates, social media share buttons for Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and others.
Additionally, if you happen to visit a message board or forum using your iPhone or Android, you’re likely to receive a pop-up that lets you know that there’s an app made especially for your device that will allow you to easily and simply read, post, and share on that online community site.
Mobile devices today can not only read and post to message boards but also help you discover other boards and forums. Mobile has opened up ease-of-access via smart phones, Androids, iPhones, iPads, and tablets. Not only that but access via mobile devices strips ugly advertisements, garish color choices, and a plethora of in-line and banner ads.
And if you thought that blogs are like catnip to Google organic search then you need to explore the prevalence of message boards and forums in the top results of their respective topics. This is important for several important reasons: first, it seems to me that while message boards and forums are still powerful platforms for sharing, conspiring, debating, and alerting, forums have gone out of favor among the digerati.
Unfortunately, if you look at the sort of topics that have popular forums, they’re generally not at the social media cutting edge, they’re less meta — social media about social media about social media — and more practical: What caliber should I get in my first hunting rifle? What protein supplement should I buy for my CrossFit obsession?
Even though these may well be places where you can just pop in, look around, and find what you need without even registering, they can also be decades old, and all associated protocol and terms of engagement must apply. These are tight communities and if you don’t know much about virtual communities and message boards, they’re real families and the mothers and fathers of these communities are the owners, the uncles and aunties are the members with the high post counts. And, you really should take post count and join date very seriously, too, because message boards and forums are one of the few places in today’s anti-anonymity Internet that still encourages being who you are while also protecting your identity.
How message boards became a nightly ritual
My first return to message board was RimFire Central because my first pistol was a Ruger Mk III “678” Target. At that time, I was maneuvering clumsily via their web interface. It felt antiquated and it was tough to sort out my latest posts or responses I needed to engage. Later, after getting my first Glock, I joined Glock Talk via my iPhone and it offered me the ability to download OutdoorHub, the sponsored app for GT. It opened everything up for me because it became as easy to track new content, unread posts and replies, and engage both via the boards or via personal message from one single place.
However, I soon wanted to read Rimfire Central the same way. And local shooting boards like Maryland Shooters Forum and VA Gun Owners Forum. I then discovered Tapatalk, an app for my iPhone that does cost $4.99 but is well worth it. I just checked and Tapatalk has an app for the iPad, Android, Blackberry and Chrome. The only thing it doesn’t have is iCloud support, which supposedly is in the works — so all the boards I am registered with on my iPhone don’t translate over to my iPad.
Then, after I got to know Tapatalk better, I started exploring their Network directory of cataloged forums available and discovered and joined other shooting sports communities, including The High Road Forum, Remington Owners Forum, Elsie Pea Forum, The Original CZ Forum, Defensive Carry Concealed Carry Forum. Now, over time, these communities have become a rightly rite, and I have accrued 431 posts on Glock Talk. And, to be honest, nobody has really paid any attention to me at all on Glock Talk until now and I am really hoping that I am able to earn some awe and fear by the time I make my 1,000th post.
In next week’s post I want to go into how to market to message boards. I have recently seen a maestro in action in the form of Paul M. Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, a new book that is categorized by Amazon as a Company Profile involving social U.S. history, and conventional weapons & warfare. When Paul started promoting online, he didn’t limit his online pre-sales time and energy to just blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. He recognized that the most passionate owners, collector, and proponents of the shooting sports spend a lot of their time learning, sharing, bragging, and teaching on online message boards and that he needed to engage these communities before his book went on sale to the public if he wanted to get the kind of buzz and word of mouth he needed to be able to reach the least obvious but most important brand ambassadors.
It was really a beautiful thing to see, honestly, especially after I spent years marketing on message boards and forums when I was an online analyst and project manager at New Media Strategies. Things have changed a lot since I was promoting brand online in message boards and the state of the art has evolved, become more savvy, but is very ripe and very transparent.
Man, I have a lot to share with you next week, I can’t wait!