Vampire / Lion
Creative Commons License photo credit: outcast104

On, we don’t allow people to link (outside of their signature) to tutorial sites that they are in some way affiliated with. Even if the tutorial answers a question that has been asked.

To some, this may sound strange. But, for us, it speaks to the intent of participation and the quality of engagement on our community.

If we allowed people to link to their tutorial sites, they would. In massive droves. It’s all our community would be. A mess of people jockeying to post links to their tutorial sites.

Not only do people post their tutorials as answers and as new threads, but they search for threads where their tutorial may be relevant or where it may answer the question and then respond, regardless of how old the thread is. We’ll even have people who will look for questions, specifically so that they want write a tutorial on their site, rather than replying in our forums, and then link to it.

In one word, I would describe this as parasitic. It isn’t about participating in the community, it is about traffic, search engine juice and money.

Tutorials are great, though. We encourage people to link to tutorials. We just want their motives to be cleaner when they do it. We want their existence on our community to be of genuine interest in the community and not in promoting their website. To communicate this, I added the following to our guidelines:

In order to create a concrete, easy to understand guideline for tutorial site links, the exception to [our general guidelines regarding advertising and self promotion] is Photoshop tutorials, whether delivered through text, audio, video or some other means. If you run or are affiliated with a site with this sort of content, you are not permitted to link to one of your tutorials, even to answer a question. If your site has a tutorial that addresses a given issue, chances are another site has one, as well. Spread the love, please, and it’ll come back to you.

In writing this paragraph, I created a simple standard that is easy for moderators to follow. We don’t have to worry about allowing people to link once in a while. They simply aren’t allowed to link to their own tutorial site – no matter what.

The bigger goal that was accomplished was that I raised the level of quality engagement that occurs on the forums and helped curtail the poor motives that people may sometimes have for registering. Even when people violate the guideline, they are quickly, politely made aware of it and they go somewhere else. Part of being focused is understanding the audience you want to reach and catering to them.

I recently had someone who joined and their first post was to start a thread to link people to a Photoshop tutorial they had written on their blog. It was removed, of course, and I sent them a polite message to let them know.

The person was not a happy camper. In the response, I was informed that the member did not have time to write information into forums like mine because life is too short (they said it in a little more aggressive manner). Writing information on forums is how someone contributes and becomes a part of a community. This person spoke down on the act of contributing to my community. This is precisely the type of member I don’t want. This guideline helps me to reach that goal.

In the end, I’d much rather have people who can link to a tutorial they haven’t written, than one that they have. It speaks to their actual interest level in the community and, generally, will lead you to a higher quality member.