In my April 2015 and November 2017 columns, I talked about the rise of online user reviews and how they’re a response to lack of knowledge and bad customer service in retail stores. Over time, consumers have been trained to think that retail staff most likely don’t know what they’re talking about and are just making it up as they go. I encounter this all the time in some forums I joined back then to interact with consumers and learn more about how they used forums to source information. Since then, I and retailer friends who have also joined the forum have worked to change this perception, and I think more retailers should be participating in these online discussions. They offer a unique opportunity to connect to the musician community.
One of the things you quickly learn when participating in various forums is there’s a wide gamut of people who participate in online communities. There are plenty of consumers who are as informed as any retail salesperson. There are beginners, old timers and everything in between. There’s also as much outdated, misleading or just flat out opinion-based information disguised as facts. At the heart of it, though, forums and groups tell us that there are loads of people who want to spend their time online engaging with others and talking about their love of music and musical instruments.
So why get involved as a storeowner or manager, you may ask. It creates opportunity. I don’t mean immediate direct sales opportunities, but the opportunity to engage people and create trusting relationships the old-fashioned way. It is a peek behind the curtain at what your customers are thinking, what they like, what they don’t like and what they’re looking for. Being able to address someone not as your storefront or your website, but as a person, overcomes those trust and credibility hurdles consumers assign to retail staff based on bad experiences. It also lets customers find you in the most organic way possible: as part of a community of people who love instruments, making music and talking about it.
“I enjoy the comradery of the online guitar forums and Facebook pages,” said Paul Tobias, owner of Tobias Music in Downer’s Grove, Ill. “As a fellow guitar geek, I stay up to date on the consumer’s opinions and buying habits. As a dealer with an ‘insider’ point of view, I can also share some knowledge and even help correct some misleading information that might be out there.”
I’ve actually gotten to know Paul well through several Facebook groups. He’s kind and generous with his time, and always stays positive and tries to help people, which is something I too enjoy. I’ve gotten to know a number of other notable gearheads through these groups too. Chris McKee of Alamo Music is well known in the online guitar-buying community for his popular YouTube videos. He’s also active in multiple groups and forums.
“I have always been a part of online guitar communities, whether it was on forums or more recently Facebook groups. I have learned a lot from the members of these communities, and I am glad to be a source of information as well,” said McKee.
So how do you best navigate a forum, and how do you convert posting on forums into sales? First off, be authentic. Enjoy yourself and participate in discussions and focus on being a person, not a dealer.
“I find that these communities are helpful in business because they allow me to connect with potential customers,” added McKee, “but that is more a byproduct of simply engaging with people. At the end of the day, we are all gear nuts and share similar passions. It is from this mutual interest that we are able to connect, grow and prosper. If it was solely a calculated business decision, I don’t believe much would come of it.”
I’ve never once seen any of the dealers I know make a sales pitch, which is something I think is key. Being authentic and taking the time to participate is what allows people to get to know you. They appreciate finding out about you as a player and as a person. Once people get to know you, they will often feel comfortable reaching out to you organically.
“As a shop owner,” said Tobias, “I don’t lay out any heavy sales pitches, but rather, gain some trust from other members. I tend to stay away from any controversial or argumentative posts (it is the internet after all). I don’t want to alienate any potential customers. We have seen numerous sales as a result of the friendships we have made on these online forums.”
While you don’t want to shy away from letting people know you’re in the business and have a store, you should still focus on being a good community member first. Adding value to a group or forum by lending your voice and knowledge, sharing “insider” info and being there to answer common questions is valuable, especially surrounding new product releases, like The NAMM Show, or when someone has an issue with their instrument and you can provide valuable insight and repair advice.
Joining online communities is a great way to reinvigorate your love of gear, performing, recording and just being a musician. Thinking of joining one? Write to me at gabriel@ upperhandstudios.com.