ESP Forums: A Scarce Commodity

Forums are discussion boards, also known as message boards, that enable members of a site to interact with each other by exchanging knowledge and discussing hot topics related to specific industries. Forums save and post specific information about particular topics, which creates active,
specialized, and high-quality discussion environments. However, in the ESP community, forums are
scarce.

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 ESPs

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

Forums also deliver “stickiness” to your 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 your site properties for updates on related topics and subscribe to RSS feeds. As an added bonus, if members choose to receive alerts about discussion topics, they won’t be dismissed as spam, because the member will have developed real interest in those topics. So, alerts can be yet another way to increase members’ level of engagement within the forum.

Customer Retention

Among ESPs, customer retention is important. If you create a robust forum that provides
additional support infrastructure, your 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, you can direct clients to feeds in separate areas related to different topics of discussion. 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. 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. 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 among 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.

 

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fred

Fred Tabsharani is engaged in strategic marketing initiatives for Port25 Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized 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 and constantly discovers new insight from thought-leaders in the email industry. He is a columnist for a few industry blogging portals and is also a member of several email based organizations including but not limited to MAAWG and the Email Experience Council. Fred’s goal is to continue honing his skills and knowledge in this space and to build timeless industry relationships that transcend business goals.

3 Comments

  1. Loren McDonald said:

    Fred – Client communities are certainly powerful for all the reasons you cited. But I’m wondering – the title of your post is “…A Scare Commodity” – did you do a survey or analysis of ESPs to determine how many/what percentage of them have a client community?

    Here at Silverpop we’ve had a client community since May of 2010 – so perhaps a bit late to the party…but it has been very successful. As far as I know many/most of our competitors also have communities.

    So just curious on the characterization of “scarce” – where does that come from?

    Thanks.

    • fred said:

      Hey Loren,

      Thanks so much for commenting and I hope you are enjoying your summer.

      This post stemmed from an internal discussion with close colleagues. Granted some, but not all maturing ESPs, have a community forum, and there are reasons for this. For example, some ESPs who elect not to “own” a forum because they may not want their clients to compare notes. Others such as SilverPop are much more transparent and of course for the greater good. The goal of the article was to substantiate the credibility of a forum and how it could generate a lasting impression to your clients and to your brand. Hope you are well.

      \fred

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