While technology changes constantly, some aspects of the way we use technology never seem to change. Online communities have been around since the early electronic BBS (bulletin board service) days and the rules for interacting in those communities haven’t changed much. Here are some tips to help you thrive in an online community environment, be it Google+ Communities, Facebook Groups, Reddit or some other kind of online forums or communities.
Find the right group
Finding the right group is the key to successful participation in online communities. Look for a group that is active and is specific to your niche. Find one that you can contribute to and also learn from. There is nothing more annoying to group members (other than spam) than someone who is posting or asking questions that are off the topic of the group.
Learn the rules
Every online community and group within that community has its own rules for joining, posting and participating. Make sure you read the guidelines. Some groups want you to post an introductory message when you join and others don’t. Some require you to request to join and the moderators manually approve your membership. Some groups allow off-topic posting, but most don’t. Most communities, groups and forums have subgroups or discussion topics that you must use to share anything on those topics. Repeated violations of a community’s guidelines are likely to get you banned, as well as tarnish the image of your company.
A good way to get involved in a community is to add helpful information or post questions as comments to what others in the group are sharing. Be careful to not promote yourself or your business explicitly, but feel free to share that you have knowledge or experience on the topic. Members will usually look at your profile to verify and see if you can back up what you have to say. It is best to participate in this way to get to know how the community operates. Who are the people who contribute the most? Who gets the most activity? These are the people that you will want to engage, as well. Don’t +1, like or give your own post a thumbs up. It’s viewed as self-serving.
Before you start sharing your own content, share content from a reliable source that is applicable to the topic or discussion. Share your own content only when it fits and don’t share more than one post a day. You want to be known as the reliable source of good information, not the marketer who is only in the group to post content from the company website. Keep participating.
A post isn’t just a link
Don’t just post links or images. Tell the community why you are sharing them. While you don’t always have to write a complete summary of the article, let the group know what it is about the content that you feel is worth sharing. When you share, don’t just share a link to a company website. Share a specific link to a pertinent article, image or infographic and tell people why you’re sharing.
This is probably the most important tip for participating in online communities, but what is spam? Anything that goes against the community guidelines is spam. Self-promotion is spam. Posting articles in the wrong categories is spam. In Google Communities, Google automatically marks posts shared in multiple communities as spam. If Google marks it as spam, most community moderators and owners aren’t going to take the time to verify whether the content is valuable or not. They’ll just remove the post.
The best way to market yourself and your company in online communities, forums and groups is to be genuine. Be yourself and try to contribute to the conversation. Participating in a community can be a great learning experience and others in the community will probably help you just as much as you can help them. Don’t try to sell yourself or your product. Just genuinely participate and people will recognize your expertise. Sales may or may not follow, but your business will be better off for the experience.