Steps to Networking – Step 84: Internet Communities

Written By Rick Frishman Published April 14th, 2010

STEP 84: Internet Communities

According to estimates, hundred of thousands of Internet communities now exist – – – discussion groups, newsgroups, mailing lists, bulletin boards, message boards, chat rooms, etc. Internet communities are interactive forums where members with similar interests exchange ideas and information. Although the term “discussion group” usually denotes a two-way conversation and the other terms refer to one-way dialogs, in this book, we’ll simply use the term “discussion groups” to refer to all Internet communities and groups.

Discussion groups are ideal for networking because they basically are networks. They are electronic groups that share information and opinions on areas of mutual interest. Discussion group members can come from all over the world to conduct electronic conversations, build relationships and help one another. In discussion groups, members network by:

• Exploring solutions to problems of mutual interest
• Demonstrating their expertise
• Building relationships
• Building reputations
• Learning and
• Helping one another

Internet discussion groups can expand your existing networks and link you with network partners throughout the world. Group members can post and respond to comments or simply sit back and silently observe. When you join a discussion group, you generally don’t know the other members: who they are, what they do and why they’re in the group. But as you get more deeply involved, group members become friends, confidants, mentors, advisors and valuable network partners.

Before joining a Web community, answer the same questions that you asked when designing your Web site:

1. Who constitutes your target audience?
2. What is the best way to reach them?
3. What information they will need? and

Decide whom you want to connect with who could help you the most. What industries they are in? Are there certain discussion groups within those industries that you could join? Identify the areas of your network that are weak and then identify groups in those areas that you could join to get you up to speed. To find discussion groups, see:

• www.groups.google.com
• www.groups.yahoo.com
• www.topica.com
• www.dejanews.com

Internet discussion groups can provide you with substantial information that can be invaluable to you and your network partners. You can lurk, or silently monitor discussion groups, to learn what customers and clients are saying about your or your network partners’ product or service and similar products and services. Monitoring discussion groups will also give you a feel for:

• Marketplace trends and conditions
• Needs and concerns of your network partners
• Problems with products and services
• How problems can be corrected
• Ideas for new products and applications and rumors or
• Misinformation that you can dispel

Submit your own questions to discussion groups to get valuable feedback and to find kindred spirits. Through feedback you can identify potential network partners.

Posting

Before posting items or even participate in a discussion group, follow the group for several days, at the least. Learn their rules, conventions, whether the group includes your target audience and if so, their needs. Each group is different and groups constantly evolve as the take and lose members and as changes in their areas of interest occur.

Know your group! When you post an item to a discussion group, you’re essentially placing yourself in a conversation, you’re entering a community where the residents have established their own structures and rules.

• Be sure that you like the group. Does it include members who you would value as network partners? Do the members share your interests? Are they too gossipy, too technical or not serious enough about business? Are they too expert, advanced, cynical, critical, naive or unsophisticated? Do you feel comfortable in the group? If not, try another group . . . there are plenty out there!

• Before blindly jumping in a discussion group and posting the first thing that enters your mind, get a feel for how the group members conduct themselves. Familiarize yourself with the type and style of their postings and learn the group’s rules. If your postings violate the group’s rules, you could lose your posting rights or irritate members. Irate members have been known to retaliate by bombarding violators with hostile messages called flames.

• Find out the group’s policies on advertising and promotion and don’t violate them. Many groups do not accept advertising or blatant self-promotion. However, the screening tends to be loose or nonexistent prohibited ads are run.

• If you try to slip in a prohibited ad, hordes of angry, even vicious, e-mailers could attack you. The can make your life miserable and boycott you, your product, service or Web site. They could even launch hate campaigns against you. So follow the rules and be careful not to alienate group members.

Most discussion groups are intended to inform, not to sell or promote and in extending your network, that’s what you want. Again, the ticket is giving generously without expectation of return. Monitor postings to learn what they need and then try to fulfill those needs. Concentrate on building relationships and don’t try to sell. To avoid boycotts or hate campaigns:

• Edit and rewrite pieces to comply with the group’s rules
• Minimize the commercial aspects and to maximize the informational aspects
• Comment, answer questions and make recommendations to build relationships, expand your network and enhance your credibility
• Demonstrate your knowledge, expertise and willingness to help
• Provide help generously

Before you try to connect group members with your other contacts, get the group members’ okay and explain the reasons why you think the connection would be beneficial.

If you make a close contact in the group, you have the option of communicating with that person in a private message. Private messages go the individual’s email address not to the group.

(Excerpted from NETWORKING MAGIC: Making Connections That Will Change Your Life By Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin With Mark Steisel)


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