Our online activity is evolving and new forms of social media and online communication and interaction are constantly developing. Recent trends include, for example, continued growth of messaging platforms, the rise of augmented and virtual reality, TikTok’s rising popularity among Gen Z users, and increasing social (media) commerce. So, a lot of new exciting things are happening all across the Web. There is one type of online space, however, that seems to be largely forgotten: the traditional Internet forum.
Internet forums, or online message boards, have been around as long as the World Wide Web itself, but have seen a decline in popularity over the last decade or so. The main reason is of course the rise of social media. Much of the discussions online around shared interests, topics, or questions are now taking place on, for example, Facebook. So, why bother about Internet forums? Well, I think a lot of interesting stuff is still happening on the traditional Internet forums. In fact, I think many online message boards offer things to people that social media cannot, or at least struggles with.
Compared to social media, Internet forums typically have a superior level of organization, structure, searchability, continuity and last but not least, anonymity. And all these characteristics of the Internet forum can be really helpful and valuable for anybody in search of information about, or an interest to discuss, a certain topic or question. Some Internet forums have evolved into encyclopaedias of collected wisdom and knowledge and stretch as far back in time as 20 years. These forums also continue to be gold mines for marketing researchers and companies trying to understand consumers’ opinions, preferences, activities, and experiences.
A great example of an Internet forum that still sees a lot of activity is MacRumors. MacRumors has a very active community of Apple users that discuss everything from purchasing decisions to technical aspects across the entire array of Apple products. This particular forum has been around since 2000 and also features a great archive of old discussion threads. It is interesting to go back and read these old discussions and see, for example, how wrong initial consumer reactions can be.
As many of you might know, Steve Jobs introduction of the iPod in 2001 not only saved Apple from bankruptcy, but also set the company on a trajectory towards becoming the consumer electronics giant we know today. However, in a thread labelled “Apple’s New Thing (iPod)” a few loyal Apple fanboys of the day were quite sceptical of this new product:
“This isn’t revolutionary!
I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!
Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!” – WeezerX80, posted October 23, 2001
“No ***** Way
All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distortion Field is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.” – nobody special, posted October 23, 2001
Of course, there were also a few positive reactions in the same discussion thread of the forum:
“not that disappointing
The reason why everyone’s disappointed is because we had our hopes up for this incredible device that would do everything you could possibly use the word “digital” in and most of the things you can’t. The truth is that is really is revolutionary. 5 gigs? Where do you see 5 gigs in an Mp3 player?
If Apple had gone with something completely and utterly new, it would probably go down the hole that the cube and the newton went down… they were ahead of their time, and suffered because of it. Apple can’t have another disaster like the Cube, so they decided to stay just a bit ahead of the game. As long as apple markets it effectively, I think it’s gonna do really well.
The product really looks great, give it a chance guys!” – greatm31, posted October 23, 2001
“Wow! Great Job Apple!
This is not like any other MP3 player on the market, imagine being able to store several days worth of music at once! The iPod will be great for travelers, students, heck anyone who is really into music.” – schmoe, posted October 23, 2001
Now, the really exciting thing is that we could, in the same way, backtrack the buzz and customer sentiment on this forum following literally every product launch made by Apple since 2000. It might not give us insights as to which products will fail or succeed in the future, but could definitely further our understanding of topics such as customer loyalty, e-word-of-mouth (WOM), customer feedback, customer acceptance of innovations, customer buying behaviour, customer engagement, customer perceptions, emotions and attitudes. Internet forums in their traditional forms might slowly be dying, but they arguable still have a lot to offer to observant marketing and consumer researchers.
P.S. For anybody interested in qualitative marketing research online, I recommend learning more about the method “Netnography”.
Heinonen, K. and Medberg, G. (2018), “Netnography as a tool for understanding customers: implications for service research and practice”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 657-679.
Kozinets, R.V. (2019), Netnography: The Essential Guide to Qualitative Social Media Research, 3rd Edition, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA