And yes, you're reading this right! Business executives pay as much attention to forum and blog sites as they do Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.
BTW, doesn’t this also mean that from a traffic perspective, the aggregate visit (pageview) count is equally as high?
Now, going a bit deeper, when they are using the Social Networks, they're connecting with people. But, when in blog and forum sites, they're 'connecting' with topics and discussions specifically related to their individual business interests.
Well, now we know what we've always suspected. The question is, how do we as an industry leverage this? We'd really be interested in your comments/thoughts.
Next, we're looking for a similar open ended study about consumer habits. If you're aware of any, please let us know!
Stay tuned.....and hope to see you at ForumCon to explore this further.
The ForumCon team asked me to participate in a panel on "Forum Monetization" this year. I'm grateful for the opportunity and look forward to June 13th.
I was also asked, for purposes of this blog post and for context at ForumCon, to share TextureMedia's story and how a forum blossomed into a brand connecting a community of beauty influencers with global and domestic hair care companies.
Full disclosure, first things first, before I am asked the inevitable question.
I have straight hair -- naturally straight.
And I work with a company all about curly hair attitudes, purchasing behavior, discussions, products, stylists, salons, care, styling… you name it. I have learned a lot and continue to be in awe of the engagement of this community and their real life tales previously unbeknownst to me.
I embrace my naturally straight texture while appreciating what we offer, which isa forum for people to tell their stories.
Storiesof straight-haired moms adopting children with curly hair and having no idea how to care for it
Stories of being called names as a child or not being taken seriously at work by bosses who equate curly hair texture with unprofessionalism
Journals of lifelong product journeys in search of the “Holy Grail” product that will finally help someone love their curls
Transitioning tales told by women who have used chemical relaxers their entire life and who have made the big decision to “go natural.”
These people talk about real and important experiences to them. People with wavy, curly, and coily hair spend a lot of time and money figuring out how to wear, care, style, condition and showcase their tresses.
TextureMedia's members across NaturallyCurly and CurlyNikki help people better understand their hair texture, to make more informed purchasing and stylist decisions, while also giving them a forum to support, share and learn.
I've attached our infographic, albeit almost one year old, that scopes the "textured hair" population and why it's important. Hair care is a big market (tens of $Billions), but as mentioned earlier, it's not just about product. It's about self-esteem and empowerment. There are good hair days and bad hair days, and that impacts how you carry yourself throughout that day.
How did all this start?
In 1998, Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber, two curly-haired Austin American-Statesman journalists, decided to take online their angst over the lack of hair care products and services in the market for people with curly hair.
1998. 15 years ago.
No mobile. No Google or Google Fiber. No blogs. No Internet access in cafes or in many households.
“You've Got Mail” was a big hit in 1998.
It was early Internet days, and a great time to start a website -- being first to market with an idea and concept. Michelle and Gretchen's intent was more altruistic than business-focused. They desired to create a place for people like them – curlies who were all but ignored in beauty magazines and salons. As far as revenue, they thought they would make a killing selling curl empowerment t-shirts.
The result was NaturallyCurly.com, the first online hair community via a v-bulletin board for people to share favorite products, ingredients and hair stories.
And it grew.
People from all over the world discovered NaturallyCurly via organic search and shared their hair stories too! The early fans told more people about NaturallyCurly, and word-of-mouth marketing virally spread the word.
CurlTalk on NaturallyCurly became a true forum for discussion and genesis for other brand extensions.
Members discussed favorite products and ingredients, and even shared recipes for products they were creating at home.
The community and grass-roots product manufacturers eventually encouraged the two co-founders to sell products with limited to no distribution but that everyone was reading about -- early "cult favorites". CurlMart became an e-commerce site that moved from a co-founder's back bedroom to the thriving business it is today, a curated boutique where products are vetted and endorsed by community before hitting its shelves.
NaturallyCurly grew beyond a v-bulletin board, adding community-generated product and stylist databases, articles, photos, eventually videos -- even a Frizz Forecast that predicts a customized frizz forecast dependent upon hair type, location and weather.
An earlier member of CurlTalk and 2013 author of Better Than Good Hair, Nikki Walton, separately created her NaturallyCurly-inspired natural hair blog, CurlyNikki, which became part of the TextureMedia family in 2010.
In 2011, TextureTrends was born, annual market intelligence that truly leverages real people insights around hair care, attitudes, products and behaviors. It was the result of the dozens of questions we were fielding from brands about the what, why, how much and drivers to purchase for our community. I especially love TextureTrends because it is 160 pages of community feedback that we can share with our hair care brands and partners to create products our community wants, with ingredients they trust -- and helps these brands understand where, why and how our community is influenced to buy. We truly are a community of experts and influencers.
Our big decisions and organic growth stem from listening to our dynamic community, which has pushed above 2.7 million uniques in size this year.
And there are hundreds of hair care brands and thousands of stylists out there specifically targeting this market -- the world of curls and texture.
We talk internally about "engaging and empowering the beauty influencer" as our mission and role.
What role does your forum play or what community does it serve?
I would love to hear your examples of organic monetization and successful features or ideas generated from community feedback.
The internet is filled with forums. People go to forums for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons include: SEO purposes, JV parnters, driving traffic, and information. In this post I will examine each of these areas.
1. SEO Purposes
You'll want to learn a little bit of how the search engines work and html to understand how you can use forum postings for SEO purposes. Search engines index information on websites to store in their index.
You can apply a bit of html code to tell the search engines whether or not they will index the links on the page. You do that by using either the 'no-follow' attribute or the 'do-follow' attribute. The no- follow one tells the search engines not to index the links. The opposite goes for the latter.
To determine whether or not a page is do-follow or not, then you just simple 'view page source' while on the page you're analyzing. Many forums are no-follow, but that doesn't prevent you from obtaining the other benefits of forum postings; JV partners & driving traffic.
2. JV Partners
JV stands for joint venture and many entrepreneurs start them to leverage someone else's skills, leadership, and resources. As you become a regular participant in the forum of your choice, you'll undoubtedly make connections.
I really like to use the internet as a spring board to a real friendship or connection. To do this, you have to elevate the relationship beyond just words. When a connection is made, I'll set up a meeting on skype to get to know the person and see their face. Take the opportunity to get to know them. Ask them about their goals and what they're trying to accomplish.
You might just find out a JV with this new connection will help you both reach your goals and objectives. No JV is the same. Some will be good, while others will be a miserable experience. Do your due diligence before you start a JV with someone.
How do you use a forum to drive traffic?
You'll be wise to get to know the forum's guidelines. Some will allow links in the posting itself, while others will not. More often than not, forums will allow for some type of a signature.
Many marketers neglect to take advantage of the signature box. Everyone can improve what they put in their box. Just like you'll spend quality time crafting the perfect title for a blog post, you'll want to take some time to create a sentence that will motivate someone to click through and visit your website.
If the website is do-follow, then I would recommend linking to your main blog or website. If it's no-follow, then I typically recommend you using a capture page of some sort so you can build your email list.
If you're looking for an answer, you can browse the existing threads on the forums. Even I spend time reading forums to learn more information. (Side note: you can use forums to get ideas for blog posts and other content.)
Another option available to you is to start your own thread asking the forum members a question. You'll find that many forum members will participate and offer up their advice. Make sure you signup for email updates so you know when people have commented on your thread.
Forum postings are a great way to build backlinks to your website, drive traffic, obtain information, and find potential JV partners.
Habits are good for business. In fact, many industries could not survive without them. The incentive systems and business models of the companies that make habit-forming products require someone gets hooked. Without consumer habits, these enterprises would go bust.
While most of us think of cigarettes or gambling as habit-forming products, the fact is, a much wider swath of industries rely on consumer’s using their products without thought or deliberation.
These companies have no secret agenda or nefarious ambitions. They are in business to give people what they want, even if at times, what the consumer wants isn’t necessarily good for them.
But like every other company, habit-forming businesses are run by well-intentioned people. Hard-working folks with families and dreams of their own. So how then can these two realities coexist? How can companies seek to hook their customers, while also being run by decent people who have just as visceral of an aversion to manipulation as the rest of us?
THE HABIT BUSINESS
The answer lies in the business imperative. An enterprises’ worth is the sum of the future profits it will generate. MBAs are taught to calculate the value of an enterprise this way and it is the benchmark investors use to determine the fair price of a company’s shares.
CEOs and their management teams are evaluated by their ability to increase the value of their stock. Their job is to implement strategies to grow future cash flow by some combination of increasing revenues and decreasing expenses.
Creating consumer habits is an effective way to drive share price by increasing what companies call “customer lifetime value.” CLTV is the amount of money made from a customer before they switch to a competitor, stop using the product, or die.
Some products have a very high CLTV. Credit card customers for example, tend to stay loyal for a very long time and are worth a bundle.
SOMEONE MUST GET HOOKED
Acquiring customers is expensive and time consuming. Ensuring customers are habituated to using a product decreases these expenses, thereby increasing enterprise value.
It’s worth noting that a surprising number of businesses follow a negative binomial distribution, also known as a Pareto concentration. Typically thought of as the 80/20 rule, the phenomenon occurs wherever a few buyers account for the vast majority of revenue. However, at times that split can be much more skewed than one might think.
While for most consumer goods, the concentration tends to be 60/20, for online gaming companies like Zynga, 100% of the revenue comes from just 2% of players.
In most consumer-facing businesses the Pareto Law applies. These customers are obviously very important to the company because without them, the enterprise could not survive, their profit margins simply would not allow it.
The combination of a business imperative to drive shareholder value by increasing CLTV along with the identification of the most loyal customers, means companies spend significant resources competing for a small set of “heavy users.” Companies are therefore highly motivated to hook customers – and keep them using their products for as long as possible.
Nir’s Note: Let me know what you think in the comments section below or send me an email. Do you have any supporting stories to share? Do you know of any relevant studies or examples? Read any good books on the topic? Please let me know.
The good folks that run ForumCon have asked me to lead a session on forum moderation.
My session is entitled “Effective Strategies for Forum Moderation,” and we’ll be focusing on ways to keep the peace in your forum.
When resolving sticky situations in online communities, it’s vitally important to choose your words with care. When you can’t convey your meaning with body language or facial expressions, it’s easy for your words to be misconstrued. That’s especially true when communicating with an angry member. So I’ll be sharing some of the language I always turn to in these situations, and asking session participants to share their ideas.
We’ll also spend some time talking about forum rules. Forum rules are a tricky topic, because few visitors take the time to read them. But when a forum member starts causing trouble, you still need a set of rules that you can point to when calling out an infraction. Forum rules are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The topic, membership, and sensibilities of the forum should dictate what the rules are. But there are still some concepts that apply to any forum, and we’ll discuss them.
There are certain types of people that seem to turn up in any forum. There are helpful types, troublesome types, and those that are merely an annoyance. I’ll talk about the five types of people I often see in online communities, and I’ll ask the group to share stories about forum participants they’ve run into.
We’ll also open up the conversation and swap stories about difficult situations we’ve faced in our forums, and discuss how we resolved them.
Finally, I’ll be sharing the online community management resources I turn to for advice and ideas, and asking the group to share theirs.
Are there topics related to forum moderation and management you think we ought to include in this session? Do you have any questions that we can answer during the session? Please join the conversation via #ForumCon, the official twitter @ForumCon, via their Facebook page, or add your thoughts below.
10 Things Most Forum Owners Don't Know About Community Commerce
When Rachel Blaustein wanted to improve the buying and selling experience in her forum, Bhuz.com, she turned to Panjo. “Before Panjo, we tried a mix of rules and plugins. Sellers were getting buried in a confusing pile of emails and private messages. Buyers suffered from poor search tools, terrible product presentation, and lackluster communication from sellers. As the community owners, we got sucked into dispute resolution. Panjo helped us improve the classifieds for everyone.”
Increasingly, forum owners are turning to Panjo to help grow revenue, increase engagement and reduce the administrative burden of running a community. Panjo makes a free marketplace plugin for popular forum software platforms. Panjo also provides payment processing solutions that allow a forum to optionally collect listing, promotion, and final value fees.
Exclusively for ForumCon, Panjo opens the kimono to reveal fascinating statistics that are coming to light based on Panjo’s partnerships with forum-based marketplaces.
Sellers successfully sell 45% of the items listed for sale in a forum.
Fellow forum members buy 75% of the sold items. Neighbors, eBay shoppers, and members of other forums purchase the remaining 25% of the items that sell.
Slightly more than half the sellers list just a single item for sale. The other half of sellers list two or more items a year.
Nearly 90% of the listings come from the minority of sellers who list more than one item for sale a year.
Excluding items that cost over $5,000, the average sales price of sold items is $200.
It takes 15 days on average to sell an item. After 15 days, an item’s chances of selling drop precipitously.
40% of community members buy, browse, or sell in the marketplace.
Including payment processing, eBay’s average take rate (the percent of revenue they make on the gross value of a sale) is 11.6%; Etsy’s take rate averages 9%.
23% of forum members browse marketplace listings on a mobile device.
Each monthly active unique forum user exchanges $10 in gross merchandise volume a year with another forum member. In other words, if your forum has 50,000 monthly active uniques, your members will sell $500,000 of goods to other members of your forum.