Newsgroups can be damaging and malicious comment can spread like wild fire. Interjecting a posting into a newsgroup is akin to interrupting a conversation in a pub. People dislike getting unsolicited e-mails. To be effective, you have to use the right netiquette.
They are form of opinion forming communication in cyberspace. This is where ordinary people talk about ordinary things. It is a place where anyone can ask if there is a kindred spirit with the same interests and because the Internet is so big, there always is.
Jim, an American who lives in Minnesota, watches the UK TV Soap East Enders.
Last May, he was baffled by Huw's accent. His on-line friends John and Jacqui told him it was Welsh, and in the conversation the two of them discovered they lived near each other, one in Didcot and the other in Oxford.
An every day tale of the Internet
The conversation occurred in a newsgroup (rec.arts.tv.uk.eastenders). It was one of many millions of such conversations each day. According to research by the Georgia State University, one of the primary uses of the Internet is for communicating with others. Over 30% of netzines use the Internet for communication excluding e-mail. Importantly, the higher proportion using the Internet this way are among the under 25's. This includes uses such as newsgroups and Internet chat.
With 10 million active Internet users in the UK, something like 3 million people use it primarily for communication and many more use it for communication as a tertiary application. Imagine what this represents among the millions already on line in the world! Significantly for corporate reputation managers, not all Internet communication is as cosy as the John and Jacqui story. Indeed, a high proportion of use is to find information about products and services and to use the experience of other consumers. It is here too, where reputations are made and marred.
The reputation of products and brands are much maligned in newsgroups. Consumers go to newsgroups to find out about products and service from other customers. They soon find out which companies and which products to avoid. This reputation building process through Internet communication channels is significant and growing all the time. The Internet is now a big bucks public relations issue. In every corner of the Internet there is disinformation. Some innocent, some amusing, some malicious.
Most users learn this at an early stage, come to rely on trusted sites and on-line friends and take the rest with a pinch of salt. But this is a presumption. Not all users are grown up, some are patently old enough to know better and still get caught out. But it can get serious and very damaging and malicious comment can spread like wild fire. In March 1997, a well known US fashion designer, Tommy Hilfiger was accused of making racist remarks during an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Tommy Hilfiger denies ever making such remarks. This is not hard to do. Both he and spokespeople for Ms. Winfrey maintain he has neither appeared nor been asked to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
This did not prevent a mass of comment in dozens of newsgroups pointing at Tommy Hilfinger and branding him as racist. Even the most exhaustive public relations campaigns cannot easily refute rogue information allowed to spread too long. In spite of well-publicised responses the newsgroup talk on-line still disparages Tommy Hilfiger’s supposed remarks to this day.
The key for everyone is to be able to find disparaging comments fast and put the record straight. The role of Internet Reputation Managers in managing commentary in newsgroups is significant and is a new area of public relations.
But it's not that easy. Interjecting a posting into a newsgroup is akin to interrupting a conversation in a pub. Quite often it can be taken as an intrusion, rude and offensive. In fact, there is evidence that such intrusions can have the opposite affect that a company may want to achieve. A number of companies have thought that it was effective marketing practice to post unsolicited comments and advertisements and puffs into newsgroups. All the evidence suggests this is resented by users. Furthermore a whopping 84% of people dislike getting unsolicited e-mails. Its called spamming. A survey by the Gartner Group found that e-mail users are not only annoyed by unsolicited commercial e-mail or spam, but many blame their ISP for the problem.
The survey, commissioned by Brightlight 13 a maker of anti-spam products, found that more than 90 percent of users receive spam at least once a week, and almost 50 percent get spammed six or more times per week. To be effective, you have to use the right netiquette. For those starting out there is a lot of information to help and I have provided a list of some of the more helpful sources.