For many of us, the term 'social media' is practically synonymous with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
At the very least, we will tend to associate social media with analogues of these three big sites and generally we think of social networks as modern sites where you can log in and share pictures and status updates.
In reality though, the web has been social long before Facebook was a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye.
When the web first exploded in popularity, people were already having discussions and debates about their favorite hobbies and interests but they were doing so in chat rooms and on forums.
And while Facebook and Twitter have more prominence now than those aforementioned chat rooms, they are nevertheless still out there and they still offer a lot of opportunities.
What are Forums?
A forum is essentially a message board, normally attached to a website, where people can post questions and get answers. Users must first create a profile and from there they can create or respond to 'threads' as well as doing other things like send private messages.
In other words, these act like the groups or pages on social media, providing discussion that is centered around a specific topic and where only 'members' get to contribute.
This is one of the biggest attractions of these forums – they have a 'VIP' feeling and tend to nurture a much more close-knit community. Many people will make friends on forums, or will even work together on joint projects etc.
The Advantages of Forums
So while forums are smaller than social networks, they are also much more targeted and the users tend to be very committed and passionate to the subject. This creates an ideal opportunity for you to gain exposure for your product or website if you post there.
The problem is, most companies have no idea how to use forums. They will simply create accounts, log in and then post their link like an advert. Bearing in mind how much of a clique the users of these forums become and how protective of their community they are, you can imagine that this is often met with disdain.
To succeed on forums then, the objective is rather to post links only after you've established yourself as an active member of that community.
To do that, you need to take part: by answering questions, by starting discussions and by finding things you find useful. Though it takes a little work, this can allow you to learn more about your target audience, to demonstrate yourself as an expert on your topic and to build loyal fans and even friends.
Once you manage that, you may even find that they actively help you to promote your business!