One of the best ways to generate word of mouth and create brand evangelists is to create a discussion forum. What could be better than giving hundreds, thousands, or even millions of your customers or potential customers a forum where they can talk about your products day night? They can swap stories and passions and ideas.
Many companies think creating a discussion forum is a great idea. They think, "of course - people love us and our products - they'd like nothing better than to have a place where they can meet and talk about us for hours".
I wonder what would happen if I, Holly Buchanan, created my own discussion forum. All my fans could congregate and talk about me and all the things I'm passionate about, from marketing to women, to addictions to Swedish Fish , to what to do about your Boston Terrier's snoring problem.
There's just one problem - no one cares about Holly Buchanan. (Ok, my mom does, but.....)
Do people share some of my same passions? Sure they do. I know I have more than one reader, so someone other than my mother is reading the blog. But is my brand strong enough that people really want to talk about me? No, it's not.
Yet many companies think their customers are so passionate about the company and what it sells that, of course, they need a discussion forum. Apple needs a discussion forum - you probably don't.......unless......
Fill a deeply felt or unmet need
Realsavvymoms.com is a site dedicated to moms and moms-to-be. Now, this is a pretty crowded space. but Realsavvymoms.com found a strong need among their visitors - that need was for advice during pregnancy. So Realsavvymoms.com created the "Ask a Midwife" discussion forum.
Read through the various threads, and you can't help but sense a near desperate need for advice, council, and sometimes just reassurance that you're not losing your mind (or your body).
"Ask a Midwife" is incredibly popular - I believe - because it addresses such a strongly felt need - a need for medical information from a trusted source other than your primary doctor or OBGYN.
When you're pregnant, your body goes through all sorts of changes. Every day is a new adventure and sometimes a new scare. You don't necessarily want to bother your doctor every 12 hours with what's going on, especially if you feel it's not important enough to trouble him or her with. But it's still important to you.
Realsavvymoms.com understood this deep personal need for advice from a trusted health care professional, offered in an anonymous forum where you could ask anything you want - AND learn from questions other pregnant women are asking.
All questions are treated with respect. Feel silly asking your doctor a question? Ask a Midwife. Feel like you may be the only woman facing these problems or feelings? Ask a Midwife. Want to know what challenges and questions other moms-to-be have? Ask a Midwife.
Post titles range from "5 weeks pregnant and no fetal heartbeat on internal U/S" to "Kinda scared" to "Summer heat and early labor" to "I think I might have had a miscarriage".
You know you are not alone in asking a question when you see 761 views of that question and answer.
761 views - think this is a question a lot of moms are worried about? Think this forum is hitting on crucial topics? You betcha.
So - if you're going to create a discussion forum - either have a remarkable product with true customer evangelists (like Apple), OR find a deeply held or unmet need of your visitors - either information, or advice, or conversation place that provides something she needs, delivered in the manner in which she wants it delivered.
Next best thing - a blog
If you don't have the technical resources to create a discussion forum - consider the next best thing - a blog. Granted, a blog is really more about your thoughts than your customers thoughts. But, thanks to comments - it is the next best thing to creating a dialog between you and your customers and among your customers themselves.