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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Marketing and Promotion: Blogs, Websites, and Online Newsgroups

Over the past decade, websites have rapidly begun to supplant office water coolers, newspapers and magazines as the place to share the latest news, opinions and gossip. With this changing professional landscape, employees (and employers) need to know how to navigate. We researched topics including blogs, websites and online newsgroups extensively for our popular book, The Business Etiquette Bible, which helps professionals learn how to more effectively navigate and communicate in today’s high-tech world – a topic we’ll explore more in depth here as well.

The speed of today’s news cycle and at the rate at which stories proliferate online is part of the equation, but websites also give readers the opportunity to respond quickly, anonymously and in often highly-opinionated fashion. The downside being, of course, that we don’t always have the time to fully think through our responses as we did in the days of snail mail and handwritten letters.  This can be especially problematic for businesses – either by way of when employees communicate in ways that are unprofessional or when anonymous customers badmouth a corporation or product.  Businesses sometimes even find themselves tussling with others online who may or may not share their viewpoints, who enjoy the pleasure of harassing others, or who simply do not have the company’s best interests at heart. Knowing this, and recognizing that these resources are shared public spaces, observing certain rules of conduct and manners when utilizing blogs, websites and online newsgroups is therefore vital for businesses and their employees.

General Tips

  • Rules of Conduct
    • Some websites, newsgroups and blogs touch on popular themes and memes; others are purely personal or promotional spaces. Rules of behavior and engagement vary – it’s imperative to reference and respect each site’s posting and contribution guidelines before joining the conversation.
    • Just as you wouldn’t jump into a dialogue with strangers without first observing the discussion to gain a sense of propriety and context, don’t dive right into online forums, especially if you are doing so to promote yourself or your company. Before contributing, sit back and study how others act (including actual posts, tone of voice, the way in which users interact, and the reactions these interactions prompt) to understand appropriate social norms and the site’s overall rules of behavior.
    • Promotional posts and advertisements are inappropriate to post at any time outside of appropriately-designated channels. That said, if it fits within the site’s social context, a short mention of something you’ve worked on or contributed may be appropriate in passing conversation (“Thanks, Sarah – here are some handy resources for keeping kids safe online. If you’re interested in high-tech etiquette, you might also want to check out this new guide we’ve written.”) However, it’s best to do so in the context of requesting others’ feedback, thoughts or opinions – not trying to close a sale.
    • Spamming other users is not acceptable under any circumstance.
  • How to Join a Blog Conversation
    • Be polite and respectful of others’ thoughts and opinions.
    • Do not make rude, false or inappropriate statements, including those specifically intended to incite other users.
    • Commentary, ideas and points that you’re looking to make should be clearly written and spelled out, and facts concisely presented and appropriately referenced or linked to as needed.
    • Proper spelling and grammar should be used when entering posts.
    • Read what people have posted carefully before commenting. There are few worse things than misinterpreting or missing something that someone said, or repeating comments already made by another user.
    • It’s always smart to refer to the original post, or quote from prior commentary being referenced, to make it clear that you have read and comprehended the piece and subsequent discussion points.
    • Ask yourself: What can I contribute to the conversation? Then do so. If you can’t add relevant information, statements or viewpoints of value, perhaps it’s better left unsaid?
    • Relevancy matters – stay on-topic for the site and thread, and consider whether the information being shared is something other individuals would actually be interested in reading.
  • Being a Responsible Contributor
    • Name calling, cursing or being argumentative not only creates ill will, but often makes others discount your opinion.
    • Logging in or providing an actual name (not posting anonymously) is encouraged, as attribution implies that you stand behind your statements, and are willing to be held accountable for what you say.
    • Stay within the realm of the blog’s chosen topic of focus, even if other contributors stray from the subject at-hand.
    • Treat other contributors with respect, dignity and consideration, just as you would if you were having a conversation with them at a cocktail party or social event.
  • Tone of Voice, Rules of Conduct and Posting Frequency
    • Posting multiple replies before others can contribute looks odd and amateurish – after posting, give others time to respond before leaving additional comments.
    • Follow the style and parameters of the blog and its posters, recognizing that a snarky pop culture website may observe different rules of tone, voice and conduct than a serious medical journal.
    • Rather than fire off responses immediately, it’s often best to wait to reply to a comment challenging your opinion, in order to offer a more well thought out and appropriate response.
    • Most major blogs have a rules of conduct or terms of service page – familiarize yourself with house rules before you begin posting.
  • Avoiding Self-Promotion
    • As a rule, self-aggrandizing or self-promotional posts should generally be avoided. If you intend to do so, any comments made to this effect should be made as “we” vs. “I,” and must be directly related to the post or discussion thread and in some way provide value to your fellow readers. (“Check out this cool website we just finished, which offers a lot of hints and tips that may help answer your questions about netiquette (sorry, shameless self promotion, we know… ☺).”)
    • Assume that if people wanted to hear your life story or your company’s complete history, you would be running the blog, not commenting on it.
    • If you create a profile for blog postings, add a one-sentence signature (at most) with a link to your website or brand. Avoid using a giant logo or shot of your product or brand as a profile photo or companion image.
    • Avoid attaching pictures or other bandwidth-hogging multimedia to your blog replies, and do not randomly insert plugs for or links to your products or projects.
  • How to Be Critical and Insightful, But Not Confrontational
    • If you are discussing facts, stick to the facts. Do not post misleading or untrue statements.
    • If you are discussing experiences, make it clear that it is your personal experience, not necessarily a universal experience.
    • If you are accused of making things up, politely and respectfully provide references and links to relevant topics or supporting data.
    • Be to the point, avoiding personal jabs or attacks.
    • Always consider how others may interpret your commentary and actions before posting, and whether it’s best to clarify points up-front to avoid possible miscommunication.
    • Keep it clean. It’s fine to disagree with someone, but do so in a respectful way that clearly outlines your own viewpoint.
    • Avoid name-calling, argumentativeness and labeling.
  • Dealing With Argumentative Bullies, Known as “Trolls”
    • Trolls assume that you want to win every Internet argument and that you aren’t going to walk away from one, even as they post statements intended to provoke and incite. Ignoring them is often the best approach: It’s hard to keep the flames stoked if you don’t help feed the fire.
    • Make site moderators and owners aware of the troll’s negative actions, which may be in violation of site policy.
    • Consider backing away from the troll and not responding. By doing so, you may potentially defuse conflicts by refusing to provide fuel for the quarrel, which can often lead harassers to tire of arguing with themselves. Likewise, as a result of their ineffectual squabbles, trolls may accidentally reveal their true intentions, be silenced by other commentators tired of their behavior, or even wind up banned or blocked from the site by its moderators.
    • Be aware of your own behavior, as you may be tempted to tease or bait an emotional commentator on a blog.
  • Conduct Within Forums
    • Contribute to conversations that are helpful to other people, but aren’t always self-serving or related to personal interests.
    • Read as many posts on the forum as possible to better understand the culture of the venue before posting or responding yourself.
    • Remember that everything posted online is permanent, and will reflect upon you.
    • Always be honest and up-front, even if you think no one will find out that you made something up.
    • Log in and create a profile on the forum, as this makes you more trustworthy than an anonymous poster.
  • Maintaining a Professional Image
    • Fill out your online profile and details before you begin posting, and be sure it’s in keeping with the same image you present on the job – including using a professional photo of yourself as an associated image.
    • Keep all postings and profiles respectful and professional – their appearance will be seen as representative of your personal demeanor, character and conduct.
    • Understand that you are representing your company at all times in any public space, even if you are sharing a personal opinion.
    • Treat everyone with respect and dignity, as you would in any professional situation.
  • Contacting People Through Unusual Channels
    • Directly reaching out to individuals for personal or work-related matters through a public forum such as blog post or newsgroup response is awkward at best. Whenever possible, look for a public or work-related website of theirs that freely volunteers a contact form or work email address, and use these channels for outreach.
    • Do not try to reach potential employers for direct job-related queries through their personal blogs. In certain specific cases, it is, however, acceptable to contact them to discuss posts of theirs you’ve read, topics they’ve expressed interest in or other public statements that they’ve made, provided the context strictly relates to the publicly-viewable item in question. Note that this may lead into a more natural dialogue during which your interest in potential employment may come up. However, such discussion must occur organically – direct outreach via personal spaces regarding immediate purposes of employment or lead generation is a breach of etiquette.
    • Access journalists and other professionals only through the channels that they personally designate and assume that if they want to contact you, they will contact you back.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of The Business Etiquette Bible today!

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