Please stop spamming – just Network!
So say many of the forums that you’ll find on fast developing social media sites like LinkedIn. Initially, this looks sensible – but look under the lid for a minute and you’ll find a big can of worms.
What it usually means – when it comes from the owner or controller of the forum is that too many people are using the forum simply to promote themselves – with blatant ads and links to their own content.
What the owner of any forum would like, ideally, is for everyone to have a link to his website but to restrict the access to other people’s websites.
This is natural, because the purpose of running a forum online is that for all the free work that you do – you get some publicity and business in return. If all the business is taken by others, what’s in it for you?
Okay, the forum owner must allow SOME business to be done between the forum members – otherwise the forum will consist of newbies asking questions and anybody with an expertise or valuable opinion will be too busy earning money to waste time answer the same old question.
In this scenario, the forum becomes a wasteland of newbie questions and there is no valuable discussion.
So, social media is attempting to balance a seesaw. On the one side the discussion must be reasonably interested and people need to be willing to invest time making considered comments. On the other hand, these same people need to see a return for their investment. If they don’t, they’ll leave.
Too much of one thing or another and the see-saw will crash down on one side or the other and the participants will disappear.
Now, you may say that not all forums are about generating new business – and this is true – but even a Philosophers Forum – also on LinkedIn – has people who ‘have agendas’.
Now the Agendas on the philosophy forum might not be ‘buy my product’ but it will be something like ‘agree with me that capitalism is bust and I should become the despotic ruler of the world’.
Okay, I’m overdoing the point – but still, you get the point.
So, where does social collaboration work best? Well, this remains the software industry where Linux and WordPress etc… have developed free platforms.
Why do developers give their time for free? Two reasons, one is kudos and the second is that great developers are asked to do high value integration work of all the free stuff – ie get to sell their services.
The problem with so much social media is that it can easily swing the wrong way. The seesaw can come crashing down and you’ll be left with a load of unanswered questions or just a load of raw adverts.
So, how do you design forum rules that work? Perhaps the answer is that you don’t even try! This is the smart thing that LinkedIn does – it allows the forum to be owned by the manager – so that if everyone gets bored of a spamming forum, they can split up and form new groups themselves – all the while remaining on LinkedIn.
But, I still wonder, once we go back to a normal business world – will we still use the social media in the same way?
Job hunting – or perhaps Freelance Contract hunting – has moved online and LinkedIn is well placed to benefit
from that shift in employment status.
However, traditional publishers looking to develop online presence are at huge risk when they say ‘let’s do a Face Book type thing’.
The reality is that we are all online to promote ourselves – and yes, this is no different from the traditional media world – only the self-promotion is more obvious on the web.
Perhaps then, we should stop saying ‘no spamming’ and just say ‘self promotion is cool – but prove you’ve got something worth promoting first…’
So, rather than outlawing spamming, we should accept that a thriving forum depends on spamming – but is killed by too much!
This would mean that our forum rules need to be structured to allow posters to include a link to their website in their signature – but not place live links in the subject or body of their posts.
The opportunity here for publishers is to charge for the right to include a signature – or allow it to be earned.
Perhaps when someone makes a post he earns a star? When someone ticks an ‘approve of this post’ he gets another two stars – and if someone ticks ‘disapprove of this post’ he gets just one star.
Note, the function of ‘report this post’ is different from saying you disagree or dislike the conclusion of the other post.
These stars can then be used to enhance someone’s reputation (Kudos) and would then allow them to include a signature (for free – as a result of their earned stars).
You can imagine a scenario where the number of clicks on a Top Star posters’ signature would be significantly greater then the clicks earned by a 1 star poster.
Thus, the forum starts to reward those who post well and intelligently – but does not penalise those who share a different point of view (because a mark of dislike is a sign that someone may be saying something valuable but uncomfortable – unless the post gets reported for abuse, which is different).
The method of ‘earning’ on a forum has not been yet been successfully developed. Until it does – and perhaps it will come out of a major social networking site – these sites will not gain stickiness.
In other words, these sites depend on the ability to bring expert opinion to bear on the forums. And, that once there, the experts stay there.
Without this – the Social Media businesses are dangerously wobbly and whilst they may use their size of network reach to hold people in their site, there will be plenty of opportunity for niche social media sites – if those sites get the balance of effort and reward right between both the poster, post readers and forum owners.
This is a challenge that has not yet been overcome and so it both a huge opportunity as well as the biggest threat for social media.