Maximizing Interest Sites, Meetup, Reddit and Forums

By Gail Z. Martin

When most people talk about social media, they mean Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and sites like Tumblr and Instagram. Even blogs often get left off the mental checklist. Yet there's a much larger world of social media sites waiting for you, and all of them focus on the 'social' part—facilitating conversations. They all have their special focus, audience and capabilities, but some are likely to be perfect for helping you extend your influence and build your brand.

Interest and Industry Sites

If you belong to a trade or professional association or a special-interest club, odds are high there's a website. Especially for larger groups, it's also very likely that the site includes some level of forum, bulletin board or discussion group capability. These are all places to meet new people, open conversations, demonstrate you credibility and gather your tribe.

Many forums within membership sites work a lot like Facebook posts. Someone begins a thread with a question, and related answers nest beneath that opening post. If it's a professional membership site, you're assured to find either colleagues or potential clients. Make yourself accessible and useful. Answer other people's questions, and take the initiative to open the conversation by posting starter comments of interest to much of the audience. Some sites have a culture of active online discussion, while others may need you to get things going. Hang in there. Even if you only attract a small audience at first, you are sharing useful information and demonstrating expertise, as well as gathering a tribe.

Use the site's member directory to seek out people who might be good contacts and invite them to join the conversation. Ask their opinions and solicit their input. Interview them. If you can invigorate on-topic discussion, you'll become a hero to the site organizers, and you're likely to find that you've become a minor celebrity at the next in-person meeting from the number of people who recognize your name from online.

Observe etiquette when you're interacting in an online forum. Keep the discussion focused on topics appropriate to the setting, and gently but firmly manage your threads to keep out blatant self-promotion, spamming, bad behavior and tangents. Be as professional online as you would be in person, treating everyone with respect, keeping a civil attitude, and not allowing louder vices to drown out other perspective.

Don't go onto the forums to get a quick sale. That will backfire. Go to be a good member and to get to know your colleagues. Mention your experience or credentials when it's relevant, but don't come on too strong. Make sure your member profile represents you well and includes how to contact you outside of the site. It's amazing how many people never fill out their profiles, making it impossible for people to get in touch or validate their expertise.

Networking in membership and special-interest sites is a long-term strategy. In the offline world, it can take months or years to begin to get sales from attending meeting and mixers for an organization. People need time to like, know and trust you. Savvy business people don't expect to get referrals the first time they show up, although it can happen. Instead, pick your sites wisely and make a commitment to be a regular participant, just like in the 'real' world.

Some organizations create private LinkedIn or Facebook groups instead of hosting their own password-protected forum on their website. If that's the case, all the same rules above apply. Stay out of arguments, always be polite, and stick to the topic at hand. You will be welcome and remembered positively if you are always helpful.

Reddit

Reddit is a massive site with forums dedicated to almost any topic possible. It's got a huge user base, and can be a great way to connect with people who share common interests. You can start your own dedicated topic page (called a 'subReddit') or participate in an existing page. It's always easier to get to know how a site works by beginning as an observer on someone else's page, so I'd recommend spending time to get to know the 'neighborhood' before trying to start your own subReddit.

Like all online communities, Reddit has its own personality, rules and culture. In particular, Reddit users don't like to be sold-to unless it is on a subReddit specifically for self-promotion. (Realize that the chance anyone is going to those pages to buy is exceedingly slim. They're really a holding area to segregate promotional posts so they don't disrupt the real conversation. Don't waste your time.)

Reddit is a combination forum and bulletin board. You can post links to interesting on-topic information you've found elsewhere and invite discussion (just don't pin your own posts unless they're about a topic instead of about you). You're safest sharing links to other people's excellent articles and blog posts and then steering the conversation that ensues. There's also nothing to stop you from having someone else (an assistant or colleague) post links to your content (so it isn't being posted by you), but don't overwhelm the thread. You want to be present consistently enough to be noticed but not so much that you dominate.

Be on your very best behavior. The personality of Reddit users varies by subReddit, but in general it is a bit rough and tumble, and when community norms are violated, downright hostile. If LinkedIn is the white-table restaurant of the internet and Facebook is the local diner, Reddit is more like the corner bar. Don't go looking for a fight, don't give anyone reason to bring the fight to you, and you'll probably have a great time and meet cool people.

Meetup

Meetup makes it easy to gather people with similar interests for live, local events. The site is inexpensive and easy to use, and once you post your event (unless you change default settings) it is visible to all Meetup members, who can then RSVP online. Once users 'join' your page, you can email them individually or as a group.

Recurring events are Meetup's strong suit. It's perfect for starting a discussion group, promoting club meetings, or raising the visibility of in-store or live events. As the group organizer, you can approve or disapprove membership requests, charge a fee to belong to the group, even manage sponsors.

Meetup lets a group organizer upload files or photos to share with members and create polls. The membership list can be downloaded, so you can capture email addresses to use with your newsletter. Meetup also shows you what other groups are most popular with your members, which is a great way to identify places where you might find future members. If your topics are compatible, you might even approach organizers of other local Meetups to do occasional joint events. At the least, you may want to attend some of the 'also popular with' groups to meet new prospects.

It's easy to invite Facebook friends to your Meetup thanks to a helpful internal app, as well as to link your Outlook address book. The most powerful benefit lies in how easy it is for new people to find your Meetup if you've placed it in the appropriate category and described it compellingly. Focus on the benefit to members in your description to encourage new sign-ups. Utilize the ability to discuss the topic in the body of the event post, and encourage your members to rate the events afterward and post evaluations, which provides even more incentive for new people to try out the group.

Whichever sites you choose to frequent, consistency and helpfulness are key. Be a good neighbor, give people reason to like, know and trust you, and build relationships before you try to land business. In other words, do all the same things online that you've been doing in the offline world to maximize your brand and grow your influence!

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook

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Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications. Contact her at Gail@GailMartinMarketing.com