Editor's Cut: The difference 'tween advertising and spam
by Donna Stryk, Moderator of the Online Ads Discussion List
Day after day I come across posts to Online Ads that tout some great new product. Although many of these products are extremely relevant to the member of the discussion group, they would not appreciate having to wade through these self-promotions to get to the real content. The same holds true for newsgroups. Because newsgroups usually have a less stable following, the readers give a certain level of leniency, but yet there is still a line that should not be crossed. Matt Bateman asked just how to determine if your advertisement crosses that line. "I know that it can be spamming if you advertise in every newsgroup, however I think that if a product or service fits perfectly with the group, some degree of advertising should be acceptable," Bateman pondered.
Jim Reardon is of the opinion that newsgroups are not a place for ads. He mentioned searching the FAQ's for a particular group to make sure that you are not repeating someone else's mistakes. Reardon said, "Even if your site fits perfectly into the group, that's no reason to post an ad there. Newsgroups are for
discussion, not for free ads." However, another Online Ads member, Penny Widell, said that there are some groups out there that allow advertising in the posts. She said, "You just have to find the ones that do. Most of them start with alt.business. Read some of the posts to make sure that you are posting to the right ones."
According to John Whiteside, the key to not being perceived as a spammer is valuable contribution. Whiteside said that in newsgroups, like in discussion groups, members begin to formulate opinions of other members based on their questions and responses. He said, "Participate in groups that relate to what you do. Tell people what you do. But if all you are contributing is ads, it's not going to work. If you are a knowledgeable person whom people come to trust or respect, they will talk to you if they think they need your services."
The majority of list members seemed to agree with this viewpoint. Chuck Crawley said, "Most newsgroups will allow a small signature file at the end of your post. Use this to insert a one-line headline plus a link to your web page, article, or auto-responder." He preceded that by advising these potential "advertisers" to research topics of interest to the group so that the advice and information they provide is relevant and educated. This means that to be effective, you must go beyond contribution into building a strong reputation by providing useful and high-quality information that the group can use.
So, what's the best way to determine if your post is spam? Mark Brownlow hit the nail on the head when he said, "Whatever I, or Matt, or anyone else thinks is "acceptable" for any newsgroup is irrelevant. It's how the readers of that newsgroup will react to the advertisement that matters. And in most cases you
can be pretty sure that however targeted and relevant you think your advertisement is, plenty of other people will see it as spam and treat it accordingly." This goes back to the basic rule of knowing your customer and understanding what they need.