You’ll find online enthusiast forums to be a very powerful tool in landing sponsors as well as bringing exposure to your sponsors once you have them on board. Focus on forums that specialize on your make/model car as well as forums that focus on the type of racing you’ll be doing, and stick mostly to the most active forums – you’ll know which ones they are by doing a Google search for “car make model forums”, replacing “car make model” with the type of car you have. It’s a good idea to be active on multiple forums if you can, but at the very least be active on the most popular forum(s) in your market. Sign up for an account if you haven’t done so already and start browsing and participating.
Participate – Regularly
If you’ve already done some modifications to your car and have photos of the installations, post threads for those installs in the forums to help guide others through the process (mentioning your sponsors and how their parts are helping your efforts). You might have already posted these articles on your blog (you do have a blog, right?), but it’s good to post them on the forums as well, pointing people to your blog for more information so you don’t come across as a spammer.
Though you’re going to use forums to bring exposure to your racing efforts be careful not to go overboard on posting about your racing efforts. Try and balance your participation so that you are posting helpful information via questions and answers that help the community to go along with your racing effort plugs. It’s critical that the community doesn’t see you as a spammer (only there for self promotion). The goal is to become an authority in the community, someone people will pay attention to. And though many will enjoy following your race stories, the key will be finding balance in your posts. Ask questions, post answers, and integrate yourself into the community as a contributing member. The posts where you promote your racing events and mention your sponsors shouldn’t make up all of your participation.
Be as helpful as you can and answer questions as often as possible on subjects where you have the most experience. And if you do have questions you need answered by the forum members, be sure to use the “search” feature in the forum first to see if you can find answers to your question before you ask. This has been a common annoyance in automotive enthusiast forums (and many other types of forums). The long-time members get tired of seeing the same questions over and over. For more information about forums and good forum etiquette, read this article. Learning how to participate in the forums without pissing people off will be a big boost to your online reputation.
Remember, Always Act Professional
You will use forums in several ways – sometimes for posting about the events you’re attending, projects you’re working on for the car, and sometimes just posting questions and answers or BS’ing in various sub-forums within the site. It’s extremely important to always act professional with all of your posts. Be sure to learn the rules and policies of the forum and ask the forum staff questions if you need clarification on anything – don’t break any rules. Always keep in mind that your online participation is going to be reviewed by potential sponsors. In some ways, it’s almost as if you’re auditioning for employment. You want sponsors to see you as professional.
Avatars and Signatures and Threads… Oh My
Take advantage of the Avatar and Signature features of the forums you participate on. The Avatar is a photo that shows up next to your name when you post in the forums. Use a nice photo of your car, preferably an action shot from an event. Also place a photo of your car in the Signature area if it’s allowed, along with your name, your car specs/modifications, and the types of racing you’re doing or planning to do. If it doesn’t violate any rules, mention your sponsors’ names in your signature as well. And most importantly, post a link to your blog wherever you can – in the signature if it’s allowed, but definitely in the “homepage” field of your profile in the forum you’re participating on.
Help Organize Local Meets
Forums are great for meeting new people and making new friends. One of the most valuable effects of forum participation are the meets organized by the forum members. Work towards organizing meets in your area, or helping those who are already leading the effort in your region. Find ways to get involved. If you have any companies in your area that specialize in your make/model car, be sure to invite them to the meets. Again, build relationships.
What NOT to do in Forums
It can be easy to end up in a bad situation as a result of your forum participation. Disagreements with other members, conflicts with moderators, having fun or even losing your temper in a thread, etc. There is more than one way to get yourself in trouble, and that negative situation can come back to haunt you if you’re trying to land sponsors.
Don’t be a spammer:
Yes, you want to promote your racing and your build. But you don’t want to repeat what you’ve said in multiple sections of the same forum site. And don’t keep replying to the same thread in order to get more people to see it. These are common tactics of spammers and the moderators won’t stand for it.
Stay out of arguments and toxic threads:
If you’ve spent any time in forums you’ve come across the nasty debate threads and the bashing that takes place when someone asks a repetitive question. Stay out of those. You don’t want to get labeled as a troll. This a major sticking point for sponsors. Your online activity is something sponsors, much like employers, will look through. As fun is it may be to take a jab at the guy who is pissing off the community, you’ll be better off showing restraint. And for those that don’t know – sarcasm and humor don’t always translate well. You might just be joking, but the other person might not take it that way.
If there is a time where you get publicly challenged by another member on something you posted, take the high road and always be diplomatic. I lost count of how many times I’ve watched forum advertisers get called out and proceed to argue with members. Though you’re not an advertiser, your situation is actually more similar than you think. Hostile arguments (also called flame wars) are never going to work out in your favor, even if you’re in the right. It’s better to just avoid them and display a positive attitude.
Don’t argue with moderators:
Maybe they are in the wrong. Maybe they misunderstood something you said. Chances are you did something to get them to single you out. Just keep your cool and don’t challenge them too much, especially in the forums in front of everyone. If you get warned for something, take it with some humility and just move on. The last thing you want to do is get on the bad side of the moderating group, which consists of volunteer peace keepers who uphold rules set forth by the site owner. Most moderators don’t get paid for their efforts. You should be building relationships with the moderators, not fighting with them. It’s not about kissing ass either, that’s not what I’m suggesting. It’s about building a solid reputation.
Do not ignore questions from other members:
Stay on top of all the questions you get in the forums you participate on. This is a major part of building an audience. Set some time aside to answer private messages in the forums, replies to your threads, etc. Be sure to subscribe to any thread you start so that you get email alerts when someone replies. You should also have your options set to alert you via email when you receive a private message in the forums. Remember, these people are part of that target audience that your sponsors so desperately want to reach.
When you’re interacting with people online you realize quickly that it’s not always easy to communicate with different personalities. Everyone is different and reacts differently to certain situations, not to mention the fact that talking to someone online is quite different than talking to them in person. Be careful in your approach. Again, you are acting as a brand ambassador. As a general rule of thumb, act as if you’re talking to your employer’s mother when you’re debating – that should help! 🙂
*** Special Tip ***
If you’re already a regular in your particular forum site, and you have the time and patience, look into becoming a “Moderator” – a volunteer who helps uphold the rules of the forum. This can be a pretty good selling point for potential sponsors. Obviously this shouldn’t be the driving force behind wanting to become a moderator. You should be doing it mainly to help the community. And if you abuse the position it can also hurt your sponsorship opportunities. Just be prepared to put some time in, and to have your patience tested.
Show Us Your Stuff
Do you use forums to promote your racing efforts and your project car build? Post a comment and share what has been working for you below!