Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Using Web Forums to Attract Surfers

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Using Web Forums to Attract Surfers

Article excerpt

The one feature that most distinguishes the Internet from any previous communications medium is its interactivity. The Net is a two-way street. You give, and you receive.

Savvy organizations and individuals have long recognized this, making it easy for people to contact them and diligently respond to e-mail. Organizations on the vanguard have even set up discussion boards where customers, clients, interested observers, critics and even competitors can air their views and share their experiences.

The main benefit: repeat traffic and referrals, with the expectation that some visitors will become customers and customers will be more likely to remain customers.

In contrast to the almost-anything-goes atmosphere of independent discussion group such as Usenet newsgroups, organizations typically exercise greater control by moderating discussions at their sites. Moderation varies from merely responding to complaints about particular posts to reviewing all posts before publishing them.

Still said Alan Webb, CEO of Abakus Internet Marketing , many organizations are wary. "There is a worry in creating a forum that disgruntled customers or anybody with a chip on his shoulder might log in and bad-mouth the organization," he said in an e-mail interview.

The trick is skillful moderation. "You need an active, friendly, knowledgeable and levelheaded moderator if you can't do it yourself," said Web, whose company's own site has a discussion forum. A good moderator, said Webb, "enjoys starting new discussion threads and posting messages, is not heavy-handed about censoring others but is not afraid to close discussion threads that are getting out of hand, will immediately delete spam, is a good researcher, and above all has deep knowledge of the subject matter."

Being a moderator can be tricky. There's sometimes a fine line between vigorous, healthy debate and angry, unproductive arguments. Some moderators let their egos get in the way, big fish in their own little ponds. Recently, I observed one moderator warn discussion group participants not to "piss me off."

The best moderation I've ever seen was back when computer bulletin board systems and CompuServe forums, not the Internet, were the virtual meeting places of choice, by an avuncular sysop (system operator) who was as wise and funny as he was self-effacing, Laurence Sigmund.

The most creative use of online forums I've ever seen is currently employed by Webb. …

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