In last week’s blog post, I shared about an experiment that we ran last year with AZBilliards, Home Theater Forum, TalkBass, and Windsor Peak Press. To recap, we created a new site called Product Stories with a product-focused presentation of forum discussions. The initial results were promising, but were left with two questions:

  • What if we made the products the focal point, instead of the original post?
  • What if instead of including full post text, we only displayed a post snippet and forwarded clicks to the original forum thread?
To answer these questions, we designed a second experiment with Tesla Motors Club, Tortoise Forum, and WDWMAGIC. First, we highlighted a specific product, then attached related posts from various forum threads. Second, we included a brief snippet that linked back to the original forum post.

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We also explained to visitors how the affiliate model on the site worked.

As with our first experiment, we generated traffic through Facebook ads, and again targeted non-forum, passive users.

The overall engagement rate was 23%, softer than our first experiment. Amongst those sessions, however, there were three interesting results:

  1. The purchase conversion rate improved to 3%, compared to 1% in our first experiment.
  2. Participation was more action-oriented. In the first experiment, 53% of engaged sessions clicked on a post or product. In this experiment, that figure was 76%.
  3. About half of these clicks went directly to the original forum post, while the rest went to the retail affiliate link. The percentage going to the original forum post was much higher than we expected, especially considering that the retail link included a large image above the posts, and a big button below the posts.
The results convinced us that there was a compelling model here, and that Product Stories was worth building out. But it also gave us insight into something broader.

When we saw that half of the Product Stories clicks went back to the forum, we put those results alongside the retention figures from the first experiment. We realized that with some elbow grease and luck, we might be able to create a model with a positive click multiplier for forums. In other words, a single session from Product Stories could, over time, produce more than one click to the forum.

We also noticed something else in the retention data. We had run a series of early experiments in parallel alongside this Product Stories experiment, testing various presentations of non-product forum stories. It turned out that users who visited both non-product forum stories and Product Stories were much more likely to return than users who visited just one or the other.

That led us to our second takeaway: By extending the Product Stories model to non-product forum stories, we might be able to further multiply the number of clicks referred to forums. In other words, it might be possible to finally convert passive drive-by visitors into repeat visitors.

Since wrapping up this second experiment, we’ve run a number of additional experiments to test this hypothesis. We still have much more work to do, but I’m happy to share that in partnership with our customers, we are getting closer to the goal, and I hope to share more about those results soon.
Originally posted on the blog at Threadloom.