Saturday, July 14, 2007

Forums and Online Communities - Should You Join One?

When I started my Tips For Crafters on The Web blog one of the issues that I wanted to cover for small business crafters was forums or online communities.

Forums or online communities can be vital to the small business crafter trying to establish a presence on the web. Now you might wonder how that be can be? Well, just like in the business world they are a means to "network" not only with your fellow small business crafters, but with potential customers.

Forums are visited each and every day by thousands of Internet users and are utilized by the search engines, both of which are vital to getting your name out there.

So, what exactly is a forum? Basically, a forum is an "online community" of members with similar interests. There are many names for forums, but they are commonly referred to as web forums, bulletin boards, online communities, or message boards.

The forums provide a means of communicating (IE: through text and/or graphics) with another online user and posting content to their post or adding content yourself. You "communicate" with them by "posting" something in the forum in what is referred to as a"thread" or "message." The messages or threads (IE: posts) may be displayed in chronological order, by discussion, by most popularity, etc. depending upon the forum you are in.

Some of the forums are open to everyone while others are private and you have to apply and be accepted.

For some provider communities like Delphi, Yahoo, Google, MSN, etc. they have what is known as "closed" communities. Once you become a member of the respective provider community you can apply for membership to any of their respective forums or online communities and view and participate in them.

So, know that you know what they are you might be wondering why you should join one? Well, for a couple of reasons. First of all, they provide a way for you to network not only with other crafters, but with potential customers. Secondly, they are a terrific vehicle for getting your name out there and advertising your small crafting business. And, third - they can be a LOT of fun.

I'm sure you have a million questions. Let's see if we can answer some of the basic ones:

What Kinds of Forums Are There? Many of the forums were created based upon an Internet users particular interest. The categories are as varied as the numbers of forums.

There are blogging forums, cooking forums, home improvement forums, forums for hobbies, WAHM forums, small business forums, etc. Whatever subject you can think of I'm sure there is a forum for. Some are more specialized than others.

Does It Cost Anything To Join? That depends on the forum. Most of the forums are FREE to join. Others are FREE initially, but then fee based for additional features. Some you pay an annual or monthly fee to join and participate in.

What's A Thread? Basically it's a message or discussion. In other words it's a post. The forum software lets users add content such as text and/or graphics to a message or discussion. Threads might be sorted by subject within a particular category. Or, they might be sorted by relevance (IE: most popular) or by date.

What Does Membership Entail? That depends on the forum. Different forums have different rules for membership and different benefits. With membership comes the ability to participate in the forum and post threads or respond to threads. Most forums want members who are going to participate regularly. For some forums, if you don't, then membership is revoked.

Sometimes membership entails adding the forums banner and/or text link to the front or home page of your website as a requirement of membership. This is especially true if you plan on promoting your small business on the forum. If you plan on promoting your small business on the forum then what's fair is fair - you should promote the forum on your website, too.

Also, most memberships allow you to store a profile on yourself which may or may not include information about yourself, your email address and whether or not you want to be contacted by email or PM (IE: private message to you from another member which is sent to you membership message box), your avatar, your signature, etc.

What is an avatar? When you become a member of a forum you decide what you want your screen name to be. This is your name in the forum and what you are known by. Most members also add an avatar which us a member's small graphic representation of themselves. Some forums provide avatars for their members to use. Others allow you to upload an avatar from your own computer to use or you can enter the URL of your avatar if it is stored somewhere on the web.

What's A Forum Siggy Or Signature? Do You Need One? Like an avatar, most forums allow you to have a signature. This is vitally important to the small business crafter as it provides a means to advertise and promote yourself within each and every thread or post.

You set this up in your profile and each and every thread that you post to or create yourself will contain your signature at the bottom of the post. Your signature can be either a text link, clickable graphic like a banner, or combination(s) of both. It can also be a picture and/or html code sequence, depending on the forum.

For example, my signature includes a clickable banner(s) for my website(s) and clickable text links for all my blogs. If you'd like to see how to create a signature CLICK HERE for my Linda's How-Do-I Series? - How Do I Set-up Forum Signatures or Siggy's article.

Promoting On Forums And Elsewhere? Some forums have no problem with their members promoting their small businesses in their signature or posts as long as it doesn't become excessive. Sometimes certain sections of the forum are set-up specifically for promoting businesses, websites, and blogs. Some don't allow any promoting at all and will revoke your membership for doing so. You have to read the forum rules to know whether or not they allow for this. Most, however, prohibit spamming all the members with emails.

Is There A Common Courtesy Of Forums? Absolutely. Most forums follow the rules of common courtesy - everyone is treated with kindness and respect whether members agree or disagree with each other, or like or dislike someone and their views. Hatred towards another, name calling or bashing of each other is not allowed. Religious or political discussions aren't allowed unless, of course, the forum is set-up specifically for that. Also, threads or posts with profanity, vulgar language, or adult content are generally not allowed as most of the forums are "family-friendly" communities.

Associations? What are they and should You Join One? Associations are provider communities that house multiple numbers of forums. They might be ISP providers or websites set-up specifically to house multiple numbers of forums. Examples might be Delphi Forums, Yahoo Groups, MSN Communities, Google Groups, etc.

How Many Forums Should You Join? That depends upon how many you think you can actively participate in.

What Kinds Of Forums Should You Join? That's strictly up to you. I would join some for business and some for pleasure.

What About Chatrooms? Some forums include chatrooms within their forums for their members to use. Chatrooms are vehicles that allow members to interact online and communicate in real time by typing messages on their computer. Messages that are typed in by a member appear instantly to everybody who is in the chat room at that time.

Some forums set-up specified chat times for all their members to come and get to know one another or specific chats about various subject matter for their members to discuss interactively. A lot of online craft shows provide chat rooms for their customers to interact with the various artists or crafters selling at the craft show.

Does Commenting On Forums Have An Impact On Search Engines? Absolutely. Like other forms of online communication search engines love text and new content and forums are filled with it. Posting and replying on forum threads can be very beneficial to the small business crafter and great exposure for your business. Do a search on any search engine and see for yourself how often forum threads come up and their placement within the results.

So, if you're a small business crafter - should you join a forum or online community? My answer is absolutely if you want to gain vital exposure for your small business. Plus, you may just have some fun while you're at it.

Copyright © 2007 - All Rights Reserved - Written By Linda Walsh of Linda Walsh Originals and Linda's Blog. Linda is a doll maker and doll pattern designer.

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