Online forums are a fantastic reminder of the influence the internet has had on society. Using forums to connect with your market is a natural progression.
Forums are online communities where individuals can discuss topics ranging from fly fishing to breast feeding to internet business. Discussions are conducted by posting notes to the forum. A single discussion is called a 'thread' and most forums have several - even hundreds - of threads going at any time.
What is truly remarkable about the use of forums is the personal quality of the discussions. Read some of the posts on forums such as ivillage.com and you'll soon see that the members become more like neighbors (and even friends) than strangers connected only by the keyboard and monitor in front of them.
Where brick and mortar businesses used to prosper based on their involvement in the community - online businesses now have a neighborhood all their own - online forums.
How can participating in a forum help YOUR business?
Online forums are a fantastic place to connect with others who are knowledgeable about your business. You probably cater to the same audience and share a common interest. If your businesses compliment one another you might just find a highly profitable partnership or joint venture.
Even if you don't find a working relationship you may find the referrals or discussions highly beneficial.
Along with the referrals you may get when you've developed a trusted online presence with other members of the forum, you are also likely to attract targeted visitors to your website.
If the forum permits you to post a signature (your website URL) onto the posts then you can be sure that some of the members and quite likely some of the 'lurkers' (people who view but don't post) will come check out your site.
Using the forums wisely can open you up to a great education. Whether it is from fellow entrepreneurs in your field or experts and other posters - you are participating in an 'inner circle' type discussion that may open your eyes to new developments and opportunities in your business.
The only downside is the highly addictive atmosphere. With members posting from all over the world it can be difficult to reign in your viewing time on forums.
On the flip side, other members are hopefully as interested in what you have to say and you may quickly develop a reputation as a reliable source for information.
Be very cautious to follow forum rules. Never spam a forum - your aim should be to participate in a conversation, not interrupt it. Have fun and watch your business grow!