There’s three fundamental things to remember in getting customers from discussion forums and bulletin boards that are not operated by you.
The first secret: The forums you currently visit are not best sites to get customers
Let’s suppose you make games, and need to sell them. I bet – if you are like average Joe developer – you like to visit game development forums, and spend your time interacting on these forums. If you are an online entrepreneur, I suppose you like visiting forums where other fellow entrepreneurs hang out.
The problem with this approach is quite self-evident: those guys and girls are (most likely) not your target audience. If you are selling casual games, the best place is not casual game development forums. If you sell car parts, the best place to hang out is not the discussion forums where other car part sellers hang out. Fine, it’s true that some of those people might be interested in buying stuff, but most of them are doing exactly what you are doing: trying to sell their stuff, not buy stuff.
The second secret: Go to the forums where your potential customers are hanging out
That’s pretty clear after reading the first secret. The problem is – how to find those places where your potential customers are. One good resource is Big-boards.com. It’s a site that lists the biggest forums on the Internet. For example, if you are after gamers, you could start looking at the full list (not just the top 25 boards) and easily find proper forums such as GameBattles, Game Planet, GameSpot, Civ Fanatics and so on.
The third secret: do not spam
When you find proper forums, be extra careful when posting about your products and read the forum guidelines. Most forums don’t allow advertising your products directly, but they let you make intelligent (and long) replies to threads and let you attach a clickable signature link. Put a signature link and participate in the discussions. Sometimes you might be able to put your own product links when people are asking them, but even then you need to be careful not to violate the forum rules. Getting banned can happen fast.
When you find the right forums, and promote your products in the right manner – you’ll get new customers.