Electronic discussion groups have been around for quite a while, and certainly predate the world wide web and the Internet as we know it in 2013. Usenet provided a realm of data communications over the Internet prior to the advent of the world wide web. The type of data communicated over Usenet amounted to a near real time exchange of information between human beings over computer terminals, on topics of interest. Highly sophisticated examples of Usenet were to be found on AOL, Compuserve, etc.
Now, in 2013, Usenet is very much history. Nevertheless, the same discussion groups that provided the reason for data communications across Usenet in the past are ubiquitous today. Almost every example of social media offers a discussion group feature. One method of using discussion groups is to build one around a topic, typically a topic that is relevant to one’s products or services, and then to provide the moderation service required to manage the group. As early as in the mid 1990s it became apparent that group moderation was a necessary activity, as the amount of promotional information disguised as discussion group topics became excessive. If left exposed to this topic abuse, without moderation, most of these discussion groups became ineffective as a method of driving legitimate engagement with an audience.
Not much has changed today. We participate in a number of these groups on behalf of clients and for our own purposes to drive business development for IMB Enterprises, Inc. We see the same topics repeated from group to group, and, further, the same group participants doing much of the topic posting. Therefore, in our opinion, if discussion groups are to be successful, businesses must plan on a substantial effort to moderate them, for, potentially, little return in the form of truly useful engagement.
Further, we think that discussion groups, as a tactic to drive engagement, also are susceptible to the problems that often plague other similar methods. These groups can, in fact, become no more than a hang out for customers and prospects looking for free information on a topic, or technology. Once again, skilled group moderation is required to ensure that the flow of conversation does not, unknowingly veer into the freeware area. If one’s product is open source software, freeware discussions may be fine, but the same is not the case for companies with proprietary products and/or services.
We cannot claim much success, at all, moderating discussion groups that produced productive engagement. On the other hand, we are certain that some experts can deliver excellent results from this method, but we think the skill is highly specialized.
In the next post to this blog we will discuss posting to discussion groups as a wholly separate method of driving engagement.
© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved