Goodyear Singapore trade newsletter #6
By Cheryl Tay
Online communities such as chat forums and other social network avenues are a great way of sharing information and gaining contacts. Despite not knowing who exactly is behind the computer screen, many turn to forums to seek answers from like-minded people. To better understand the local online community scene and the effectiveness of patronizing forums, Goodyear Singapore held a roundtable discussion with three active forum users:
After he bought his first car in 2002 – the Kia Spectra – Benedict Chong was searching online for a local Kia forum to find other Kia owners as he wanted to learn more about the car and its possible modifications. Unable to find any, Benedict felt that it was necessary to have one hence he set up the Kia Singapore forum then and maintained it until today. The 34-year-old franchise manager at Autosaver Pte Ltd – an automotive workshop which specialises in Nissan, Toyota and Honda vehicles – now drives a Nissan Cefiro and is also administrator to the Nissan Singapore forum.
A dental surgeon by day, Dr Jimmy Tang surfs forums from the minute he starts work in the morning all the way till night after returning home from work. Active in the VAGSG and SGMERC forums, Dr Tang joined the VAGSG forum through a recommendation from a fellow Volkswagen Golf GTI owner he met at a car workshop in May 2009. The 46-year-old drives a Mercedes-Benz C250 AMG and is currently on Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tyres.
Ryan Chua is the administrator of the BMW SG forum, a local BMW enthusiast and owners portal which he has been running for the past nine years. The 28-year-old marketing VP drives a BMW Z4 M coupe which runs on Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tyres daily. He also browses other forums such as investment and property-related forums in the USA, as well as technology and other automotive forums both locally and in the USA.
1. Why did you start chatting in forums?
Benedict Chong (BC): I was already surfing mobile phone forums, so I knew that forums existed and that they are very useful platforms for consumer queries between users of the same product or service. Thus after I got my Kia Spectra in September 2002, I went in search of a Kia Singapore forum but found none, so I set up one and maintained it till today. As for the Nissan forum, I joined as a member but the previous administrator is my friend and he couldn’t afford the time to manage the forum anymore so he handed it over to me.
Dr Jimmy Tang (DJT): I was told by a fellow Volkswagen Golf GTI owner that the VAGSG forum has a very lively exchange of information regarding Volkswagen and Audi cars, so out of curiosity, I went to check it out and ended up joining it.
Ryan Chua (RC): I’ve been engaged in both international and local forums for more than 10 years now. Forums are the best places to get real consumer answers to questions in a timely manner. Very often you would find other consumers who have similar interests in specific knowledge about a particular niche. Forums are also great for interacting with other like-minded members of the community whom you can readily share ideas with on the go.
2. How often do you chat in forums?
BC: As long as my computer is switched on and I’m at the desk, I will definitely be logged in to the forums.
DJT: I usually log in when I start work at about 9.00 am and I remain logged in all throughout the day until about 11.00 pm at night after I get home from work. My wife used to complain about my newfound obsession, but she’s used to it now. I like to read the interesting threads and will post some jokes or related news of interest.
RC: I spend typically anywhere from about 45 minutes to one and a half hours daily surfing forums.
3. What is your motivation for going into forums?
BC: I hope to get more members into the forums so we can have increased knowledge sharing and better discounts when we organise group buys. When I started the Kia forum seven years ago, there were only four members then. Today, there are over 10,000 registered members.
DJT: I find the discussions in the forum engaging and I can understand because I can relate to them.
RC: Every day there’s something new and interesting posted in the forum, it can be a newfound idea, some news, photos or videos. Forums serve as a platform for me to keep in touch with like-minded friends as well.
5. What do you hope to achieve out of participating in these forums?
BC: I use forums as an avenue to promote my company’s products and services. I usually only go to the Kia and Nissan forums but I do visit other automotive forums occasionally. Through participation of these forums, I hope people will spread the benefits of forums to their friends and invite them to join, especially those who have no idea about forums.
DJT: I hope to gain more ideas and information about cars, particularly brands of the cars that I own or previously owned. I also hope to contribute knowledge from my 29 years of motoring experience and make the forum livelier.
RC: I don’t have any specific goal for surfing forums, but what I’ve got out of forums include making and meeting many new friends, gaining in-depth knowledge about the topics I’m most interested in as well as contributing my thoughts.
6. What have you learnt about forums?
BC: Forums are more specific in answering your queries (for example, comparing of prices of certain products or where to go for particular services) instead of spending time to search on Google. Forums also provide good social networking opportunities, where new friends and even business contacts are gained.
DJT: The first thing that struck me was the enormous amounts of information shared between the forum users. I”m impressed by some of them for their in-depth knowledge about Volkswagen and Audi cars. There are the occasional know-it-all wannabes, but eventually you can tell them apart from the real smart ones. Forum users have a tendency to get carried away with hot topics but that’s where the moderators step in to control the show. In general, forum users are a nice bunch of people.
RC: There’s so much I can say but let’s keep it short. Forums have definitely been very useful in letting me have a more open mind about my interests. Forums are often a hot spot for breaking news and trends, where other users can chime in to give their opinions and thoughts about the topics being discussed. It’s a great way to be informed from multiple perspectives and ideas. Conversely, it is easy to get distracted and absorbed into discussions which can keep you involved for hours on end.
7. How do forums help you as a consumer?
BC: I achieved my objective of increasing my knowledge about cars and also gaining benefits such as merchant offers that are extended to members of particular forums.
DJT: Forums help me to seek out as much information as possible about a product before I buy it. Many users will readily share their experiences and also pricing information, which helps other consumers to filter out the bad vendors. Likewise for tyres, whenever there’s a new launch by a certain brand you can be sure that someone will start posting his comments about it and in a blink of the eye, the thread turns into a heavily discussed topic. If the feedback is good, one would be tempted to go out and buy those tyres although there is no need to change tyres as yet. Yes, that’s how much influence and power forums have.
RC: Forums are great places to get reviews of products or services from other users no doubt, but it may be difficult to ascertain if people are speaking the truth as many forum members can be easily biased or might have been paid by an advertiser. There are highly respected and trusted individuals within the community though. These influencers are capable of making a difference to businesses based on their personal recommendations. In addition, forums serve as an alternative avenue to get different insights before purchasing a product or trying out a service.
8. How useful are forums to businesses?
BC: Definitely very helpful! I use forums as a form of advertising and promotion for my company. Forums are typically useful for related businesses, for example a car polishing service advertises in a car forum, as the target audience is correct. But there are merchants who promote general consumer products like televisions or beds just to gain awareness.
DJT: I believe there are over 15,000 members in VAGSG at the moment. That”s a huge market at a click of a button. Businesses should improve for vendors who use forums.
RC: Forums can be extremely beneficial to businesses if handled right. Most businesses and companies new to forums don’t usually understand the dynamics of a community and often make fatal PR mistakes that result in the brand and business being affected in a negative way. What happens is, these companies try too hard and pitch forum members from the get-go. On the positive end, many companies do get it right and get personally involved with discussions, to provide clear and honest channels of communication to interact with consumers in the forum. Personally, I’ve worked with businesses on advertising their services specifically to forums and they have seen 30 to 50 per cent increase in revenue based on word of mouth, user interactions and positive recommendations. These businesses also understand the importance of being responsible to fix mistakes if they do happen and are clear about them.
9. What do you think about the local tyre industry?
BC: It is a very price sensitive industry and many drivers today are still unsure about how to choose the right tyres for their car. Some don’t even notice that their tyre threads have gone bald after a certain amount of mileage clocked.
DJT: It’s a very competitive market. Every brand seems to have something to suit varying driver’s needs; for example, performance, comfort or eco-friendliness. At the end of the day, I feel that the one which offers best value for money wins.
RC: Competitive and divided into various categories of performance, comfort and pricing.
10. What do you hope to see of the local tyre industry?
BC: I hope more people will start visiting forums to increase their knowledge so that they can take care of their tyres and cars properly.
DJT: I wish more tyre companies will step forward and sponsor our local motorsports scene. That will definitely improve the profile of the tyre company.
RC: I personally think that tyre companies should get more involved in forums by showcasing their technology and educating users on the manufacturing processes, compounds and other behind-the-scenes information that the general crowd don’t get to see.