Today’s guest post is by Jessica Malnik.

I’m just going to say it.

Online forums are the forgotten medium.

During the past few years, brands have become enamoured by sexier social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

These channels have a massive reach, and because of that there is a perception everyone is active on them.

Often times, companies get so busy optimizing and creating content for these external social media channels they overlook the tremendous potential of forums.

Forums have been around since the mid-1990s. In their simplest structure, they can act as a bulletin or message board.

They are often overlooked by PR professionals and marketers, which is unfortunate because, in a lot industries, there are more conversations taking place in forums than on Facebook and Twitter.

In fact according to Jason Falls, 90 percent of the conversations about banking and the banking industry take place on forums.

Admittedly, forums can be an intimidating environment. Many marketers are used to just pushing their message out to the most people they can reach. That’s not an ideal strategy for forums, which tend to be smaller and much more conversational.

Below are three ways investing time using forums can enhance your overall PR and marketing strategies.

Ownership and Control

Forums are one of the only truly owned platforms, alongside email marketing, blogs, and company websites.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the other social networks are great, but you are essentially renting space from them. As a third-party site, they can make changes whenever they want (or even shut down), and there is very little you can do about it. Ask yourself this: What would happen if Facebook were to shut down tomorrow? Do you have other ways to reach your audience? With a forum that is hosted on your own site, you have much more control over the environment.

Community Building

Contrary to what many may think, a fairly large number of people are still uncomfortable sharing a lot of information online. This is especially true for the large banking and medical industries. Not to mention, conversations on Facebook brand pages and on Twitter tend to be much more one-sided.

Many people don’t want to share their personal (or family/friend) health problems or banking questions publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but they are still looking for guidance and/or support. This is where forums really work. The average forum tends to be much smaller and more conversational, which often provides that sense of security and community feel that allows people to be more open.

Take a step back, listen, and contribute to the conversation (instead of trying to “hijack” it). You will learn a tremendous amount just by being a member of your forum’s community.

Fantastic Educational Resource

Forums have always been a great way to disseminate information and resources. This only expands when you get forum participants asking questions, answering other people’s questions, and providing their own tips and tricks. This can become a fantastic marketing tool.

These are just three ways that companies can get value from forums. Depending on your marketing strategies, the possibilities are nearly endless from increasing engagement to answering questions, providing educational resources and creating brand evangelists.

How have you incorporated forums into your overall PR and marketing strategies?

Jessica Malnik is an online community builder, social media specialist, and an avid blogger. Visit her blog for social media, technology, public relations, and marketing ramblings.