by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Online discussion groups are great venues for job-seekers to learn more about various fields and to make contact with professionals in numerous — almost unlimited — subject areas. Be sure to follow these guidelines for proper online networking etiquette (sometimes referred to as Netiquette).
What are Online Discussion Groups?
Online discussion groups are Web-based or email-based and often both. They are subject-specific forums. People find (through these sources) and join or subscribe to groups that discuss issues that are relevant to them personally or professionally. All groups have a list manager who controls the subscriber list, and some groups have a moderator that controls the flow and direction of topics within the group. With email-based groups, subscribers send emails to the manager or moderator, and then those emails are distributed to the entire list of subscribers. There is no requirement to post, and most new members are advised to wait before posting their first message. A subscriber who simply monitors discussions without posting is referred to as a lurker.
How Does One Join a Discussion Group?
All discussion lists provide some basic instruction about how to join, but the process (whether automatic or approval-based) goes something like this: Interested parties send an email to the list owner/administrator requesting to be added to the subscriber base. Web-based groups often have a button to click or a form to complete. The group administrator then adds you to the group and sends you a confirmation mailing with information about how to post (send) messages to the list, as well as information about unsubscribing. At the time you subscribe, you often also receive the group’s statement of purpose or philosophy, along with posting guidelines and suggestions. Be sure to keep this information.
Where Can I Find Discussion Groups?
Numerous organizations manage/host multiple discussion groups or simply categorize and list online discussion groups. You can find these organizations in our Places to Network on the Web.
Why Network on Discussion Groups?
The greatest advantage of discussion groups is that all the subscribers have an interest in the subject matter. Networking is all about building your personal contacts, especially within your given career field, so joining one or more discussion groups related to your career can exponentially grow your network of contacts. Networking isn’t just a good idea anymore; networking is an essential and long-term component of all effective job searches. The development of specialized discussion groups has made it easier for job-seekers to meet and interact with professionals in your field or industry. For more information about the value of networking, read our article, Networking Your Way to a New Job.
Do’s and Don’ts of Discussion Group Networking Etiquette
Online discussion groups can be a great source of inspiration and information for you, a great place to build your network of contacts — or, it can be a place where you are trashed (a practice called flaming) and dumped from the list for improperly following the group’s guidelines. To have the best chance of online discussion group networking success, please follow these guidelines:
- Do take your time in posting your first message to the group. Do consider lurking for a few weeks and do read the archives and/or FAQ (frequently asked questions) to get a feel for the group.
- Don’t send a long personal introduction or biography to the group when you first join, unless the group guidelines suggest for you to do so.
- Do use a signature (sig) file to help identify yourself and provide some insight into who you are. Signature files are the several lines of text that your email software attaches to the end of all your email. Sig files usually contain your name, your affiliation, and some sort of promotional or personal message.
- Don’t post your messages in ALL CAPS. Capitalization is used for emphasis in email discussion groups, and all caps is the equivalent to shouting.
- Do write and edit your messages/posts to the group carefully, especially when you are new to the group and trying to build a name for yourself.
- Don’t attach files when sending or posting a message to the group unless the group allows you to.
- Do consider contacting specific members of the group directly and privately, rather than sending/posting a message meant for just a few to the entire group. (Do this practice when sending a personal message or response, requesting specific information, etc.)
- Don’t jump into heated discussions (and many of the discussions are often heated) until you are an accepted member of the group.
- Do keep your messages as concise and relevant to the group as possible.
- Don’t be too strong or forceful in your early messages, and don’t be demanding or pushy. Let your network build gradually.
- Do showcase your knowledge and insights, but don’t send a commercial about yourself or your product to the group or risk getting nasty emails or even being removed from the group.
- Don’t get discouraged if one or members flames you for something you posted to the group, but do learn from the experience. And do ignore the temptation to flame them back.
- Do be respectful and tolerant of others’ ideas and opinions.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the group.
- Do be pleasant and polite — and avoid sarcasm as much as possible (to avoid being misunderstood).
- Do build a relationship with individual members (or the entire group). And once you’ve established a relationship, do begin strengthening and nurturing it.
- Don’t just be a user; do try to help other group members whenever possible. Networking should be mutually beneficial in the long-run.
- Do remember that networking can happen in any discussion group, not just career-specific or industry-specific lists. Just as your neighbor or family friend could be a valuable member of your network, so could someone who shares your passion for container gardening (or other personal interests and hobbies), so do consider joining personal interest discussion groups as well.
- Do consider starting your own discussion group if the need arises. If a group gets too large or splintered, or you can’t find a group for your specific interests or field, consider starting one yourself.
- Do read our Networking Do’s and Don’ts for a collection of key networking rules and tips.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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