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Participation in online forums can help small businesses network, stay up to speed on industry happenings and seek advice, based on May 2015 polling by Bank of America and Manta. The study found that 29.8% of US small-business owners (SBOs) participated in online professional forums, and three-quarters of this group “attribute their success to active involvement in these online communities.”
Networking with potential clients was the No. 1 reason SBOs participated in online forums. Forums presented not only a networking opportunity, but an educational one too: Respondents wanted to stay abreast of current business and industry trends as well as look for advice about suppliers, products and services.
Other research highlights how highly small businesses regard information found on online forums. In a February 2015 study by Entrepreneur and G/O Digital, 45% of US small and medium-sized businesses said they would share peer recommendations from industry communities and forums with their colleagues—the second-highest response.
Bank of America and Manta examined how vendors could leverage online forums to connect with small businesses. When asked which roles they would like to see large national suppliers take in online forums, SBOs were most likely to want them to sponsor and provide financial support as well as give the advice on products and services they’d come to the community seeking. Deals and promotions were appealing to 23.9%, and over one-fifth wanted to see suppliers take the extra step and create topic-specific forums and communities.
What were vendors doing wrong? When asked about the biggest mistakes large national suppliers made on forums, SBOs were most likely to say they were too concerned about selling instead of producing in-demand content. Just under one-fifth said the simple fact that they didn’t participate in communities was the largest mistake, and a similar percentage said they were always trying to defend themselves against negative reviews.
Suppliers looking to reach small businesses on online forums should quit focusing on themselves and serve up the information and content SBOs want from such communities.
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