Since Google and Yahoo became household names, Web search has been a part of the daily lives of many consumers. Yet often overlooked while gleaning the Internet for blogs, Web sites, and social networks are online forums and message boards. Although some think of these Web sites as a fascination of the pre-blogging age, companies that monitor their content can gain a unique understanding of their brand reputations not found elsewhere on the Internet.
"There is something a little bit different about forums and online communities, and it's that [the users] are people who are deeply passionate about their jobs, or [perhaps] about something unfortunate, if it's a health issue," says Scott Germaise, director of product management at Twing.com, a search engine for online communities and forums. "Certainly there is a conversation on these pages, and this is where real people are speaking to one another. They're saying, 'This is my problem or issue, and this is how I responsibly handle it,' and they have a discussion."
Although consumers routinely visit Web sites and niche blogs to find information about a destination they might visit or a product they are considering buying, many also turn to forums to join a discussion that is a bit more formal and private, says Virginia Miracle, SVP of digital strategy at Ogilvy.
"The types of discussions you might have on blogs are very public, and different than talking to other people going through the same thing... a sense of a public conversation versus a private conversation," she says. "It is something that you can't ignore, because it could be where a wealth of conversation is taking place."
Participants in bulletin boards often have a deeper understanding of issues than blog commenters
Many people still use bulletin boards for research
People in online discussions often have more private conversations than they do on blogs