Understanding the secret life of message boards


It can be like the first flush of a crush when you find a message board where the users share the same interests as you.

Sweaty palms, full of excitement, wanting to know everything about the topic, the urge to reveal all you know, to blurt out every question that pops into your head, it can get to all of us. But like informing the object of your affections, you would be well advised to take things slowly.

Here is my simple five step plan to make the sometimes closed communities of message boards a little less intimidating to the uninitiated.

Step 1 Lurk:

Take some time to get to know the community by reading what has already been written on the topic. Have your questions been answered already?

A message board that has been going any reasonable length of time will have amassed a decent body of knowledge and it is a small matter of respect that you should take the time to read it before you pop a question.

Step 2 Lurk:

Learn as much as you can about the members of the message board. Who has the most respect from the other users? Which ones are taken less seriously? Who are the most informed on the topic?

A message board is generally a self-contained community with its own social structures and people who are known for many different things. These roles online may or may not reflect a user’s real life role. Once you have taken the time to get to know them you will be ready for the next step.

Step 3 Lurk:

Check out how it is that members of the board structure their posts. Is there a way that members format posts? Do they use the correct grammar? Are there jargon terms and memes that the members use? Do they post large images inline? Do they conceal links?

Every single community online has unwritten rules on what constitutes a quality post. Look closely at the posts with the best responses and use them to guide you. This will ensure when you do start to post that not only will the members have an easier time understanding what you are trying to communicate, but you will find the transition from new user to part of the community much smoother.

Step 4 Lurk:

Learn what is acceptable to post. Is it okay to post naked pictures? Download links? Promote a small business? Discuss religion? Politics?

Some of this will be covered in the posted rules of the message board and some of it may not. Have a look at what respected members post. If moderation is transparent, read through those threads to see what the moderators punish people for. What is acceptable on one message board may get you banned from another.

Think of the moderators like the bouncers of an exclusive club, it is entirely up to them who they let in and who they allow to party. Do not get on the wrong side of them, as there is often no higher authority that you can take your case to.

Step 5 Post:

By now you should know most of the collective knowledge of the community, know who the main contributors are and who to avoid and ignore, you should also know how to speak the language of the community, and what it is acceptable to write about.

So if you still have something to ask and something new to say, then by all means GO AHEAD AND POST.

[Image credit: Topnews.In]

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...


  1. Awhina Tours Reply

    Great advise. Message boards can be intimidating – its a little like walking into a party on your own. Love the emphasis you give to lurking. It really does make sense to watch and absorb for awhile before that first post to avoid making a fool out of yourself or alienating the very people you’re hoping to join. With so much spam about, some message boards are also very suspicious of new members. There are always unwritten rules and by lurking for awhile you can see what they are.

  2. Sparrow Reply

    Great advice, and an excellent photo. He looks about 12 with a drawn-on moustashe and his mums glasses on. And check out that computer, go retro, Whoa!

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