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The conference schedule for Blog World Expo has been announced. The panel that I am on will be on September 20 from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM in room 227.

In light of a recent post on CommunityAdmins.com by Rocket 442, I thought that I would share, update and expand a post that I made on my personal blog last November that discussed spamming forums as a marketing strategy.

There are companies out there who essentially sell a service that is “pay to spam”. In search of a more attractive name, some label it “social media outreach” or “advertising.” Whatever it’s called, I think it’s bad business, it’s disrespectful and it’s a problem for community administrators.

Basically, what you have here is a group of individuals who aim to create what I try to prevent on my communities. We get this sort of stuff with frequency and it’s always shut down right away. If someone joins and their first post (or one of their first posts) contains a somewhat suspicious link, the post is removed and they are contacted, making them aware of our user guidelines.

If they start off with more than one post that does this, their posts are removed and they are most likely banned. New users are not given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these matters. Once someone is established in our community, they will be given more leeway, however it is not appropriate to create threads or posts to bring attention to something that you are affiliated with and this is something we actively watch for.

Spamming is not a strategy that respectable individuals employ. If you want to post your website on a community, you check their guidelines to make sure that it’s allowed. If you are unsure, even in the slightest, you ask a staff member and then proceed as they outline – and only as they outline. If a particular website is a persistent offender on my network, they might find their link banned from the network as a whole. That is, their link is not allowed to be posted on any of my communities in any instance.

Some of these people create multiple accounts in order to make their spam discussions appear more active. Regardless of what the guidelines say (unless they specifically permit it, which is… suffice to say, highly unlikely), covertly creating multiple accounts to boost up your discussion or talk amongst yourself is universally looked at as uncool.

Really, it’s embarrassing behavior that no respectable organization will want to be associated with because if it should come to light, they’ll be roasted and lose major amounts of credibility. Once you are labeled a spammer, it is very challenging to shake such a rep. If “avoiding detection” is part of the pitch, that’s a good indication that something is not right.

Personally, I don’t want to be associated with anyone who finds this sort of practice acceptable. There is always a group of people who don’t care how they get something, they just want it. And there can be serious consequences for that. It’s good for us to know that people like this exist so that we can know what we’re up against.

For me, it’s about creating something of quality and doing it the right way, through hard work and dedication and through respecting others’ space – in other words, having a semblance of ethical values to adhere to. Communities that you do not own are not yours to advertise to. If you think “this is business” and there are no ethics, that’s just not true and, to me, that’s a terrible way to think. You always have a choice. You don’t have to do unethical things.

Consider that if you are a client of a company with this philosophy – if they are not above manufacturing false interest in your company, why would they be above manufacturing views, favorites, replies, comments and whatever other metrics you are tracking, in order to meet their quotas to fulfill their contracts and make you feel like you’ve really received your money’s worth?

Funny to consider that the company you are paying to do this could actually extort you because they are one of the people who could out you for this behavior through a “leak.”

Be careful. These sorts of strategies are just all around bad, for everyone, except for maybe the company being paid to do it.

I just registered for ConvergeSouth 2008 and BlogHer Greensboro ’08. Right now, I’m not speaking. I am thinking I may keep it that way and take it easy. I have an opportunity with ConvergeSouth, but I’m thinking it over. BlogHer doesn’t tend to have male speakers, I don’t think, but I’d definitely like to participate in something community minded, if I could! Anyway, is anyone else going?

I love when people spam and say something like “I’m not trying to steal any one’s traffic.” I love it even more when they are spamming something that is either exactly what we do or similar to what we do. For example, spamming a sports community on SportsForums.net.

“I’m not trying to steal your traffic.” Well, that’s funny, because that is exactly what you are doing!

Update: The author of the article has updated it, after he was given some bad information by Deloitte, who did the research. Instead of 60% of the people interviewed spending $1 million dollars, it’s actually 6%. (This relates to the final paragraph of what I wrote below).

Did you see The Wall Street Journal Article by Ben Worthen titled “Why Most Online Communities Fail”? After I read it, I sent an e-mail to the author and I thought I’d share the thoughts I sent to him (most of them, anyway).

I do think that most of the article is accurate. Most communities (not just communities launched by “businesses”, but all) fail. In that regard, it’s quite like saying “why most businesses fail,” as my friend Brandon Eley pointed out while we were discussing it. The simple answer is: this is hard work. It’s not easy. And, sometimes, even when you put the work in, you still “fail,” depending on the metric. Just like with business and with life.

I agree with Ed Moran, the consultant quoted in the article, people are most important. That’s what my book is about – managing the people aspects and not the software. You need good software, but most importantly, you need good people. And it is crucial to have a good community manager, rather than just a part timer – you need someone dedicated to the community.

I do feel, however, that 100 “businesses” is too small of a sample to use for an accurate method of study. The numbers mentioned, in and of themselves, are not inherently useful. One big question: how long have these communities been running? If someone spends $1 million dollars and has under 100 members, which I sort of doubt, they either just launched or they do not have the people in place who know what they are doing (or care).

No Interview Now

Posted by Patrick on July 20th, 2008 in Managing Staff

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but I just wanted to say that I will not be going on Blog World Expo Radio today. I’m going to be on at some point, but not today. Sorry for the confusion.

Update 2: I won’t be on Blog World Expo Radio, afterall.

Update: The podcast is actually at 8:00 PM ET, not 5:00 PM ET. Sorry for the confusion.

I will be appearing live on Blog World Expo Radio on Sunday, July 20 at 8:00 PM ET. There is a chat room available and you can call in with questions – please join in if you are able.

Speaking of podcasts, I was recently interviewed by Jim Kukral (syndicated on GeekCast.fm) and John Wilkerson of the Jesus Geek podcast.

I also jumped on the July 11 episode of Blog World Expo Radio where my friend and co-panelist Jason Falls was the featured guest. I spoke for a few minutes about the panel and the book. Co-host Jim Turner shared some thoughts on the book and the show as a whole is a great listen.

Beginning on July 28, Otago Polytechnic is hosting an online course called “Facilitating Online Communities” and the book is listed as a resource.

Finally, James Seligman and Rico Mossesgeld of Contract Worker were kind enough to review the book.

Thank you to everyone for the interest in the book!

I’m really happy to announce that I will be speaking, at the Blog World & New Media Expo, on a panel called “Avoiding Diaster: How Not to Use Social Media”.

I’ll be joined on the panel by:

Lee LeFever – Principal, Common Craft

Jason Falls – Social Media Explorer, Doe-Anderson and Blogger, SocialMediaExplorer.com

Darren Rowse – Owner, ProBlogger.net; Co-Founder, Sixfigureblogging.com; Co-Founder and VP Training, b5media and Co-Author, “ProBlogger: The Book

(Darren is to be confirmed. He’s hoping to come, but it’s not 100%).

I am delighted and, honestly, quite honored to be on a panel with them. All three are great, brilliant and truly good guys. It should be a total blast.

The panel aims to discuss how not to approach social media for people looking to promote themselves and/or their companies through blogs, forums, social networking sites and other social spaces online. We’ll highlight and discuss strategies and tactics that can damage you and your brand, such as introtisements and adverquestions (veiled advertisements), lying about your affiliations, never giving anything of value, being ignorant of your surroundings and much more.

The takeaway from the panel will be a better understanding of how to utilize the social web to get the word out about yourself and/or your organization. We learn not only from best practices, but from poor practices. Who you want to be, directly relates to who you don’t want to be.

This is definitely a subject that I am passionate about. It was also inspired, in part, by an awesome post by Wendy Piersall called “10 Social Media Blunders that Can Destroy Your Brand”. The points discussed during the panel will be based, to some extent, off of this post, with permission from Wendy, who we wanted to be on the panel – but she’s already rocking the conference pretty hard, from what I gather.

We don’t know what day the panel will be on, yet – either September 20 or 21. The conference is being held in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you are coming out for it, please let me know as I’d be happy to meet you! It’ll be my first time going and it looks like an awesome conference. I am hoping to do more, especially with the book and their bookstore. So, hopefully, I’ll see you there!

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The AP’s Anick Jesdanun writes today on the topic of online communities and how they enforce their guidelines/terms of service. She talks about different issues, including how these matters are handled, documented and resolved. I read the article with interest, as someone who manages online communities and someone who is a big believer in having goals in your community and actively aspiring to them, in everything that you do.

The article is aimed squarely at community managers and is just a bit too slanted against us. It’s very, very easy to talk about “censorship” or the “big guy picking on the little guy” and get a reaction from a majority of people who view it, against the person doing the “censoring” or against the perceived “big guy,” who could just be an individual community manager running his site as a hobby or small business. Anyone can do that. Too many people are predisposed against these things. However, that doesn’t mean that the community manager or managers have done anything wrong. A good chunk of this article amounts to: “corporation decides fate of individual behind closed doors.” That’s a great, dark picture, sure to attract some outrage. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The moment that anyone – namely, the government – tells me that I have to allow people to say whatever they want on my communities, or that I have to allow people to say whatever the government says they can say, that’s the moment I stop managing online forums and communities. You can throw my book away (that may be a little dramatic – it still has value, fear not! :)). I’ll go get a “normal” job or do something else because that won’t be a livable situation. The minute I am forced by law to allow lunatics to run roughshod on my communities, is the minute I stop doing this.

But, the good news is, I don’t see that happening. I mean, it could happen, in a doomsday scenario, but realistically, I see it as unlikely. So, this is all hypothetical.

Online communities are, almost all of the time, privately owned. It is for the people who own the website to say what happens on that site, within the scope of the law. If you want to allow people to say the F word, you’re choice. But, if you want to allow people to infringe on the rights of others, that’s not your choice. This is, in general, a good thing. Could be better, will never be perfect, but could be much, much worse.

One concern the article raises is that when a community enforces it’s guidelines and a member disputes it, those disputes are handled behind closed doors. This is said like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. It’s professionalism. This isn’t the court system, this is a privately owned community. People forget that people in “authority” (from the major corporation to the small community administrator) are held to higher standards than your average Joe.

Example: if average Joe says, “Company X is evil,” no one cares. But, if Company X says “Joe is evil,” then they are out of line. “Did they have to say that?” “It’s unprofessional.” “No one likes to see people air their dirty laundry.” People who make decisions are held to different standards. Airing dirty laundry is usually a bad idea; it usually creates more trouble and it is, above all else, not the most professional way of going about your business.

The article speaks of Flickr enforcing an “unwritten ban.” The bottom line is that you to have guidelines or terms of service written out, as comprehensive and clearly as you can. But, vagueness has it’s place and is necessary to ensure accurate wording and proper coverage. You want to be specific, but the danger of being too specific is in the people who want to read what you have as your policies and then think that, if your guidelines don’t cover it, it must be OK. People searching for loopholes, in other words. Again, this is holding corporations and managers to a much higher standard than everyone else. Why must we think of every single bad thing that someone could do on our communities? That’s not fair.

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I love forums. There are tons of forums out there, including many, many large forums. Contrary to what some may say, forums are not dead. Far from it, I don’t think forums always get the credit they deserve in the age of MySpace, Facebook and the like.

Forums are an incredibly important part of the social web and where the bulk of my online community management experience is based out of. As such, the book focuses on forums and is named “Managing Online Forums”. I’m proud to say we got a “forums” book published. That’s awesome.

That said, I think that it’s important for it to be known that this book is not just for managing online forums. And that’s why I have launched a new page on the book website. This page is dedicated to briefly explaining how this book is not just valuable for people who manage online forums, but also for people who manage any or most types of social interaction online. Here is the content of the page:

The word forums is in the title of the book and the book itself is focused on forums. That much is true. But, this is not a book that is only for forums. This is a practical guide to managing social interaction online. Besides just forums, this can also include:

Blogs

The most successful blogs are communities, in and of themselves, that need to be managed, including blog comments and interaction between readers.

Groups

Groups and forums share a number of similarities – mainly, people talking and discussing issues. While the media may be different, the result is often similar and many of the same principles apply.

Chat Rooms

Chat rooms, like groups, are home to interaction between people. This interaction needs to be managed so that the chat room can flourish. This includes the creation of guidelines and firm, but fair enforcement of them, just like forums.

Social Networking

Yes, even social networking sites feature discussion between people. In fact, forums represent an important feature for many social networks. They may or may not call them “forums” depending on the site – but, they often have similar features and are, more or less, forums by a different name.

In so many words, this book can be a valuable part of the arsenal for anyone charged with managing any location online that allows people to interact, talk, discuss issues and get help, whether or not they are called “forums”.