pleased to meet you
Creative Commons License photo credit: reegmo

In just the last couple of months, I have run across three new or relatively new community platforms that have really let me down. Not in their feature set or technology, but in how they talk (read: market) and how they are choosing to spread the word about their products.

I’ve been managing online communities for nearly 11 years and this is my passion and my profession. I want to meet people who are new to this space and also want to help them however I can. But, there is a flip side to that. There is a personal requirement that I have. The flip is that if you are going to be a professional in this space, I expect you to act like it, to treat it with respect and to know how to engage respectfully.

This includes having respect for what came before you and not taking for granted what other people have built – not taking advantage of other communities, in order to inject mentions of your product. I hold you to a higher standard than some person who is random and new to this space. As a platform provider, you have to know better.

This matters to me above all else. I don’t care how wonderful your platform is, if you aren’t respectful of the space, I don’t want to know about it. If you want me to take you seriously, you have to be able to engage in a respectful and unassuming manner. It’s just that simple. There are two key areas where the three platforms I mentioned fell short.

Acting Like a Savior

One platform I came across recently pitched me via e-mail and I went to their website and, the more I read, the more I thought what a self-praising mess it was. We’re the message board for today! We’re forum software for web 2.0! We’re the best community platform! We’re modernizing forum software!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it then went into comments digging at competitors and basically suggesting that everyone is behind the times and that’s why we need them. They’re here to save us.

Why this is bad: I’m a veteran. You don’t win over veterans by acting like this space needs you. Even if the veterans aren’t your market, you need them more than they need you because recommendations will drive adoption of your platform.

This space doesn’t need you and won’t care if you live or die. No matter how great that anyone thinks their product is when they enter this space, there are already other products that are at the same level, or close. You are building on top of what people did before you and the best entry to make is a respectful one.

Instead of attacking what created the market you are now trying to reach, tout why you personally are great, not why you are better than your perceived “competitors.” You may never compete with XYZ for what XYZ is, but you can be the best you can be and cater to the people who need what you offer, whatever that is. I want to hear why you are great. I don’t want to hear that you are the greatest, that we need you, that you are here to bring us into the present day, etc. That’s disrespectful nonsense.

Not Understanding How to Engage in a Community Space

I have seen not one, but two community platforms with representatives answering questions on Quora and inserting links to their platforms in the answers. This wouldn’t be a big deal if they were some random new person. But, again, if you want to play in this community space and try to be a professional within it, you have to understand how to respect these spaces (check out my guidelines for brand engagement on communities you don’t own).

I have a friend who is working with one of these platforms who suggested I might have been acting a little too hard on the person who was working for the platform. My answer to that is no. You are not some new person to the internet. You are billing yourself as a platform for web community. You are trying to land Fortune 500 companies! You have to know better and, if not, err on the side of caution.

I actually had someone who was doing this pitch me and I was honest with him. I was polite, but I was honest and told him that my perception of the platform was tarnished because of how he was engaging on Quora. If you want to be a player in this space, you have a responsibility to be better than that. At least in my book. Instead of correcting it, he was angry with me and told me that he was contacting me just to pitch me, not for my opinion on other matters. Cool. But, I don’t need to see your software if you are not going to respect the space.