One of the latest entrants into this community-participation model is Thomas Publishing‚Äôs ThomasNet, the online heir to the more-than-a-century-old Thomas Register of industrial suppliers. ThomasNet.com launched its Forums feature on Jan. 16.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs too soon to give out statistics, but the additional level of engagement among our users already looks pretty significant,‚ÄĚ said Brad Mehl, VP-marketing for ThomasNet.com. Even though the Forums are currently only being promoted through links on the ThomasNet site, they‚Äôre already generating ‚Äúsome very nice traffic,‚ÄĚ he said.
Noting that ThomasNet has 3 million visitors a month to its site, Mehl said he expects the Forums to build via word-of-mouth in the early stages.
‚ÄúWe will link to the Forums more as they progress,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúUltimately, we have a broad range of channels to get the word out‚ÄĒour newsletters go out over 800,000 times a month and our newsroom has well over 1 million users.‚ÄĚ
The goal of the Forums, Mehl said, ‚Äúis to provide our users and the whole industrial world a place to interact online. Our company has served the industrial community for over 109 years. We know our users are passionate about talking shop and solving problems. Online community is a powerful way of bringing that dynamic to life.‚ÄĚ
Users are not required to register to use the Forums. ThomasNet‚Äôs revenue model is based on impression-based advertising, enhancements to directory listings and sponsorships but not on lead generation, Mehl pointed out.
‚ÄúWe drive value for our advertisers by drawing more prospects to their door,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThe Forums give our users more reasons to come to ThomasNet more often, which builds our brand as the site to go to for help. We‚Äôre helping our users to connect to each other in order to do their jobs better. It‚Äôs not a social network.‚ÄĚ
While the Forum platform was based on external software, ThomasNet programmers modified it ‚Äúto give our audience a better user experience and to help promote discussion among our entire user base, even those without prior experience using message boards,‚ÄĚ Mehl said.