Effective Online Forum Usage

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
- Herbert Simon

Online forums, message boards, and newsgroups are now ubiquitous. These powerful communication tools offer many strong benefits. However, forum participation can also become a destructive addiction, where the benefits are overshadowed by negative side effects.

Here are some potential benefits of regular online forum participation:

* Intellectual exchange

* Learning new ideas and refining old ones

* Enjoying community membership

* Influencing the forum’s evolution

* Contributing to others

* Making new friends and contacts

* New business leads

* Keeping up with current events

* Learning about new opportunities

Here are some potential negative effects of excessive forum usage:

* Reduced concentration and focus

* Reduced productivity

* Chronic procrastination

* Increased pessimism and/or apathy

* Being distracted by endless debates and idle gossip

* Gradually substituting tribal group think for your own intelligence

* Impaired social skills, neglected relationships, and a weakened social circle (a consequence of substituting online socialization for face-to-face conversations)

* Reduced energy (forum participation is sedentary compared to more active social outlets)

* Reduced self-esteem

* Career and income may suffer (including loss of employment)

* Forum addiction

Since the early 1990s, I’ve participated in many different online forums, message boards, and newsgroups and have experienced many of these positive and negative effects at various times. I ran a popular game developer forum for almost two years, so I’ve had experience both as a participant and a forum operator. On the positive side, I’ve learned many great ideas, made valuable new business contacts, and even met my wife on a local computer bulletin board system. On the negative side, I found excess participation to be a huge time drain (and very addicting as well).

Here are some suggestions for using forums effectively and avoiding the negative side effects:

1. Take a Forum Fast

First, if you’re currently active in any forums, go on a forum fast. Stop visiting all forums for a while; don’t even lurk. I recommend a fasting period of 30 days, with a bare minimum of 14 days. This will help you break any unconscious habits and regain your perspective, so you can intelligently evaluate the role forums should play in your life. Otherwise, you may be coming from a place of unconscious habit and will likely overestimate the value of continued participation. If you’re currently a forum moderator, take a forum vacation, and enlist someone to temporarily assume your moderation duties. Redirect the time you would have spent in online forums to something positive like exercising or reading books. If you don’t think you have the discipline to do this, simply make a post in each forum explaining that you’ll be taking the next 30 days off, and if any forum member catches you online, you’ll pay the first person that emails you about it $100. This should give you enough leverage to stick with your fast.

2. Reassess Your Forum Usage Habits

Once you’ve completed the initial fasting period (and not before), take a fresh look at your forum participation habits. Imagine that you just discovered each forum today for the first time. What are the pros and cons of participation? Is this the best use of your time, or can you imagine something better? If you’re using forums to get specific information, would it be better to simply read books, articles, or blogs? If you’re using them as a social outlet, would it be better to join a local club and meet people face-to-face? Looking back on your previous pattern of behavior, would you say you were addicted? Did your usage pattern become unconscious? If so, how do you intend to prevent that from happening again?

3. Clarify Your Expectations

If you decide to participate in online forums, clarify your expectations. Whether you intend to use forums for market research, to make new contacts, or as an outlet for your humorous wit, get clear on why you’re there.

4. Establish Reasonable Boundaries

To limit the risk of forum addiction, set clear boundaries for yourself and write them down. You can limit the number of times per week you check each forum, the total amount of time you spend participating, or the number of posts you’ll allow yourself to make each week. Track your weekly usage on a scrap of paper to keep yourself consciously aware of your participation habits. Don’t go dark and succumb to unconscious habituation. Establish clear boundaries such that if you cross them, you know you’re at risk of falling into a pattern of addiction. And if that ever happens, it’s time to immediately begin a new fasting period.

5. Let It Go

If you find yourself repeatedly succumbing to forum addiction or other negative usage patterns, you may decide it’s best to simply do without. At the time of this writing, I no longer regularly participate in any online forums or message boards. When I clarified my intentions, I realized my #1 reason for participation was to contribute and to help people. But using forums as a contribution outlet was inefficient, since it would too often lead to lengthy (and mostly unproductive) debates. I found that sticking with one-to-many outlets like writing articles and maintaining a blog were a much better use of my time. Blog comments still allow some interactivity, but the time required to manage them is reasonable and the personal relevance of most blog comments is extremely high.

6. Replace Online Socialization With Face-to-Face Contact

Regarding the social aspect, online forums are a poor substitute for meeting people in person. While there’s certainly some social benefit to forums – many people have met their spouses in online forums, including me – it’s important to physically spend time with human beings instead of via a computer screen. If you need a new social outlet, join a local club or association, especially one that meets weekly. I found that when I joined Toastmasters International and began attending meetings and competing in speech contests, my interest in socializing via online forums fell dramatically. Even the best online communication pales in comparison to face-to-face, belly-to-belly contact.

7. Be a Dabbler, Not a Fixture

Another tip is to treat forum participation as temporary. If your goal is to make new business contacts, then dive in and participate actively for a while, maybe 30-90 days. Make new friends and contacts, collect private contact info, and then abandon the forums. Continue to develop your new relationships via one-to-one communication like email, phone calls, and if possible, face-to-face meetings (such as at industry conferences). Temporarily dabbling in many different forums is a more effective way to build contacts than pushing a single forum far beyond its usefulness.

You can also use the dabbling method to gather general information on a subject. Seek out a number of relevant forums and bookmark them. Then spend a few hours scanning each forum once every six months to soak up the current wisdom. Whenever you have a specific question, pop in and search the forum archives. If searching turns up a blank, feel free to post a new message, harvest the answers, and disappear.

8. Avoid Addiction

Online forums are tricky beasts. At the time of this writing, my feeling is that ongoing daily participation in any single forum for more than a few months is almost invariably unproductive. Eventually the initial benefits like gaining knowledge and making new contacts produce diminishing returns. And then the negative effects like forum addiction set in. Regular participation (even from unconscious habituation) will still provide some benefits, but the longer you participate, the less efficiently those benefits are realized.

Close cousins of forum addiction include online gaming addiction, web surfing addiction, blog addiction, email addiction, and news addiction. The common pattern is that unconscious habituation overrides conscious, clear-headed decision-making. If you ever find yourself with such an unproductive habit, take steps to reassert conscious control. Use a period of fasting to regain your perspective, reexamine your motives, set clear boundaries, and find alternative outlets. Manage your forum usage consciously to serve your goals, and avoid the trap of addiction.

Digital Product Creation System

Digital products are everywhere you look. Even “physical” products like CDs and DVDs are, in essence, digital because the tracks and other information stored on them is in digital format. But increasingly products like books are being turned into digital products with devices like the Kindle.

Digital products have the advantage that they are cheap to deliver, costing only a few cents in bandwidth.

But if you want to create them, you need a system otherwise they will be chaotic and you won’t be likely to get repeat orders.

Here are the basic steps for your digital product creation system:

1. Make an outline

This can be in any format you want. A Word document, a spreadsheet or a mind map.

Play with each one and see which works best for you. Personally, I find spreadsheets easy to work with as each section of the product can be in a column with the subsections in the rows below it.

For more complicated products, I find a series of mind maps is also easy to use and can be more “at a glance” than a spreadsheet.

2. Decide on a format

This may sound as though I’m teaching you to suck eggs but take a step back and think how your information is best presented.

A PDF book can be good if your subject matter is fairly complicated. But in common with its physical counterpart, it tends to be the lowest retail price.

Audios are next in price value and can be convenient for your customers as they’re not locked into using their computer to listen to your product.

Videos are typically highest price and with screen capture programs such as Screencast-o-matic they’re inexpensive to produce. Or you could use your webcam or the video on your phone.

3. Create your product

Using your outline and preferred format, start creating your product.

Especially if it’s a written product, treat the writing and the editing processes as entirely separate. They use different parts of your mind and if you succomb to the temptation of editing as you go along, you’ll reduce the creativity of your product and it will run the risk of sounding more like a text book than something people want to read.

Save the sections of your product with different file names. Ideally ones that will make sense in a few months time when you go back to create an updated version!

4. Create a sales page

The complexity of your product and where you’re selling it will jointly determine how long and how “flashy” your sales letter needs to be.

There are free sites out there which will help you to create a passable sales letter without too much blood sweat and tears. There are also software programs available which will take this to a higher level. Or, if your product is likely to sell in quantity, you may prefer to use a copywriter.

Once your sales letter is written, you’ll need to upload it to your web host along with any associated images.

5. Upload your product

Use the control panel in your web host or WordPress or an FTP program to upload the files to your website host.

Depending on how paranoid you are about people stealing your product, you may or may not decide to include some form of protection for this. Remember that Hollywood have a much bigger budget than you and they can’t stop piracy so don’t put in so much protection that you annoy your purchasers.

6. Promote your newly created digital product

Promotion of your product is essential!

You can drive traffic to it in lots of different ways including articles like this one, forum posts and signatures, a Facebook page, your LinkedIn profile, pay per click advertising, affiliates and much more.

A Walkthrough Of Product Creation

The internet has diversified business opportunities. Affiliate marketing is one of the available business models. In this model, an affiliate endorses the products and services of another company for a commission. This is an easy, low-cost method to setup a business. However, a vast majority of entrepreneurs prefer to start from scratch by creating their own products and services.

The idea is a good one, but demands higher startup investments and a bit of research. Here’s a short guide on business product creation.

1. Outline your Goals:

The creation process starts with outlining your business goals. This initial planning process proves beneficial in the long run. It allows you to balance proposals and projections with the available resources effectively. It helps outline varied sources from which you can generate income for your plan. A SWOT analysis is a must for every new venture irrespective of the merchandise you specialize in. A SWOT analysis allows an organization to pinpoint its strengths and weaknesses and identify external opportunities and threats. It also helps understand current marketing trends.

2. Involve Customers in Product Creation:

Customers are king. You may have a great idea for a product, but it will be of no use if it is useless to your customers. The secret to perfecting the development process involves including potential customers in it. Prepare a survey or list of interview questions. Visit local stores (similar to your business) and ask people to fill out the forms. The answers will give you more information about the product they are looking at and their expectations. It also gives you cues of the features that will render your product successful.

3. Create a Prototype:

After you have outlined your business goals and collected consumer opinions, you should proceed to create a prototype. This prototype serves as the basic version of the product. Hence, it need not be very expensive or perfect. In fact, it is weapon to test customer response. Based on the findings, you can iron out product and technical issues in the versions to follow.

4. Screen the Product:

Sell the prototype to your customers. Observe how your customers respond to it, how they use it, features they like and aspects they don’t like. Compare expected response with the actual result.

5. Fix Gaps:

This is the stage of perfection. The comparison gives you a deeper insight into the flaws of the product. Use the information to improve your current prototype and shape your marketing strategy.

Besides, the steps mentioned above there are a few other tips to keep in mind. Customer criticism should be taken positively. You should not underestimate a competitor. Instead, compare your product with that of your competitors to test how it matches them in quality and features. Employee suggestions are crucial. One should also keep in mind the constant technological changes and updates.

There are ready product creation systems to create, test and launch business products on the web. The combines human resources and information technology to design an expert product that will fare well in the market.