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Discussion List Participation as a Publicity Tool 

by Marcia Yudkin 

If you enjoy exchanging ideas and spontaneously express yourself well, topical discussion lists offer an excellent way to reach influential members of a certain industry, including magazine editors, TV and radio producers, conference planners and people who edit their own newsletters. This publicity method costs you nothing other than the time, energy and creativity to communicate well.

Step 1. Find the discussion lists and web-based forums where your target market hangs out. Use Google or another search engine to look for "women's fitness forum" or "women's fitness discussion list."  (Substitute your own topical focus for "women's fitness," of course.)  Another good starting point is web sites for print magazines for your desired audience, which often host forums.

Once you find one perfect group, ask the regulars where else they congregate online. Donna Cardillo, a nurse-entrepreneur who presents seminars on career management for nurses, discovered happy hunting ground in Nurse Net, an email discussion list with about 1,000 nurses as subscribers.

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Step 2. After lurking to take the pulse of the group, participate by answering questions, offering input on running discussions, sharing news and initiating discussions on topics that enable you to show off what you know. Whenever a juicy career question comes up on Nurse Net, Donna responds, highlighting her expertise on resumes, interviews and career alternatives for nurses. The "signature" at the tail end of her message identifies her as an R.N. who does career development seminars and includes her Web site's URL. 

Step 3. Repeat Step 2. Although one pointed contribution can certainly strike a nerve, results usually occur with repeated participation. When, like Donna, you carefully target your comments, you become known as the one to go to with a question on, say, insurance, or foiling hackers, or scuba trips to the Caribbean. Donna's results from participation in Nurse Net include speaking engagements, coaching clients, enrollments in her seminars, sales of her audiotapes and being quoted in nursing publications. 

Understand that blatant selling and bragging about your company or product will not win you favor, if it's tolerated at all. Most lists and forums are policed in some way as no-pitch zones. Acceptable ways to promote yourself indirectly are through subtle asides in the content of the message ("When I advise clients on finding strategic partners, I tell them...") and in the signature, where you usually get three to six lines to tell other participants what you do and how to get in touch. 

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Use a constructive tone and think twice before taking an extreme position on a controversy. Since most people prefer to do business with likable, pleasant folks, refrain from put-downs, insults, sarcasm and other forms of gratuitous nastiness, which can also damage the company you represent. Likewise, before taking sides in a fierce debate, imagine a potential customer viewing your remarks in the light of whether or not to do business with you. 

"Have realistic expectations about participating in online discussions," says Barb Leff, who creates web sites for law firms and has picked up clients through this method. "It's the old story where marketing is concerned... you just never know what is going to lead to what."

Copyright 2002 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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