Lessons from international online forums

The internet has made the world a global village. A place where people transcend their immediate surroundings on an everyday basis, interacting with similar groups across a complex range of global networks.  

This has profoundly changed how people seek support, empathy and community. And, as a result, has created new challenges and opportunities for organisations seeking to engage with them.

Discussion forums bring like-minded people together, creating new social units and lifelines that ignore national borders. The organisations that recognise these new social units and the value they bring to their audience, will be much better placed to understand, reach and connect with customers on their own terms. They’ll become part of the village.

Online forums: giving a (virtual) face to mankind

Online forums are a unique social space. As an anonymous space to share thoughts and feelings, they reveal the most intimate and unfiltered parts of people’s daily lives.

As it turns out, people lose sleep over very similar things.

In this way, online forums offer businesses a chance to understand the human experience at scale and the social effects of globalisation in real-time.

Picture this unremarkable scenario.

A Dutch and Indian mother both find themselves desperately searching the UK-based Mumsnet forum for answers when their crying babies are teething. They find their answer in a post by a woman from Senegal. The wealth of information that brands can gather from this exchange is remarkable.

New mothers’ need for support, reassurance and practical solutions – check.

How online networks are increasingly becoming the mainstay of many people’s social life – check.

The power of online forums for both marketeers and other users lies in their ability to reflect the lives of the many, creating a sense of similarity and solidarity between people all over the world. Forums teach us common humanity – a huge insight into audience psychology for any brand.

Finding your niche: the power of online sub-communities

The opposite is also true. Discussion forums are an ideal place for businesses to learn about, find and reach ‘the few’.

The international nature of online networks is especially important for niche groups, allowing them to coalesce around interests, needs and ‘people like them’ further afield. In this way, they form ‘hubs’ that are more meaningful lenses to understand audiences other than nationality.

Take the subject of physical and mental health. We have seen how people with newly diagnosed medical conditions come to discussion forums to get emotional support, practical advice and vent – especially in cultures where an open display of feelings is taboo.

For example, loneliness is seldom openly talked about in the UK, as we discovered in our work for the British Red Cross. Discussion forums offer a chance to break this taboo and talk about difficult feelings with a sympathetic listener.

Brands that aren’t listening to these conversations are not only missing out on elusive insights that are hard to get at. They risk missing the direction of travel altogether, underestimating how old-fashioned national, demographic and generational labels are increasingly becoming redundant to many globalised consumers.

A world interconnected by technology

Ironically, it seems we need technology to shine a big spotlight on what real life is like, really.

Truly great businesses truly understand their customers.

Through online discussion forums, brands can observe conversations they would never otherwise be privy to – by the majority and minority groups alike. To understand how to ‘talk their talk’. How to engage in an authentic, attuned way. How to not be lazy and categorise audiences according to outdated labels. Life stages have morphed, national silos have blurred, and lifestyles and interests intersect across social groups and borders.

This will only accelerate: globalisation is inevitable and irreversible. Brands should set their sights on international discussion networks to better appeal to their customers.

The global village is here to stay and with our experience of international query writing, we are happy to help you find and tap into the different parts of the global village. Get in touch to find out how.

By Louise Alestam

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