Online Forums Give Small Businesses Leverage February 20, 2010Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, e-Small Business Resources, marketing.
Tags: consumer research, David Dirks, dirks on strategy, market research, online forums, public forums, small business
Consumer research from the web gives small businesses leverage they’ve never had before. You name the area of interest, and I’ll be you’ll find any number of places online where people can ‘chat’ about it. Savvy marketers and business owners have found chat rooms and public forums to be great places to sift though and find information than can be of significant benefit to their businesses. Investing some time each week or at least on a monthly basis researching what people are saying in your community of interest is well worth it. Sure, there’s a good amount of mundane drivel coming out of chat rooms but you can eliminate those fairly quickly during the scanning process.
Online chat rooms are for the most part, unedited conversations of those who have some level of interest (usually deep) in subject at hand. In between the unvarnished and silly things that people will say, you’ll find a healthy percentage of people who have substantial points or information to impart to others with the same interests. If you’re in business (and I don’t really care what business it is), you should find enough online chat rooms or forums to keep your interest.
This is especially true if you are a small business owner. Most small businesses don’t have the resources or capacity to undertake market and consumer research. The advent of online forums and chat rooms has offered the small business owner the ability to tap into consumer thoughts without having to spend very much money. In most cases, you only need an investment of time and web access.
What kinds of things can you learn from chat rooms? First, you can get a sense of what the key ‘hot topics’ of that time are. What are people talking mostly about? What seems to make them mad or excitedly happy? Are they focusing on a specific competitor? Are they discussing specific products or services? Are they talking about challenges they face and looking for input? What are they not talking about?
How can you make this kind of information work for your business? Here’s how:
1. Given the large number of online forums where people can discuss any manner of things on any specific topic these days, narrow your scope. In most cases, the best forums (with the most amount of participation) are the larger ones. How to find these forums? Easy. Just Bing or Google the specific type of forum you are looking for.
For example, if I’m in the fly fishing business, I’d search under “fly fishing forums”. When I do that, I can find 4,860,000 results. Stick to the first 20 results and scan those to see which ones have regular participation and have some quality in the depth of the online conversations you see.
2. Social media sites have a tremendous amount of information. On Facebook, do a search for fan pages that are in your area of interest. On LinkedIn it’s easy to search for groups and join them to get regular updates on online discussions.
3. Scanning forums becomes easier and faster with practice. No one wants to sit for hours reading sometimes eye-poking drivel. Scan each comment looking for key words that you might be interested in.
4. When you find a comments that you feel are worthy of further thought, copy and paste them onto a document and save them. In one sitting, you might accumulate several pages of commentary. Copy and paste at will! In a day or two, go back and review the comments to see if you can spot trends or information that you could incorporate into your business directly or indirectly.
5. “So might all this information I’m accumulating mean to me and my business?” Fair question. Like any other research, you never know what you are going to find exactly. Surely, you are trying to find information that could lead you to perhaps product or service innovations; new processes for running your business; and who knows what else. You have to get in the habit of scanning on a regular and disciplined basis and over time, you will see trends. You will get kernels of ideas that can have an impact on how you manage yourself and/or your business.
Investing time in researching and scanning commentary generated in public forums gives you the opportunity for those “Aha” moments. “Aha” moments are moments of discovery and confirmation. Just stick with it and sooner than you think, you’ll be both inspired and challenged by the feedback you’ll see on forums. It’s time well spent and time that most of your competitors are leaving on the table.