Greg Hoffman



The Tarpon Agency Marketing Column

Boating Industry
Wednesday September 11, 2002

Your customers are talking about you. They are buying your products and sharing their experiences, good or bad, with thousands of people on the Internet everyday.

The popularity of bulletin boards, forums and online groups has exploded in recent years as consumers try to learn more about products on the market via the Internet. Ultimately, what is at stake is your company’s public image.

One irate customer can rant endlessly to an open-eared online audience absorbing information. It doesn’t happen often but the fact that it does should make you pay attention to this active form of communication.

Keeping it positive

The best way to keep a positive angle on these discussions is to actively participate and show the public that you and your company care about issues affecting them.

Someone from your company should be signed on to the boards and checking them regularly.

Many pro-active professionals from the marine industry already participate in forums and have become regular contributors.

They don’t have to advertise where they work, they just offer solid advice to the multitude of questions and comments from consumers and colleagues in the groups.

Participating on these boards does offer anonymity for all users. As long as the customer finds the answers they are looking for, it shouldn’t matter where the useful information came from.

A representative of a major manufacturer in the marine industry recently told me he monitors forums and groups to make sure that accurate information is being disseminated about his company.

He said he seldom contributes because there are astute technicians from dealerships around the country who are always giving good advice.

If he sees someone is having a hard time with a product, he will check to see if they have listed their e-mail address and he contacts them directly rather than publicly.

He said the customer usually goes back on the forum to let everyone know that the company took care of them.

Examples of consumer based bulletin boards would be: The Hull Truth at; Boat U.S. Message Boards at; and Google Groups on Boating at

Many consumer-based boating publications also have their own forums online.

Use of B2B forums growing

Forums also exist for marine business-to-business professionals.

For example, Boating Industry International has its own bulletin board on its homepage at

Another format is through Yahoo! Groups, within which Anchor Life is an e-mail-based discussion group at

At Anchor Life, members use one e-mail address to ask questions, comment on industry news or trends and most importantly, network with each other.

Online bulletin boards, forums and groups are an effective way to communicate with your customers and colleagues.

Each member can offer a unique and objective perspective to your questions or comments based on their experience.

In return, you and your company will help increase overall customer satisfaction and protect your public image.

Greg Hoffman
The Tarpon Agency