Internet forums provide a valuable tool to gather information, get a pulse on what others are doing, and share your thoughts. However, it is easy to forget that there are real, live, breathing people reading your posts.
Following proper etiquette guidelines is essential if you want to have a good experience. Not following protocol can create complications, cause hard feelings, and possibly even jeopardize relationships.
What to Do on a Forum
Here are some things you should do when participating in a forum:
- Know the basic rules of that particular forum. Before you start posting, look for something in writing that clearly states the purpose of the forum. This is also where you're likely to find what is or isn't allowed.
- Get to know the other people. You don't have to post a long message with every opinion you ever had on the topic when you first start out. If you feel the urge to post something in the beginning, make it a brief introduction without giving too much personal information. Then sit back and read other people's posts before you dive in.
- Read and reread your message before posting it. Go ahead and write whatever comes to mind, but take a step back before clicking on the post button. Step away from the computer for a few minutes and then come back and reread your message with fresh eyes before posting. Look for anything that might possibly rile someone or be perceived as something other than what you intended. Don't forget that once you post your message, it is on the forum board forever for the entire community to see. Even if you delete it, someone might have done a screen capture, and there will still be a trace of it on the Internet.
- Respect the opinions of others. Chances are, at some point, you'll disagree with others who post in the forum. That's okay. Agree to disagree. Don't resort to name-calling or trying to out-slander anyone else. Even if you "win," you risk being viewed as the forum bully. That can get you kicked off, and worse, label you for many years as someone to avoid in broader Internet circles.
- Stay away from flame wars. Some people enjoy participating in forums just to throw flames and incite anger. Ignore those people, and they might go away. Joining them will just give them what they want, and they'll continue. Make sure you are polite and respectful at all times.
- Be patient with new participants. After you've participated in the forum for a while, you are likely to see some newbies pop up. They'll probably ask questions that have been answered before. If you want to help them without clogging the forum, send them a link to earlier posts so they can get the information they need without taking the time of the veteran posters.
- Remember that even private forums are somewhat public. Anything you put in writing and post on a forum is available for sharing.
- If you come into the discussion late, read earlier posts to catch up. If others have to stop the discussion to bring you up to speed, the discussion loses its momentum.
What Not to Do on a Forum
There are also some things you need to avoid doing on a forum. Here are some of them:
- Don't tell jokes. Remember that humor doesn't always come across the way you intended, so be extra cautious when posting jokes or remarks that you think are funny. Most of the people probably don't know you—or haven't known you long—so resist the urge to be the forum clown.
- Don't try to sell something. Most forums have a policy against using them for selling something, unless their stated purpose is to offer an opportunity for promotion.
- Stay away from all caps or large signature lines. Forums are for sharing information. All caps come across as shouting. Large signature lines are distracting and diminish the value of the content.
- Don't post too much personal information. Unless you know all the forum members personally, avoid giving out private information about yourself and your family. Don't tell anyone when you are going on vacation or leaving your house for any amount of time.
- Don't grandstand or hijack the forum. You may be an expert in your field, but everyone needs an opportunity to share in the forum discussions. You might even learn something new. Keep all of your posts on topic.
- Don't post for the sake of posting. Occasionally adding a like or comment that you agree is fine, but you don't have to do that every single time someone posts. It's okay to silently agree or disagree.
Most Important Forum Rule
If you make an occasional mistake on a forum, offer a brief apology and move on. Most people will forget about it if you don't turn it into something bigger than it needs to be. Remember that the most important rule on forums is to show respect for other members at all times.