Yesterday, I was on Tech Talk with Craig Peterson, and we discussed online communities and how to approach them as a business (audio).

One of the areas that we touched on was the concern that forums and structured online communities might be more susceptible to people who don’t comment in good faith and simply want to cause harm or destruction for their own amusement or motives. Some would call these people trolls, though I’d say that label doesn’t always fit the bill.

I find that the opposite is generally true – at least when you are talking about well managed online communities. Those are the ones you’ll probably want to participate in, anyway. The ones that have some standards and some guidelines for discourse. Those are communities that are moderated, where an administrator or team of people is working to ensure a consistent environment.

This means that, unless the community wants them, destructive behaviors tend to be filtered out.

Meanwhile, Twitter (for example) is a neutral publishing platform and while they have some things they don’t allow, it’s fairly limited. When it comes to, for example, racism, bullying, general nastiness and verbal abuse, they aren’t going to do anything. In my experience, you are more likely to see troll-like behavior in the replies feed of a popular brand on Twitter, than you are on a well managed online communities.

This is because online communities often have higher standards and the opportunity to raise the level of discourse, an opportunity that many of them take advantage of.

I feel like a lot of people are more comfortable with Twitter or Facebook than forums for this reason, so that is why I wanted to address it. If you are a well meaning marketer or business person looking to engage scuba divers, martial artists, moms, sports fans, soda drinkers, plumbers or <insert a profession, passion or hobby here>, they are already talking to one another at an established online community. Though it does mean engaging on a deeper level than is required on Twitter or Facebook, the rewards for doing so, from a business perspective, can be great.