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Forum Moderators: buckworks
The only worry I have is if somebody get's a product and bad mouths it or something, although I've never had this problem it's a possibility. Is this a smart move? Are many people doing it?
I'm thinking it will be good for getting people to come back to the site, etc
If your product is good, and if your customer service is good, it should be a plus, not a minus. If there is a habit of ignoring complaints, or of shoddy merchandise, then it will hurt businiess. But in that case, the business would deserve to be hurt, so it would work out fine.
The site sells a product that IMO is not especially good and is very over-priced, but they really know how to sell the product's sizzle. They are doing extremely well and have a huge amount of repeat customers in spite of the fact that they are very disorganized and understaffed and regularly do not ship an order for at least 4 weeks after payment. This delay, which would be the source of endless chargebacks for some other company, has become a part of the culture of a purchase from this company because of the forums, where people happily commiserate about the delay.
I go to this site regularly for inspiration even though I don't sell this particular type of widget. I've learned a lot from it and just started up a newsletter in hopes of beginning to take advantage of this same feeling of community and customer feedback, kind of dip my toe in the water. The only negative thing about forums I can see is the time and aggravation of running them.
I've recently added a wiki subdomain to our ecommerce site. Besides the wiki part there's also a forum and a blog. None of this is directly related to our business - that's to say that none of this is intended to benefit sales - but it is directly related to events in which we participate. So the focus is to those events, and the people involved with them. I expect that some of our regular customers will manage to find the link on our home page and stroll over. In fact I know it's already happening. But those people will really find little of interest besides a look into some of the things we do when we aren't making widgets.
I also anticipate getting a few good editors from the target group, which will eventually reduce my admin workload.
And as far as spending all your time moderating, we have not found that to be true. There are things you can do.
Well, We sell instructional hair braiding DVD's and in the forums women can talk about hair care, conditioning, braids, maintenance, etc. I will also have an off topic and on topic for general chit chat. I think it will be big AND be a place for just like a womens hang out to talk about issues, hair, etc.
The forum is the product I am selling (not the software, but content).
As many have mentioned it there are two things you have to be very careful of.
a. it is a double edged sword. If you sell products and the forum is a customer voiceing board, you better respond to complaints, and problems, otherwise you are in deep trouble. Do not delete complaints, but make sure your response is timely, proper, and to the benefit of the customer. You would be surprised how much a negative post with a good outcome brings in new customers!
b. Forums are a full time job. Either you, or moderators working for you. Depending on your volume, you will need at least one per discussion group (collection of threads), often two or three. On a decent sides board, like WebMasterworld count the number if unique moderators. I think there is about 30 or so mods here! So now you have to shepperd 30 people to keep on top of your discussion groups daily.
Benefits are ample of forums. You will get repeat customers, and they are your best advertisement.
You will find out about your competition, from disgruntled customers.
You will have to opportunity to publicly resolve customer issues and gain more trust and brownie points from other customers or lurkers (or fail miserably, and alienate everyone).
Good luck, and forget sleeping the first year or so...
rb, I think a forum would probably work out well for your customers. Most women do like to talk about hair styles, products, etc. I think one of the main thing for forum owners that want to drum up business is that they need to BE there. Show you're interested, give advice, point them to other products (not just ones you sell) that they might be interested in, ask what else they'd like you to carry. I've seen forums create almost fanatical customers for many businesses, and you can't duplicate their word-of-mouth advertising for any amount of money.
Sure there always be people complaining about something, but being open and interact with the visitors is worth it. Visitors might think that the interaction is too limited so they go to a competitor.
Amazon.com can be studied, they have some bad mouthing and really lousy reviews by users. However there are some really good and professional user reviews as well.
I would say that everything on an ecommerce site should be for one purpose - to make the sale. Is the forum going to help you mak the sale?
Directly, no. By giving people a reason to not just shop, but hang out at my site instead of 100 others selling from the same dropshipper, most of these being good, clean e-commerce sites that indeed have nothing to do but buy, yes yes YES! I intend to use their sterility to my advantage (rubs hands together greedily). I know that the company's forums for their wholesale jobber customers have really given my loyalty a boost, and I have learned about and started buying new product lines discussed there by others.
This works in a market for widget parts, where people want to chat about which part might be bad, tips for installing them, how to care for and maintain their widget or customize it etc. A site selling simple buy-and-done commodities would have no use for a forum.
As far as spending too much time moderating, remember the philosophy of working ON your business instead of IN it. Learning to delegate (and assembling the team that carries out your will with only a reasonable input of your effort) is a steep learning curve! Wish me luck... I'm such a forum junkie as it is, having my own forum might be hazardous!
A site selling simple buy-and-done commodities would have no use for a forum.Directly, no. :)
oAllow you to get educational information on your website.
oAllow you to increase traffic through repeat visitors.
oAllow you to capture email address and details of posters.
oAllow you to gain more creditability.
oAllow you to build relationship with visitors.
.......The main disadvantage with forums is the amount of time and effort required to get them started and maintain them. But then seeing the benefits, its worth having...i think.
We find that users and competitors sometimes attempt to link to competitor's sites however we found a simple mod that removed our key competitor's URLs.
We find that having lively forums keeps our customers interested in our site.
On one of the ecommerce sites I manage we have a very popular forum which relates not only to the products we sell but the 'lifestyle' our store deals with.
I think that is the key. If you set up a general forum that is off topic from your business, it might well be counterproductive.
However this can be a double edged sword and it won't do away with the need for moderation etc. But it could help sales. At the end of the day, I think that the general concensus is that if it isn't adding value don't do it.