Originally published in YNot Web’s "What Now" Newsletter, Volume 2. Issue 5.

Mailing lists, newsgroups, and forums are online places where people meet, exchange information, disccus topics and disseminate knowledge.

These communities can be an effective way to get the word out about your product or service or just build business relationships that can help support you in growing your business.

Finding the Right Community

Since there are only so many hours in a day and only so much time you can devote to online communities, you should target only a few that seem to be the best match for your market. Find your prospective groups, by determining which groups your target customers frequent or ask clients or customers which they find interesting or participate in. You can also find good matches by searching for keywords you would use on your site. Also, keep in mind that there is no hard and fast rule against peer groups because referrals are often possible.

Once you find some prospects, research each of them before you dive in. Take note of the traffic patterns of the group by lurking(reading only). Find out who hangs out there and the tone of the group. Read the posted rules and see how far each environment lets you go in describing your business products.

F I N D  G R O U P S

Google’s Groups: http://groups.google.com
Topica: http://lists.topica.com
Yahoo Groups: http://groups.yahoo.com
MSN Groups: http://groups.msn.com

Posting Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Abide by the posting rules of the group.
  • Be brief in your messages.
  • Stay focused on the topic.
  • Use a short (4-6 line) signature file that includes who you are, what you do, and how people can reach you or read more.
  • Post questions that enable you to describe what you do.
  • Only mention your business when you find an appropriate opportunity.
  • Make your subjects short and catchy with the most important words first.
  • Answer questions from others that you’re qualified to address.
  • Review and edit your message before posting.
  • Slip in off-hand curiosity peakers (like mentioning that you’re being featured in the paper, a magazine, or tv show).
  • Be constructive — no sarcasm or put downs.
  • Remember, the Internet is 24/7. Check your messages often. People don’t want to wait for a response and you are more likely to be able to take advantage of a "right place and the right time" opportunity.
  • If you think a message is only appropriate for an individual, then deliver it in a private response, not as a post to the group.
  • Don’t expect results from vague Questions or Answers
  • Don’t post messages that are too long.
  • Don’t use all CAPS — this is considered yelling even if its not intentional.
  • Don’t irritate participants with advertising stunts.
  • Never Cross-post or bomb several communities with the same message. This is considered the same as mass mailing or spam.
  • Don’t expect instant results. Newsgroups are relationship builders- they are a long term strategy.
  • Don’t mention fees or prices unless you are asked.
  • Don’t directly ask for any orders, just let them know how others can get more information.
  • Don’t post commercials or ads where they are not welcome.
  • Avoid including the entire message to which you are replying- edit it down to the relevant points.
  • Don’t include your email address in your signature — spam bots just will harvest it. Include your URL instead.

Tile.net Reference Guide: http://www.tile.net
Interbulletin: http://news.interbulletin.com/
Newzbot: http://www.newzbot.com/