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Responsible Email Marketing

"Email Marketing Via Newsgroup Advertising"

Paul Myers 
Contact: arkham@buffnet.net
Site: just-business.com

Newsgroup advertising is one of the least understood forms of online marketing. It can be a very important part of your Internet strategy if you use it properly.

If you don't, it can be the most seriously painful experience you
have online.

Overview of Newsgroup Advertising

The returns are worth the study. And you may just find, after doing the research, that Usenet has more value to you as an information source than you would ever have expected.

Please note that, while following the ideas in this article will keep you out of the most common troubles, and likely get you the additional business you are looking for (assuming you are knowledgeable in your field), they are NOT OFFICIAL DOCTRINE. In Usenet, no such thing exists. Consider them to be pointers from someone with experience. My opinions.Your mileage may vary.....

First, you should realize that newsgroups are a very different animal than any other form of online community. They are not privately owned forums, like lists and chat rooms. They are quite a bit less genteel in many cases. And that's a good thing.

If you're looking for honest feedback to help steer clear of hazards in a plan, or the best and latest information on your subject, it can be tough to beat a specialized newsgroup. Be ready for some rough conversations, though. If your feelings are easily bruised, you might want to avoid them. Rough and tumble is a way of life in Usenet.

Newsgroups tend to have a high concentration of very experienced online people. Newsgroups have been around since long before the advent of discussion lists. Experienced folks don't take a lot of guff, and they tend to call things as they see them.

Newsgroups don't require special commands to join, so they attract a lot of new online folks. And since it's virtually impossible to get thrown out of them, many of them take advantage of the license to do things they couldn't get away with on a discussion list.

Also, you need to be careful of the information you get in newsgroups. While there are a lot of very knowledgeable people in many of them, even the best groups are hit with misinformation, much of it downright dangerously wrong.

With those caveats out of the way, remember that most people in newsgroups are civilized and pleasant folk. Just blunt. And often very helpful.....

How NOT to Advertise in Newsgroups!

I know, you're not supposed to lead with a negative. Here's the reasoning. If you do it the wrong way first, you'll get a reputation as a spammer, and that will kill any chance you have in most groups. Permanently. There are people who keep tabs on this sort of stuff, and if they spread the word that you got nabbed advertising in the wrong places, it can be a problem. Usually it takes more than one incident before it gets to be trouble, though. People make mistakes, and that's taken into account.

The first thing you need to know is that DIRECT advertising is not acceptable in most newsgroups. In the ones where it is, advertising is usually ineffective.

In the groups where advertising is allowed, the vast majority of people who will see your ad will be those who want to sell you something, not folks who are looking for services or products to buy. The usefulness of most advertising groups was killed long ago by people who insist on posting off topic ads for products that the group was not intended to cover, and selling things that most people wouldn't buy even if they were presented professionally.

In the pure discussion groups, which is the majority of the 35,000+ newsgroups out there, direct advertising is resented because it interferes with the ongoing discussion. Like walking into a private gathering with a bullhorn and shouting out a sales pitch, then leaving. The regular participants will be quick (and none to gentle) to let you know what they think of that. If they let your ISP know, there's a good chance you'll lose your account after the second time.

What harm can one ad do? Not much, but it doesn't stay just one ad. If the group allows advertising to start, it will grow and take over the group quickly, rendering it useless for the discussion it was created to allow. That's the biggest reason it's taken so seriously.

More on this thinking in the section on community below.
That pretty much sums it up. No blatant ads in discussion groups. If you want to try your hand at advertising in the commercial groups, make sure you get the FAQ and charter for that group first to make sure it wasn't a discussion group taken over by ads. Some ISPs will go by the charter rather than the practice, as will the most vocal of watchdogs.....

Who is this "moderator", and why is he giving me grief?

In an unmoderated newsgroup, if you screw up, the regular participants of the group will form a lynch mob and go after you. Count on it. It's the way things are done. You get to make your mistakes in front of the whole world, and then get slammed for them. Retroactively.

A moderated group uses a different system. All posts sent to such a group must be approved by the moderator prior to being put into the newsfeed.

The moderator of a newsgroup does not filter messages for what they agree with. They simply make sure that the group stays on topic, and that postings are within the guidelines they are entrusted to enforce. Shouts of "censorship" are pointless.

Moderators, when they are doing their jobs properly, filter messages based on publicly available standards. No more, no less. If you follow the ideas in this article, you'll never need to worry about them. They'll welcome your participation.....

Understand Netiquette.

Netiquette is another widely misunderstood concept. It is, essentially, the agreement under which the people operating on the net communicate.

Note that although the rules are based on many technical standards and limitations, netiquette is primarily a set of SOCIAL conventions.

The social part is the thing you need to understand to do business online. The Internet is composed of a LOT of small communities. Just as each offline community has rules, and the law recognizes the concept of both universal and community standards, so do netizens.

As a personal thing, I have no use for the concept of community standards offline. Online they are much easier to accept, as people have complete choice over which "communities" they belong to.

If you don't like the rules in a given neighborhood, there is nothing at all stopping you from moving, or even creating your own specially tailored neighborhood. There are over 100,000 of them now, not counting web sites and chat channels. Diversity is good for everyone involved.

It's important to understand that netiquette is not the static and outdated set of concepts that a lot of people would like you to think. It is the full body of behavioral norms that are required in order or the net to continue to grow and be of use.

The group of rules that make up universally standard Netiquette can be summed up in Two Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt not unnecessarily consume excessive public resources.
  2. Thou shalt not forcibly interfere with the rights of others to exchange ideas freely within subject-specific areas.

That's it. The interpretation is often strict.

Rules for quoting in posts, cross-posting, spamming, signature files, and the rules governing moderators all derive from these.

To get a feel for the local rules, hang out a while in the newsgroups you're thinking of getting involved in. See how things are done. No better way to learn the real world essence of the group.
Lurk before you leap.....

So, how do I actually do business in this environment???

Newsgroups are each separate communities, tied together by common interests, and the choice on the part of the participants to be there. This is the single most important thing to remember. Common interest, by choice.

Treat each newsgroup as a separate neighborhood, and you'll do fine.
There are essentially three separate ways to do business in newsgroups, aside from direct posting of blatant ads (where allowed).

  1. Indirect "ads"
  2. Networking
  3. Signature files

Indirect ads:

This is simply mentioning your business in a way that is on topic, and likely to draw the attention of those people within the group who may be prospects for your product or service.

The way to do this properly is to pick your groups wisely, and wait for someone to ask about something related to your field of business. For some people this will be easy. If you're a webmaster, a writer, a consultant, or a trading card retailer (for example) you can find all sorts of opportunities like this. If you're a shiatsu massage therapist, your opportunities for this type of thing are going to be somewhat ... limited.

Don't try to "bend" a discussion to your business. Analogies are fine, as long as they are clear and relevant. Trying to make your business fit where the fit isn't obvious will be poorly received.

Any time you refer to your business, make sure that you are providing information that is useful even if the reader of the post chooses to use someone else's business, or none at all.

The object of the indirect ad is to show that you know your business and are the type of person that someone would want to do business with. You accomplish this by being knowledgeable and helpful. The post is your ad. The signature file (covered below) is your business card.

While you're at it, it never hurts to get involved in other parts of the discussion. You'll find that it is both enjoyable and (equally importantly), educational.

And it develops your association with the group more strongly. This is especially important when you realize that the vast majority of the people reading a newsgroup never post. The audience is much larger than you might expect judging from the number of people you see involved in the discussion.

Networking :

This is one of the most effective ways to do business online, and newsgroups are some of the best places to network.
Basically, it works the same online as off. You introduce yourself to those around you that might be able to refer business to you, and make a point of referring business to them where you can. This does require work, and it involves developing long term relationships with the members of the group. That is worth the effort.

Note that the examples below are generally written from the perspective of a businessperson in a business newsgroup. They can be easily adapted to any type of discussion group.

For this to be effective, you really need to know your stuff. People will not recommend you to anyone if they don't know you're good at what you do. To use this technique, you need to target your groups carefully, based on the likelihood that you can provide referrals to people in the group, and that they can do the same for you.

The best ways to network in newsgroups are:

* Offer help where you can. This shows people that you are a serious person, rather than someone trying to manipulate the group for your own ends. People online make a very clear distinction between a contributing member of a group and someone trying to take advantage.

Offline this might not seem a businesslike distinction. Do you ask the butcher what charities they support before you decide to purchase meat from them? Nope, not usually. But the butcher's shop is purely a business. Online forums are discussion areas first and foremost. They are not established to be commercial venues. The distinction is very valid in this case.

* Check out people's web sites. Consider it the online equivalent of getting to know the neighborhood. If you see that someone has a site that complements yours, offer to exchange links. Or just put in a link to theirs and let them know about it.

If they show a good knowledge of their business through the site, keep them in mind for when you run into someone who might be able to use their services. It might help to make a separate category in your browsers bookmarks for this type of thing.

If you see a way that you can offer them a deal where you both profit, that is clearly a good deal for both, make the offer. But keep in mind that it has to be a good deal, or it may be considered tacky. If you do this, it is absolutely essential that the deal involve something in which they have expressed an interest.
If you wouldn't consider the deal seriously if it were offered to you, don't offer it to them.

Keep this same pattern for all the newsgroups you participate in. You might be surprised at the number of times the person someone is seeking in one group is someone you know well from another.

* Read every signature file you see in any of these groups. It is truly amazing the deals you can work out if you keep your eyes on these things. You'll also see a lot of information offered that can be very helpful to you later on.

* Watch the regulars. If they've been around a while, you'll definitely learn a lot from the way they approach things.

Basically, you shouldn't be aggressive, but don't be overly shy. An honest attempt to be helpful is not going to get you nailed to any barn doors. Once you have shown that you are a serious participant, you'll find it easy to do business. People know that businesses need to sell products, and they know that they are going to buy them. They will gladly do business with the person who's helpful, and they'll shun someone they see as trying to take advantage. It's really that simple.

* Provide information. Do you know something useful that applies to the subject of the group? Write up an article on it, and include it at your web site. Mention it in your sig. and include the URL. Point the URL directly to the article. Most of the ones who check out the info will check out the rest of your site also, and they'll get a good look at your product information without any push from you.
If you get comments from them, take those seriously. These are your prospective customers talking.

Or, write up an article and offer it to someone in the group with a related web site. If you aren't a writer, have someone who is check it over before you offer it to the webmaster. Include a brief description of your services at the end of the article, and make sure you include your email address in it.

They get good content for their web site, you get additional exposure. Everyone wins. Just don't send the same article to a lot of people....

You say you're not an author? Get someone to proof your material after you do the first draft. Someone, somewhere, is paying you for doing something. You're an expert (or at least knowledgeable) in some area that other people want to know about. Make use of that fact!

I'm sure that you can build on these ideas to increase your online business. Use some creativity, and you're sure to make it happen!

Signatures or .Sig files:

The sig. file is one that can, and should, be used everywhere you post. No matter what group you post in, even if your business is completely unrelated to the group's topic, signature files are acceptable. They are exempt from the rules of subject matter.

The only rules that generally apply are ones concerning length. It's usually acceptable to have a signature file of 8 lines, but it is far better to keep it to 4-6 lines. You'll want to include something that identifies the type of business you're in (business name is good), your URL and email address, and a line or two on your business.

You can often leave out parts of that if you have both a URL and email address, and offer additional info.

One of the absolute best ways to use a signature file is to offer a free report on a subject you know well. Anywhere from 2 pages on up to 20 or more. Figure out the one thing about your business that the largest number of people want to know about, and offer a report on it. Include a description of your business and some basic ad copy at the end, to help generate interest. Advertising in this way can be right up front, as long as the report has actually useful information in it. Don't just offer a price sheet and call it a "Free Report". That will get you flamed mercilessly. To illustrate the effectiveness of this technique, consider one friend of mine. Wanted leads for a specific type of project, so we sat down and developed a report specifically built on the main thing most of the right kinds of prospects for the business would look for. Then we tailored a signature file to that report. Then we put the report on an autoresponder and tested.

This person is a rather prolific poster in a lot of groups, so the figures may seem larger than normal, but I believe anyone could do this same thing.

The results? 3000 requests for the report in two months. 50 leads
per day. Could you handle that many leads?

Remember that for this to be really effective, you need to post often. And your posts will have to be things that catch people's interest. That's another reason for being picky about the groups you post to. If you're not, you'll burn out fast!

Don't be shy of offering a price list for your services in a sig. file. Put it on an autoresponder, and offer it, as a price list, in your sig. You probably won't get 50 requests for it every day, but you'll be surprised at how many you will get. And they'll be hot prospects.

You can set your email or news software to add the sig. File automatically to every post or email you send out. I recommend this. As you go along, experiment with new sigs., to keep improving your response.
It's the most powerful tool in your arsenal for automatic business generation. The best news is that it is just that ... automatic.....

If you don't have a newsreader (the program that allows you to follow and post to newsgroups), you can use the ones in Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer, or you can get a REAL newsreader. The best of them can be gotten from Forte, Inc. Free Agent is a free program that will more than suffice for the majority of people. If you want to get a powerful newsreader, check out Agent, which is an inexpensive and extremely powerful newsreader. Both can be obtained from Forte's web site at forteinc
The best business newsgroups to start out in are these:

misc.entrepreneurs.moderated - Entrepreneurial issues.
misc.business.moderated - General business discussion.
misc.business.marketing.moderated - Marketing in all its glory.

Remember, lurk before you leap. Read the groups for a couple of weeks before posting. It will be time well invested.

Paul Myers is the moderator of misc.business.moderated and the MicroBusiness Discussion List subscribe: list@virtualbusiness.net He also publishes VirtualBusiness.News, a weekly email newsletter for online businesses.

In his spare time from these activities, Paul makes his living writing copy for web sites and for online advertising. You can get in touch with him at arkham@buffnet.net


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