The basic rules of joining online communities

When you start a business, a brilliant way to find people with similar interests and needs, boost your reputation and traffic to your website and build your network is to join online communities.

Joining an existing online community of people is not really very different from getting to know a new group of people in real life. Certain social rules apply which, if followed, usually guarantees a warm welcome. And if ignored, risks a very chilly one!

We’ve put together some simple basic rules to help you introduce yourself to online communities, build new connections and establish a respected professional reputation among potential customers and your peers.

Begin by joining in little and often

It takes time to build up relationships and establish trust. So when you first join an online community, dip your toe in the water slowly. If you launch in on your first day responding to every question and acting as if you know all the members well, you may come across as an irritating attention-seeker. Instead, treat getting to know your new online connections just as you would new friends in real life. Introduce yourself and slowly establish yourself as a valuable member of the group over time.

Don’t start your own threads straight away

Just as it’s wise to build up your contributions to discussions over time, it’s a good idea to wait a while before starting your own threads in a new online community. This has two benefits. Firstly you can observe the pattern of posting so you’ll know what kind of threads get the most attention, the best days and times to start a discussion, and which members have the most valuable insights and knowledge to offer. The second benefit is that by waiting until you have been accepted as a regular member of the group, and people know, trust and respect you, your thread is more likely to attract interest and better quality responses.

Give before you take

Before you can start asking information and favours of people, you need to build a bank of goodwill. Being generous with your time, knowledge and interest will ensure other members warm to you, and like and respect you. Once you have established yourself as a generous, involved member of your online community, you can ask for help, confident that people will be willing and happy to return favours and assist you.

Always be polite

This may seem a rather obvious rule to include but it’s a really, really important one, especially when you are posting as the spokesperson of your business rather than just yourself. The internet is full of lots of interesting people, with very different opinions and agendas. And for all the wonderful, genuine, well-intentioned people you will meet in online communities, there will always be members that you just don’t like for some personal reason, or who go out of their way to cause trouble.

However, whatever someone says or does, try remain calm, professional and detached. Remember that everything you say and do reflects on your business. Letting your guard down in a moment and telling someone what you really think of them could undo months of careful reputation-building. So yes, as obvious as being polite is, it’s probably one of the most important rules to observe when joining an online community!

Check frequently

If you’ve posted a question, started a debate or commented on a thread, try to check back as often as you can to see if anyone has replied or responded. And if they have, respond and thank them if appropriate. Not only is it good manners, but it helps you to look more professional and on the ball, which is never a bad thing.