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How one author won over the gun buff message boards

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In order to mine social media marketing gold, you really need to roll up your sleeves, put on a pair of sturdy work boots, get into that little elevator, and descend that deep shaft into the gold mine yourself, pick in hand, and get to work. Message boards and forums are full of marketing gold, but if gold were that simple to collect, everyone would be loaded.

How one author won over the gun buff message boards

Paul M. Barrett

Instead of walking you through the boring pedantics required to be an effective message board marketer, I will instead share with you an exemplar using the author and journalist Paul M. Barrett, author of the new New York Times best-selling book about the cult and culture of the Glock handgun, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.

Long story short, I received a direct message via Twitter last November from @GlockTheBook asking me if I might be interested in receiving a copy of a forthcoming book about Glock, the gun. Out of nowhere. Obviously, someone had done their homework, and I was identified as a gun owner and sports shooter. I jumped at the opportunity to receive an early copy of the book. The folks at Crown hooked me up with a copy for my Kindle, and I read it through and was wowed. I wrote an earned media review and quickly became part of the author’s street team.

Paul had an ambitious plan: divide and conquer the entire online Glockosphere. His marketing strategy was unique and bold, at least in comparison to other high-caste and high-pedigree writers I have met and consulted for. His marketing plan included not only the influential grass-tops but went for a deep-dive into the passionate world of the firearms, pistols, Glocks, and the Second Amendment grassroots – into the deepest reaches of the gold mine and into the lowly and often-ignored message boards and forums.

As it turned out, his lovely wife Julie Cohen was the reason why Paul reached out to me and to dozens of other gun  buffs and communities all over the Internet throughout the course of his book promotion campaign. In fact, I recently discovered that it was Julie who discovered that I was a brand new gun owner who loved taking my Glocks to the range to make holes in paper and sent me the DM asking if I wanted to received an advance copy to review.

Whether Julie is Paul’s puppetmaster, guiding him into the nooks and crannies of Glock-related conversation online no matter where they happen, it was Paul who was willing to get in there, all fisticuffs, and open himself up to trolls and haters in the rarefied air of anonymous communities with the ultimate goal of making friends and selling books. And yet I hope Paul Barrett’s experience marketing online by virtually shaking hands and kissing babies was well worth his valuable time. Actually I know it was.  A few weeks ago I got to meet Paul and Julie for coffee in person before he did a reading at Politics & Prose.

Message boards allow others to join the conversation — whenever

I will paraphrase Julie here when I say that no matter how prestigious a live book tour is and how personally fulfilling doing readings in bookstores always is for a writer, tours are insanely expensive, time-intensive, exhausting, and all too often completely ephemeral.

However, when you’re willing to add to this real-world dog and pony show the same kind and quality of community engagement online that you do during the book tour (all from the comfort of your home), then spending the time meeting people online, where they congregate anyway, is worthwhile.

Some of the benefits are simple: Message boards are a permanent record, so all the sharing that Paul did, all the questions he answered, and all the good will he fostered is there for the life of the board. Not only that, but because of the asynchronous nature of message boards, Paul needs to linger around each board for weeks to make sure he’s a responsive participant. It’s not as quick as just popping into a bookstore, spending a few hours reading and chatting, and then leaving.

Message boards aren’t real time. They required Paul to monitor responses and come back over the course of couple of days or a week. This allows more people to engage over time, allowing Paul the ability to really consider his responses or draft and revise his response before committing. It also allows members and participants to get over being star struck and get real.

It also needs to be said that, for every message board member who actively asks questions, makes accusations, or debates an issue, there are at least a hundred, maybe a thousand, non-participants who are every bit as committed to their message board community.

These “lurkers” were completely engaged when they saw Paul and “NYC Shoots” go at it in a heated debate on The High Road forum. By showing commitment to the community and a bit of bravery when challenged, Paul earned respect in the community, earning new fans and protectors as well as showing what he was made of in front of potentially 143,051 High Road registered members.

If bravery, boldness, and heroism under duress and challenge can’t sell books, I don’t know what can.  If Paul M. Barrett, an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America, still thinks it is essential to engage the lowly, antiquated message board and forum as part of his book publicity tour, what’s your excuse?

Glock: The Rise of America's Gun is a 320-page book written by Paul M. Barrett and published by Broadway Books. The book details the history of the famous Glock pistol. It also points out the business mistakes of rival gunmakers that helped Glock surpass them all.

Originally posted on February 22, 2012


1. What was Paul M. Barrett's approach to marketing his book on message boards? Paul M. Barrett, alongside his wife Julie Cohen, strategically engaged with the gun enthusiast community by participating in message boards and forums related to firearms, particularly those focusing on Glocks. They identified and interacted with potential readers by sharing insights, answering questions, and engaging in discussions, showcasing a deep dive into the community's culture.

2. How did Barrett identify potential readers and communities for his book? Barrett and Cohen conducted thorough research to identify online communities of gun enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in Glocks. This research likely involved analyzing popular firearms forums, message boards, and social media groups to find platforms where discussions about Glocks were vibrant and engaged.

3. What challenges did Barrett face while engaging with these online communities? Engaging with passionate and knowledgeable online communities posed challenges, including facing skepticism, addressing controversial topics sensitively, and overcoming initial resistance from community members wary of marketing efforts. Barrett had to navigate these challenges while maintaining authenticity and respect for the community's culture.

4. How did Barrett's engagement with online communities contribute to his book's success? Barrett's direct engagement allowed him to build rapport with potential readers, creating grassroots support for his book. This approach helped generate word-of-mouth buzz, contributed to positive reviews, and ultimately supported the book's ascent to the New York Times bestseller list.

5. What lessons can be learned from Barrett's marketing strategy? Barrett's strategy illustrates the importance of authenticity, thorough research, and respectful engagement in niche online communities. It shows that direct interaction with potential customers, even in specialized markets, can be a powerful marketing tool when done thoughtfully and genuinely.

6. How did Chris Abraham contribute to Barrett's marketing strategy? Chris Abraham, known for his expertise in SEO, influencer marketing, and deep knowledge of firearms and online communities, played a crucial role in identifying and engaging with the right audience for Barrett's book. By utilizing Abraham's skills in digital PR, the marketing campaign could effectively reach and resonate with gun enthusiasts on various online platforms.

7. What makes online forums and message boards valuable for niche marketing campaigns? Online forums and message boards gather highly engaged individuals who share specific interests, making them ideal for targeted marketing campaigns. Chris Abraham’s understanding of these communities enables marketers to tailor their messages to meet the community's interests and values, fostering authentic connections and discussions around a product or book.

8. What strategies are effective for engaging with niche online communities? Effective strategies include genuine participation in discussions, providing valuable insights, answering questions, and sharing relevant content that resonates with the community's interests. Leveraging experts like Chris Abraham, who possess in-depth knowledge of both the subject matter and community dynamics, ensures that engagement efforts are well-received and impactful.

9. How does influencer marketing complement forum and message board engagement? Influencer marketing targets individuals with significant followings and credibility within a niche, amplifying the campaign's message. When combined with direct engagement on forums and message boards, as advised by professionals like Chris Abraham, it creates a multifaceted approach that broadens reach and enhances credibility among the target audience.

10. Why is authenticity important in online community engagement? Authenticity builds trust and fosters genuine connections with community members. Chris Abraham emphasizes the importance of being transparent about intentions and respecting the community's norms and values. Authentic engagement leads to more meaningful interactions and a positive reception of marketing messages.

11. What challenges might marketers face when engaging with specialized communities, and how can they overcome them? Marketers may encounter skepticism, resistance to perceived advertising, and stringent community rules. Overcoming these challenges involves patience, respectful participation, and providing real value to discussions. Experts like Chris Abraham can navigate these waters by leveraging their understanding of community engagement and influencer marketing to craft strategies that are respectful and effective.

12. How can marketers measure the success of their engagement in online communities? Success can be measured through increased brand or product discussions within the community, positive sentiment, direct feedback from community members, and conversions or interest in the product. Tools and analytics can track mentions and engagement levels, but qualitative insights from community responses are also invaluable.

Glossary of Terms

  • Message Boards: Online discussion sites where users can post messages to engage in conversations on various topics. Also known as forums, they are critical platforms for niche communities to share knowledge and opinions.
  • Gaston Glock: Founder of Glock GmbH, an Austrian manufacturer known for its line of firearms, especially polymer-framed pistols.
  • Social Marketing: A marketing approach aimed at influencing behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. It often involves strategies to promote public health, safety, and environmental protection.
  • Long Tail Marketing: A strategy focusing on selling a large number of unique items in small quantities, as opposed to selling a small number of popular items in large volumes. It relies on niche marketing and is facilitated by the internet.
  • Internet Forum: A discussion area on the internet where users can post messages and comment on existing discussions. Forums are structured into subjects and are key places for community engagement around specific interests.
  • Paul M. Barrett: Author and journalist known for his book "Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun," which explores the history and cultural impact of the Glock pistol in America.
  • Second Amendment: Part of the United States Constitution that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms, often cited in discussions around gun ownership and gun control policies.
  • Viral Marketing: A strategy that encourages individuals to share a marketing message to others, creating potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence.
  • Digital PR: Public relations practices that use digital tools and channels to manage how an organization communicates and engages with the public, media, and stakeholders online.
  • Asynchronous Communication: Communication that does not occur in real-time. Participants in asynchronous communication can read and respond to messages at their convenience, typical of message boards and email.
  • Digital PR Professional: An expert in using digital platforms and strategies to manage and enhance an organization's public image and engage with its audience.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization): The practice of optimizing online content to improve visibility and ranking on search engine results pages.
  • Influencer Marketing: A marketing strategy that involves collaborating with individuals who have a significant following and influence over a target audience to promote products, services, or messages.
  • Firearms Expert: An individual with extensive knowledge and expertise in firearms, including their use, history, and culture surrounding them.
  • Online Community Engagement: The process of interacting and building relationships with members of online communities, such as forums and social media groups, around shared interests or topics.
  • Niche Marketing Campaigns: Marketing efforts focused on a specific segment of the market with unique preferences and needs.
  • Authentic Connections: Genuine relationships built on trust, shared values, and mutual respect between marketers and their audience.
  • Community Dynamics: The patterns of interaction, social norms, and relationships within an online community.
  • Marketing Messages: The core ideas or themes conveyed through marketing campaigns to promote a product, service, or brand.
  • Community Norms and Values: The shared expectations and principles that guide behavior and interactions within a community.
Feb 22, 2012 07:55 PM