It's a Monster!
Creative Commons License photo credit: AleBonvini

Recently, I was engaged in a conversation on Twitter with someone who couldn’t understand the guidelines that many forums, including mine, have regarding advertising or self promotion. Sue (@SueOnTheWeb) was involved in the conversation, too, as we were both explaining why forums were a tad different from other forms of social media, like microblogging (Twitter), traditional social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook) and so on. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: forums are a different beast.

Different forms of social media require different strategies, different patterns, different levels of engagement, different social norms. Forums are as much if not more diverse, when it comes to this, than any other form of this thing we call social media, which may be more like online community.

Structured Communities

Forums are structured communities. The forums themselves have a structure, organizationally and they have a structure governance wise. Forums are not all the same. Each forum is like it’s own country. Just as with actual countries, many of them subscribe to similar theories or standards of law, but there are also many differences or local rules, too.

Twitter and Facebook are more flexible because they operate on the principle that you can follow or unfollow whoever you want. You can friend or unfriend whoever you want. Though forums have ignore functions (I don’t really like them), they are rarely used or desired. Everyone sees everyone elses stuff and that is a part of the forum culture.

Each Forum is Different

In part because of this, all forums have their own policies. Even if their policies are that they have none at all (that is pretty rare, I find). As an example, advertising, self promotion and people mentioning things they are affiliated with is one of the problem issues we forum administrators must deal with. And we all deal with them different ways. That is a good thing. There is no absolute rule when it comes to this. We all have our preferences and they work in different ways. It’s all about what you want on your community and what works for you.

Personally, except in pre-defined areas and contexts, I don’t want people to mention websites or companies they are affiliated with. This varies by community, but we maintain a consistent line. If you start a thread to point people to your website outside of a forum where that is specifically allowed, your post is going to be removed. This goes for everyone, unless you have some sort of special permission. You could have 1 post, you could have 1,000 posts. It doesn’t matter if you think your company is relevant to the conversation. It is not appropriate on my communities.

But, it could be on someone elses. And that is totally cool. But, don’t get entitled. Don’t think because one forum let you do it, that I will. Don’t think because you participate some, that it’ll be cool to slip your link into posts. If you want to gain traffic from my forums, this is how. Otherwise, it’s just not happening. Find a community that allows you to do it and go there. But, you should never ever assume it is OK to mention your link on a forum. You should always check the guidelines of that forum and if it doesn’t say you are specifically allowed, ask a member of staff. If they say no, that’s it.

The Problem is Expectation

A problem comes in when you have people who are active on Twitter or Facebook or something along those lines, but not really on forums and then they join a forum and they expect to do things the same way they’ve been doing them on their profile or Twitter page. And then when someone tells them no, their first reaction isn’t “Wait, I have done something wrong here, this is not my space.” Their reaction is “That makes no sense! What I was saying was relevant to the conversation. You can’t remove that!” And that’s the wrong reaction.

Forums are a different beast and if you don’t operate with that in mind, you will have a harder time benefiting from the power that they hold.