Effective Promotional Use of Newsgroups

Newsgroups are a place where millions of people from around the globe come together to form a community based on a desire to converse on a particular topic. Newsgroups began in academic circles as forums for discussions on research and quickly expanded to every topic imaginable. These virtual communities are referred to as Usenet newsgroups and are hierarchically arranged by subject. It is estimated that over 10 million people worldwide read newsgroups on over 100,000 different topics. People participate in these newsgroups by "posting" or e-mailing comments, questions or answers to other participants' questions, forming an online discussion. 

There are three types of newsgroup visitors:
  • People asking questions or advice
  • People providing answers or advice
  • People who read the discussion without taking part

Visitors to newsgroups make an effort to get there. Each visitor has chosen the specific newsgroup for a reason. Usually this is an interest in the topic being discussed. What more could you ask for? If your business' products and services are in line with the topic of discussion then you have yourself an instant target market. 

There are many benefits of participating in newsgroups:

  • You can immediately reach thousands of targeted prospective customers with a single message.
  • You can create a line of communication with loyal customers and provide them with valuable information.
  • You can use newsgroups to find out the latest trends, customer needs, what people are looking for and what they are talking about as well as gathering information on competitors and your target market. 
  • Build up your reputation as an expert in the field by answering people's questions and helping them solve their problems. 
  • If you do it in an informative way, you can increase traffic to your Web site.
1. Tips

To ensure that your post is well received keep the following things in mind:

  • Keep on Topic
    Newsgroup participants will be easily annoyed and will not respond positively to your posts if you do not keep on topic. People participate in specific newsgroups because they are seeking specific information.
  • Stay on Thread
    When responding to a previous post do not post a completely new message. Instead use the "Reply" option and don't change the subject line. This places your response immediately under the post you are responding to making the discussion easy to follow.
  • Make a Contribution
    If you post quality, informed responses to questions, your credibility within the newsgroup will flourish. What you will hopefully create for yourself is a reputation for providing valuable information and in time you may find that visitors will return to the newsgroup to look for your postings. If you provide your contact information in your signature file readers will always know how to contact you.
  • Read the FAQ on Advertising
    Advertising is not appreciated in most newsgroups so it is very important to read the FAQ for the newsgroup before posting advertising of any kind. If the newsgroup charter specifically states that advertising is not permitted, then don't. 

Discreet Advertising through Signature Files

Just because a newsgroup does not permit advertising does not mean you can't use you signature file to convey some important information to the newsgroup. If you use your signature creatively you can use it to  provide exposure or a mini ad for your company. It can contain information on special events, specific products or services your company has to offer or just your basic contact information. Keep in mind that your signature file must be appropriate for the newsgroup you use it in, so it may be a good idea to create several and use them accordingly. Also, keep your signature file short, between four and eight lines. This is to make sure that your signature file is not longer than any message text you may post, which is not good netiquette. Make sure to include a call to action and that all Web site addresses include http:// before the address to make them hypertext links. 

Signature files should contain the following:

  • Contact name
  • Business name
  • URL
  • Address
  • E-mail Address
  • Telephone number
  • Fax Number
  • A brief company tag line or slogan

Here is an example of what an appropriate signature file should look like:
Susan Sweeney
75 Brentwood Drive
Bedford, Nova Scotia   B4A 3S2
Toll Free Tel: (888) 274-0537  Fax: (888) 274-0388
Visit http://www.susansweeney.com to learn about our
Tourism Internet Marketing Bootcamps!

Newsgroup Advertising Hintsl

If your goal is to find newsgroups that permit advertising, a good place to start would be those that have titles that are quite obviously geared towards sales or business. You want to look for newsgroups that have the following keywords in them:
  • biz
  • classified
  • for sale
  • marketplace
However, just because these words may be present, always read the FAQ to make sure advertisements are permitted. Also keep in mind that although advertising may not be allowed, if you offer valuable advice or answer questions, you can always include your signature file as discussed earlier.


2. Tools

Google Groups

Google is not just a search engine anymore. Google groups contain the entire archive of Usenet discussion groups dating back to 1981. These discussions cover the full range of human discourse and provide a fascinating look at evolving viewpoints, debate and advice on every subject from politics to technology. Google's search feature enables users to access this wealth of information with the speed and efficiency of a Google web search, providing relevant results from a database containing more than 700 million posts.

Usenet Info Center Launch Pad

Valuable information on Usenet and its newsgroups. This site provides FAQs, Usenet indexes; help with Usenet and a Usenet group search capability. You can do research on newsgroups you feel include your target market to find information on the location of the FAQ for the newsgroup and approximate number of readers in that group.

3. Techniques

Targeting Appropriate Newsgroups

When trying to assess the appropriate newsgroups to target for the best results in making a connection with your target market, there are a few things you should keep in mind. You should try to think of all the different kinds of relationships that may exist between your product or service and your target market. 

For example, if you are the owner of a bed and breakfast, then a good newsgroup to target might be rec.travel.bed+breakfast. You must find newsgroups that your target market may have an interest in. One way of finding out which ones they may frequent is to ask your clients and customers which newsgroups they find interesting and which ones they participate in on a regular basis. 

So, how do you find a list of the newsgroups and mailing lists out there? Both major browsers (Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer) also have a search function to aid you in acquiring this information. 

If you are using a newsgroup program, most have a built in search component. Simply type in your most appropriate keyword and it will return a list of newsgroups that contain that word or part of a word. Make sure to use words that relate to your product or service or words you think your target market would be interested in. Do several searches using keywords and this will give you a list of potential newsgroups for your marketing efforts. 

Google (http://groups.google.com) also has a keyword search that will return results in chronological order meaning those that are at the top of the list are those that have been used most recently. Either way, these methods should provide you with a fairly large list of newsgroups to target for your marketing activities. 

Researching the Newsgroups
Once you have your list compiled, the next step is to take the list and find out the specifics on the newsgroups individually. You should begin by going to the Usenet Info Center Launch Pad (http://sunsite.unc.edu/usenet-i/home.html) to find the FAQ files for the newsgroups you are researching. This will provide you with information on the newsgroups' position on advertising and may provide you with details on the number of people actively participating in the group. 

It is of vital importance that you abide by all the rules of the newsgroups and read all the FAQ files, charters and rules about posting and advertising in each of your target newsgroups. You should be able to type in the newsgroup name and it will tell you whether advertising is allowed or not. This allows you to refine your search. 

Lurking for Potential Customers
Once you have narrowed down the newsgroups that you feel your target markets may frequent then the next step is to visit these newsgroups and spend some time lurking (browsing without posting) in each to determine if the participants are in fact potential customers. Read the posts and ascertain if there is a likelihood that what you may have to contribute would be of value to the members. 

The Next Big Step - Posting

Once you have spent some time lurking and have determined that the newsgroup you have selected would benefit from your participation and you have of course read the FAQ to make sure that advertising is permitted if you plan on advertising, you may begin posting. It is vitally important to remember not to post any advertising if the FAQ clearly indicates it is not acceptable. However there are many other ways to participate such as posting answers to questions or offering advice. You want to create a relationship and gain trust from the newsgroup members, not outrage potential customers. 

In order to get a feel for how posting works, you may want to visit the newsgroup misc.test and post a test message so you can see first hand how the message post looks and works and prevent you from making a mistake when you go to do your first actual post to your targeted newsgroup. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and if you are going to mess up you don't want to do it in front of your target market. 

Gaining trust and portraying yourself as a valuable member to the newsgroup is important if your marketing strategy is to work. Trying to provide valuable responses to member queries will put you in the spotlight as a source of knowledge and will assist you in gaining the reputation you need. The main idea is to find newsgroups where your target market is discussing your industry, products or services. 

Your Subject Line - Make it Short and Catchy
When someone is scanning a newsgroup, trying to decide which posts to read, a short and to the point catchy subject line is more likely to be read. When creating your post keep the following things in mind:

  • Most important key words near the beginning because some people adjust their screen to see only the first few words of the subject.
  • Pick words someone may search for because most search engines will search newsgroups when returning results.
  • Always have a subject line because people will not waste time looking at a post if there is no subject line

Posting - The Message Body
  • Begin your message post with a short sentence defining very clearly why you are posting
  • You must captivate your reader in the first sentence in order for them to feel the rest of your message is worthy of their time. 
  • Should be short, no longer than 24 lines
  • Should discuss the main points briefly
  • Should ask the reader an open ended question such as "Anyone have any comments, experiences, etc?"

Responding to a Post - Private versus Public
When responding to a message post, you can reply privately or publicly. This means you can reply to the poster in a private manner so only the poster sees the message or you can reply to the group, meaning the reply is seen by all in the newsgroup. Deciding on which method to use is dependent upon the nature of the message you wish to send. If your message would be of value to the entire group then replying to the group is the best option as you get the opportunity to show your depth of knowledge, experience, etc. 

However, if you wish to reply with important information you want only the original poster to read, then replying to the individual is recommended. It is often the case that you may decide to do both as information may be valuable to the group as a whole but you want to make sure the original poster sees your reply in a timely fashion. Sometimes people do not visit the newsgroups on a regular basis so you want to make sure the person gets your response and the simplest way is to do it directly. Replying privately also gives you an extra marketing opportunity if advertising is not allowed in the group message to add some discreet advertising. There is a little leeway granted in private messages as long as you do it professionally and your reply is not just advertising. 

4. Resources

I have included a couple of resources for you to check out when developing your press releases. For additional resources on a variety of topics, I recommend you visit the resources section of my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com/resources.php. There you will find additional tips, tools, techniques and resources.

How to Increase Web Site Traffic Using Newsgroups

An estimated 10 million people spend time reading newsgroups. This amount of traffic makes newsgroups an ideal marketing vehicle. Do you know how to use them to increase your web site traffic without violating netiquette? Read this article to learn how.

Cyber Fiber Newsgroup Directory and Search

Cyber Fiber  offers a very comprehensive list of Usenet newsgroups and allows you to search for newsgroups in a variety of categories.

Internet FAQ Consortium

An archive containing FAQs for Usenet newsgroups. Do your research here to see if advertising is allowed in those groups on your list of potential newsgroups to target.

Visit my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com