The Unwritten Rules of Advertising on Forums

There are thousands of newsgroups and forums online.
They provide a fascinating and useful insight into the
minds and methods of others who share our interests.
They also act as an amazing resource for finding out
almost anything you need to know.

Want your website critiqued? Ask at a forum.
Want to know how to salvage Outlook? Ask at a forum.
Want to know if a particular book is worth buying? Ask
at a forum.

Almost anything is fair game – providing it is
reasonably on topic. And dropping in to forums is a
great way for newcomers to a field to rub shoulders
with the old hands.

This openness leads to a temptation that is repeated
over and over again. “Ah,” many people think, “a highly
targeted market! I must post an ad for my site and
watch them beat my door down to buy my wares.”

Wrong. That is the fastest way to oblivion.

Forums are not advertising notice boards. They are not
like the pin board in the kitchen that anyone can put
up a ‘for sale’ ad on.

Forums are much more like the coffee machine or the
water cooler. People hang out, swap ideas, chat for a
while. They don’t want someone popping up every five
minutes trying to sell them something. They are trying
to chill out.

That is the warning. But like all warnings, it has a
caveat: there are ways to get your advertising message
across – if you follow the unwritten rules.

So I figured I’d write those unwritten rules down.

The key to ‘advertising’ on forums and newsgroups is
not to.

As soon as you put up a post that even looks remotely
like an ad, you will usually either be removed by a
moderator or flamed by incensed members. Quite right.
They didn’t ask for your commercial break and they
certainly don’t appreciate your intrusion.

Then, the worst thing of all happens: your reputation
is shot. Anyone in business should have a mind to the
long term. It is pointless to try to make money from
one promotion – the real value of marketing is repeat
business. Spam the boards and forums and you will
quickly find that the word spreads. Nobody will want to
do business with you.

It isn’t just buyers you will put off. The most
successful people online harness the power of joint
ventures – doing a deal with another marketer to sell
your product for a commission. If you become known as a
spammer, joint ventures will be a closed avenue for
you. Nobody will touch you.

But don’t despair. There is a solution. It is to take a
softly, softly approach.

First, read every post on your target boards. Look out
for recurring themes as they will often guide you to
areas you can research. Many an info product has been
born from questions raised on forums.

Next, whenever there is a question or comment that you
can add to – do so. Answer questions generously and
without trying to push any product or service.

If the board allows it (and it is vital to check the
‘rules’), put a very short link to your site in your
signature line. But on no account mention it in your

For example, I might sign myself off like this:

Martin Avis – Free Business Insights Every Friday

Every once in a while ask a relevant question. And
always graciously thank anyone who answers you, even if
you don’t agree with them. That way you are not just
being polite, but you are also doubling your postings.
Never, ever enter into an argument over someone’s reply
to you – however rude they may seem.

Over time, you will become a known member of the board.
People will appreciate your input and you will become
an accepted member.

When that time comes, you can begin to occasionally
mention your service or product in posts, providing the
relevancy is absolutely clear. But only those.

This way, the boards will become an excellent marketing
medium for you.

Any other way and you will get nowhere.

If this all sounds in any way cynical, I guess it is.
But it is based on the realFeature Articles, hard reality of Internet
etiquette: ‘People do business with people they like’.
Add ‘trust’ to that and you see the whole picture.