Utilizing forums for SEO and social media marketing

March 13, 2024

Christopher Spong
Why are online forums so important? Read to discover how forums shape search results and AI models, and leverage their insights for SEO and social media success.

Utilizing forums for SEO and social media marketing

What are forums and why are they important?

Peer-to-peer communication has been a hallmark of the internet since its inception. From the earliest messages sent between networked computers to the social media giants of today, the ability to digitally connect over ideas has shaped the world as we know it. Having evolved from online bulletin board systems, forums are a place for specific ideas to be discussed. While forums share some similarities with other social networks, the breadth of information, entertainment, and perspectives makes them truly unique.

Reddit and Quora are two of the largest and most popular forum sites with discussion threads representing a nearly endless variety of interests and users. Aside from these general interest forums, there are also many smaller online communities serving niche groups of users, including brand-affiliated forums that enable consumers to engage with one another.

Prevalence in search results

Forums are becoming an increasingly important part of the search landscape, primarily with Google. Within search engines’ results, searchers are frequently served the “Discussions and forums result type, which groups together threads related to the searcher’s query from popular and niche forums. Google will also group Reddit threads for related queries into a three-pack or five-pack result, enabling searchers to choose the thread most likely to meet their needs.

The growth of forums in search results may be the product of Google’s efforts to offer more helpful information. Reddit, Quora, and other forums are earning greater share of voice and are increasingly in competition for various categories of queries, including product searches, informational searches, and brand searches.

The growing presence of forums in search results may also create a feedback loop that could impact rankings across industries. With more search results pointing to forums, the use of forums will continue to grow, making the content within them even more robust and therefore even more valuable for searchers.

Large language model training

As the generative AI arms race continues, tech companies seeking to improve their large language models (LLMs) must compete for robust data sources. In a monumental agreement, Reddit will allow Google to utilize its API for language model training, which will impact the quality of Google’s AI chatbot, known as Gemini (formerly Bard).

The utilization of forums to train LLMs compounds the impact that forums will have on the search landscape and future AI outputs. The perspectives, expertise, and opinions of forum users will be collated by AI to generate search results that can blend facts with popular opinions.

Leveraging forums for SEO and social media marketing

With a greater share of search results and nearly limitless potential for growth, it is essential that marketers consider how forums might play a role in their digital strategies. From mentions of specific brands and companies to in-depth discussions around products and industries, forums offer a wealth of information that marketers can leverage.

Discovering if, where, and how your brand appears

Although forum users currently represent just a sample of total consumers, insights gleaned from forum discussions could have much broader applications. Much of our internet culture stems from or passes through Reddit and other major forums, meaning that even if a consumer group under-indexes for forum use, the content and perspectives generated by forum users may still impact the opinions and behaviors of that group. Because of this, it is essential that marketers know if, where, and how their brand is appearing within Reddit and other forums.

Brand and consumer insights research — which includes social listening, search engine results page analysis, and consumer profiling — can help marketers understand how their brand is appearing within forums, what forum users are saying, and how likely it is that a consumer will be impacted by these perspectives. These insights can then help inform content creation and brand communications priorities, get passed to customer service teams for training, or be used to develop and refine products or services.

Deciding if and when to participate

Mentions of a brand, product, or service within a forum don’t mean a company must actively participate. Different forums have different rules and customs that dictate who can or should post. Reddit users, for example, generally don’t wish to engage with brand accounts when seeking advice from peers. But different communities within the network (called subreddits) have different rules and expectations for who can share and comment, meaning there is no universal best practice for using forums.

If a brand or representative of a brand wishes to participate in a forum, transparency is essential to avoid alienating a community. On forums like Reddit, in which users must create a public profile, moderators and active participants may be able to identify and chastise an account attempting to disguise its marketing activity.

Regardless of whether a brand decides to actively participate in forum discussions, monitoring for mentions and documenting how threads appear in search results is essential. As Reddit and other forums play a greater role in influencing opinions, answering questions, and engaging consumers, brand leaders must be prepared to integrate learnings from monitoring forum conversations into their marketing strategy.