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Our moderator team received a private message this week from a marketing agent that represented a company in our industry. They are interested in posting news about the company in our community.

We're excited that this company is interested in interacting on our forum, but on the other hand concerned about how our community would receive a marketer because our userbase is overwhelmingly comprised of technical users. The community has a lot of the baggage that semi-anonymous technical communities on the internet tend to carry -- hubris, arrogant power users, etc. The community would probably crucify some guy who came in just wanting to spam press releases from a single company, which would be bad for everyone involved. I can't imagine they would be very friendly with someone who wouldn't or couldn't answer questions, either.

We're all in agreement that it would benefit the community to encourage this marketer in participating in our community if they will really want to share news and start discussion, but we're not really sure specifically what to recommend without perhaps offending them or coming off like we don't see the value of this individual's efforts. What sort of content can we suggest that this marketer share, and how can we help them field the inevitable technical questions that may be out of this individual's area of expertise? Would it help if they kept a developer or engineer within the company nearby to help with those questions?

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    Possibly-useful references to mine for ideas: stackoverflow.com/help/promotion, stackoverflow.com/help/product-support. – Monica Cellio Apr 19 '15 at 3:17
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    Related, but not identical: communitybuilding.stackexchange.com/q/621/78 – Andy Apr 19 '15 at 4:16
  • This question misses info about the nature of the community. For instance, if it is a Q&A site, news would seem unwanted. Are discussions encouraged on the site? If so, what about (and will the persons' contributions fit into that)? Why do you think his/her participation would benefit the ste. Will that person repesent the company? How product-oriented will this participation be? Please edit – Jan Doggen Apr 20 '15 at 11:18
  • I disagree; it sounds like you're asking me to provide the parameters in which this user will particiate on my community -- but that is the essense of what I am asking. This is a first-contact scenario -- how exactly they intend to participate isn't known yet beyond what I've provided. We're looking to make recommendations for them, hence the question: How can/should this user participate in our community? Also, the post body clearly states that this is a forum and even uses your exact words in-that we believe that this user would "benefit the site" by sharing news and starting discussion. – Anthony Neace Apr 20 '15 at 12:20
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In my experience as an ordinary participant (not as a moderator or company representative) in technical communities, you've identified the main concerns. Technical communities tend to like it when company representatives:

  • participate in general issues, so that most of their participation is not about their own product;
  • are rarely the first in a thread to mention their own product;
  • provide technical support in keeping with the general expectations of the community.

Turn-offs include:

  • participating solely about their own products;
  • mentioning their own products even when it is not especially relevant;
  • not responding to dissatisfied customers, or only with a canned “contact us” response (which gives the impression that the only reason the company provides support is the direct threat of bad publicity).

You should be very wary of a “marketing agent” who is “interested in posting news”. You shouldn't be afraid of coming off like you “don't value [their] efforts”: if they are marketers and you're techies, you genuinely don't value their efforts. You should suggest to them that they assign a technical person to participate in the community: they need to put someone who's like-minded on the job. It can be ok if the participant relays questions internally, but even for that, you need a technical support person, not a marketing person.

If all you're getting is news about the company, these news should be in a dedicated section, which you can expect most of your participants to ignore. I don't see much value in that unless your community is dedicated to that company's products.

If your community needs money, you may suggest paid advertising. You need to tread very carefully about that. Many technical communities will prefer to live on donations than on advertising. If you go for advertising, the advertising should be clearly recognizable as such, not in the form of forum posts or the like.

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These are based on the ways intended to spot hidden spams, where marketing itself isn't considered spam. But maybe things can't be that bad at the beginning if they didn't intend to spam. I think these don't need to be all strictly followed (spams don't follow, but things don't follow aren't necessarily spams). And they aren't anywhere constructive. But they just makes marketing less harmful. TL;DR: not about how to market in technical users, but about how to be unlike spam.

Note that they are marketing agents, not the company owner or technicians. And you decided to allow them to participate for marketing purpose, not for technical purpose.

  1. Be relevant.
    This also means that, there can be only one thread only about their own product, or each product series, which isn't more harmful than normal ads. For any other threads, other competing products are expected. Also note that one must confirm there is likely no free and easy solutions, to make paid ones relevant. (You can demonstrate how uneasy it is, if you can somehow make the demonstration objective.)
  2. Not likely automated.
    They must respond to potential criticisms (and positive suggestions), and they shouldn't think there is a much easier way dealing with defamation than normal forums.
  3. Be objective.
    To make sure they are objective, don't talk much about things those aren't easily confirmable, or if not enough users are interested. Don't force other users to argue with marketers to make the forum seemingly objective. It's better all the potential disagreeing points are obviously already there.

Minor points (probably in the common sense):

  1. Follow the rules.
    "New concepts" are not welcome, unless they let everyone use it for free. At least they should not be in the title.
  2. Elaborate.
    There are few questions only to be answered with "yes"/"no".
  3. No new catchphrases or memes.
    They should be firstly started elsewhere. And don't try to simplify anything more than elsewhere.
  4. Everything can be possible.
    Change the wording to assume there are always competitors, or more stupid ways doing the same thing manually if applicable (or anything similar applicable to your domain). Don't say they can't just replicate everything that your company did in years, even if it is obviously so.
  5. Don't post statistic results without reasoning, to the users where the statistics are supposed to be coming from.
    Referring to someone's success in market isn't a very useful point. And everybody knows that.
  6. Campaigns to let users join are normal ads.
    Moderators should mark them to be ads even if they are free or for good reasons, to let the users believe there won't be infinitely many of those later.

They are slightly different for StackExchange, such as downvoting can somehow be a replacement of critisms without the need of any response. Adjust if your platform has those features.

Another note: If there are more marketers later, mostly from small and unknown companies, how to ensure they are not lying? And how to make the rules fair? Be prepared if this is possible.

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