Challenges and benefits of ESP forums

Forums are discussion boards, that enable members of a site to interact with each other by exchanging knowledge and discussing hot topics related to specific industries.

Also known as message boards, forums save and post  information about particular topics, which creates active, specialized, and high-quality discussion environments. Among email marketing companies (ESPs), however, forums are scarce.

Managing discussions
For mature ESPs with thousands of customers, as well as marketing automation companies with a growing customer base, forums are ideal to manage discussions. They allow your universe of clients (members) to interact with one another directly, but also discreetly. Forums are a subtle and natural extension to your blog and/or social media efforts, as members will often return to the forum to catch up on popular discussion topics, thereby staying engaged with the ESP.

Advantages of Forums for Email marketing companies

When an ESP is mature or growing, active, engaging discussion forums provide several advantages for them. Forums allows an ESP to build better relationships with their marketers, as discussions will proliferate based on marketers’ discussions with clients within the forum. To further enhance credibility, the content of forum discussions should later be confirmed with your account management team. In addition forums allow the members to receive educational information about ongoing updates.

Stickyness to the ESP blog
Forums also deliver “stickiness” to the Email Service Providers site, blog, and other online properties. As discussions on strategy flourish, the exchange of information becomes richer. Members become able to compare notes with their peers, which allows them to see how email based strategies have evolved. Then, members will want to return to the ESP site properties for updates on related topics and subscribe to RSS feeds.

Engagement via Alerts
As an added bonus, member will have developed a real interest in those topics, so if members choose to receive alerts about them, they won’t be dismissed as spam. Alerts can be yet another way to increase members’ level of engagement within the forum.

Retaining customers by interaction and service

Among Email service providers, customer retention is important. If they create a robust forum that provides additional support infrastructure, the customer retention will skyrocket. Forums, no matter how technical, are a place where your customers can interact objectively and with confidence. Forums deliver precise answers to questions and, if the forum is active enough, can direct clients to feeds in separate areas related to different topics of discussion.

Segregating feeds reduce costs
Segregating feeds also reduces the burden on your (possibly overextended) account management team and, in many cases, ultimately reduce costs. In an active member forum, an adept moderator who represents the company is the essential component. The moderator must be able to skillfully and quickly answer all questions in order to spur discussions.

Builds Passion across your Brand

Forum members will be the most passionate and fervent consumers of your brand. They will, invariably, have everyday questions that need to be answered. Whether the topics discuss organic list growth, deliverability, subject lines, security, design, etc., the goal is to produce quality, objective conversations among peers. Objective feedback among peers is a commodity on forums because they are a relatively private setting. Sure, clients can “hear” how great your brand is via social media, but inquisitive peers may be more comfortable asking questions in a more private setting.

Testimonials from peers
The value of privacy becomes crucial when you consider that today’s marketer, more than ever before, relies heavily on colleague word-of-mouth. At times, this is where the account management team falls short. No matter how smart an account management team is, hearing testimonials about product advancements and latest strategies from peers can be more comforting—and convincing.

Ever Evolving Topics

Forums are constantly evolving, with a wide range of topics up for discussion. As changes take place in the digital marketing landscape, forums become an enduring fascination for avid brand fans. Topics can be categorized and placed in different buckets for members to access. The content in forums is rich and specific, and active forums allow members within your client universe to opt-in to discussions that may have never crossed their minds otherwise.

Two minds are better than one
The critical point here is that two minds are better than one and the inclination of objectivity prevails. Even having a dedicated account manager for each client cannot substitute for the provocative platform forums provide. It’s a vast knowledge base with a many-to-one association.

The Challenge

While forums can bring tremendous advantages to your brand, it’s important to note that starting and maintaining a forum takes patience and lots of dedication. Nobody likes to post on an empty forum, so you’ll need to promote it through social media, inbound efforts and dedicated emails.

In the beginning, moderators will need to create lots of topics; some will resonate with your members, while others won’t. Engaging an audience will take months, sometimes years, but eventually, a steady flow of topics and replies will be posted by your forum’s members. Because of its many benefits to your brand, an active, engaging forum is worth the wait!

Bottom Line: A Future Road Map, Customer Retention, Reduced Cost

Your forum will become a stellar complement to your support infrastructure, and by reaching critical mass will benefit your brand tremendously. Our ESP universe has far too few peer to peer forums, and many have chosen to look outwardly for advice and join other email related discussion boards.  Creating a robust support infrastructure (like a forum) will help to supplement your marketing efforts. It will also identify your most passionate marketers, a rich passionate customer segment of your brand.

Finally, ESPs will benefit from feature requests within the forum, as you field future production requests from its customer base. The forum then becomes a technological roadmap for future platform innovation. Therefore, forums will not only benefit your brand and its customers today, but also lead to a robust exchange in a safe environment.

Editors’ note: The article was adapted from an earlier post from Emailexpert.

Fred Tabsharani

About Fred Tabsharani

Fred Tabsharani is engaged in strategic marketing initiatives for Port25 Solutions, Inc., an email software company which serves Email Service Providers and leading enterprises. After receiving his MBA from John F. Kennedy University, Fred immersed himself into the world of email deliverability. He is a columnist for a few industry blogging portals and is also a member of several email based organizations including MAAWG and the Email Experience Council.

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