11 Rules for Using Forums

In a world of shiny reflective logos, and rapid fire feeds, it’s easy to dismiss discussion boards and forums as being passé, and a bit too web 1.0 for consideration as part of a modern social media campaign.  This isn’t necessarily the fault of social media professionals, it’s more a client led thing.

When the CEO of GigantoCorp wants to “do some social”, he generally means “do some Facebook”, or “get some twitters”, not listen to customers, but the fact is that so called old fashioned forums still have huge sway on the web, and if you were to aggregate memberships, you would find that more people use forums than Facebook.  In fact, there are probably more forum accounts than there are people.

Some of the bigger boards rival social networks in terms of user numbers – according to Big Boards, the service that compiles statistics, Gaia online has around 23 million members, and there are numerous other forums with well over a million members.

From a marketing perspective, these message boards and forums offer a phenomenal opportunity.  Unlike Twitter or Facebook where membership is diffuse and generic, an internet Forum consists of a highly aligned community who are grouped by a single interest.  From small business owners through to furries, there are niche groups that cover every possible slice of human life, and no matter what industry you are in, you will doubtlessly be able to find a hundred or more communities around the world that you can get involved with.

Of course, interaction is nothing without direction, so here are 10 essential rules to stop you getting bored with boards.  Or banned.

1) Lurk

Before you post for the first time, hang around the forums reading threads.  Gauge the type of people that are using the forum, and get an understanding of who the top posters are.  It’s courtesy to get a feel for how the community works, rather than just blasting in through the door.  When you do think the time is right to start posting, post a hello message to announce yourself to the community.

2) Read the Rules

Every forum has its own set of rules that you need to abide by.  You will often find that forum moderators (mods) are the pettiest folk on the internet, filled with an unwarranted sense of their own importance.  On some forums, you will be permanently banned for the slightest infraction.  This is particularly frustrating when you have spent time and effort building a reputation.

3) Respect the Mods

Every forum will have its top posters and most of the time these are moderators.  On some occasions, you will see post counts that defy belief.  often, these guys know a lot, and are super helpful.  In many cases however, they spend so much time providing world class advice on a forum that their knowledge is often out of date.
Despite the obvious temptation to put them right, Never disagree. Someone with a post count in the thousands will have spent more time flaming newbies than you have spent learning about your industry and will treat your minor correction as a personal insult.  Even when you are right, you will be WRONG. IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Then you will be BANNED.

4) Be Helpful

A lot of forums have implemented a rewards system where members can thank other users who help them out, and this information is then attached to your profile on the forum.  Likewise, when someone agrees with a point you have made, or helps you out, don’t forget to share the love.

5) Post Regularly

You want to become known on the forum, so it is a good idea to visit the forum regularly in order to see what is happening, and to add to the discussions going on.  At the same time, remember that you should always try to …

6) Post Helpfully

The one thing that no forum needs is more posts along the lines of “Yes, I agree”, or “thanks”.  Try and post only when you have something to add to the discussion.  A lot of forums have specific rules about these types of useless post, and as you can imagine, a helpful community of moderators itching to unleash THE BAN HAMMER.

7) Start Discussions

Don’t be afraid to start conversations on a particular subject, but also make sure that you do this in line with the rules – look for the best place for the discussion, and also make sure that you are checking that the same question hasn’t been asked before.

8 ) Don’t create multiple IDs

Generally speaking, people who talk to themselves in public don’t win a lot of popularity contests, and guess what, the same is true online.  Don’t create sock puppets to make yourself look popular, you’re more likely to end up looking like a dick.  Chance of getting banned? 100%

9) Be Honest

If you are promoting your business, be honest that that is what you are doing.  Don’t be a shill, be an honest advocate.  Most boards won’t have a problem with you doing a little bit of self promotion provided that it is in context, but a lack of disclosure is cynical, and undermines the community.

10) Don’t Bump Threads

Don’t bump threads.  If no-one is interested, no-one is interested, and trying to inflate the number of posts, and keep the thread on the front page will not sudddenly result in more people joining the discussion – especially if every post in the thread detracts from a core point.

11) Don’t Take things personally

This is important.  Sticks and stones can break your bones, but internet drama cannot hurt you.  If someone calls you out, flames you, or disagrees with you, do not rise to the challenge.  You are always representing your brand, and the last thing you want to do is put yourself in a position where you create a stack of negativity that will hang around in the Search results for a wider audience in the long term.  The worst thing you can ever do on line is to rise to the challenge of a troll.