Vendor Participation on Usenet Wedding Newsgroups
By Steve Kimbell
There has been a lot of talk that vendors are not welcome on the wedding related newsgroups Alt.Wedding and Soc.Couples.Wedding. This article was written to help dispel this myth, and to outline in broad terms just how wedding vendors and the Happy Couples (HC) of these groups can co-exist in a manner that is beneficial to everyone.
We will be discussing three Usenet newsgroups in this little essay:
Alt.Wedding - (A.W.)
It should be noted first off and in bold type that blatant advertising is forbidden on Alt.Wedding and Soc.Couples.Wedding.
This point cannot be stressed too forcefully. There is no better way to get hundreds of potential clients mad at you and your company than by posting an ad to one of these two groups.
Interestingly enough, as bad as the blatant ad is, the "subtle" ad is considered even worse. Posting brief non-informative responses to many different threads for the purpose of displaying your signature file a lot is an indication to the readers that you are fully aware of the rules of the group, and yet you still are trying to work around those rules by attempting to disguise your posts as informative.
Another "back door" ad that has been tried is to initiate a thread posing as a "customer", gushing about the fantastic service/product/whatever that they received from your company. Such endorsements are looked upon with suspicion, and group members are quite adept at tracking down suspect posts of this sort and calling the attention of the entire group to how such and such company is attempting to violate the rules of the group.
Please remember that the readers of these groups are intelligent folks who can quickly and easily see through these techniques, and the damage to your company's reputation will far outweigh any potential benefit.
The bottom line...play by the rules!!!
Before posting to a newsgroup
Before posting to any of the wedding newsgroups, (or any other newsgroup for that matter), you should "lurk" on that group for a while, that is, reading the posts and getting a feel for the personality of the group before actually responding to any posts.
Every Usenet group has a distinct personality. Some are reserved, others are more open. In some cases there are topics that just turn people off, and should not be brought up. It is for this reason that people are encouraged to lurk for at LEAST a couple of weeks before posting. This advise is directed at ALL people posting to Usenet, not just vendors.
In addition to lurking in a group for a while, you should make it a point to read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for the group. Almost every Usenet newsgroup has a FAQ posted somewhere on the net.
The alt.wedding FAQ is located at:
The FAQ for soc.couples.wedding can be found at:
At the time of this writing, Alt.Wedding.Marketplace does not have a FAQ, but read on for some tips on posting to that group.
Alt.Wedding.Marketplace (A.W.M.)History of the group
Several years ago A.W. permitted advertising on the first day of each month. However, due to the variances in ISP news server operations, some posts did not appear for several days. Since this was a known problem, ads appearing somewhat later in the month were usually not questioned. Unfortunately, many vendors took advantage of this, posting ads whenever they felt like it, and at one point the newsgroup was in danger of being overrun by advertising, driving the HCs away since there was less and less discussion going on. What little discussion there was left became difficult to find amidst the forest of ads.
At this point the readership of A.W. held a vote and decided to ban ALL advertising, something that S.C.W. had done from the very beginning. A howl of protest erupted from the wedding vendors, (this writer was NOT one of those...I actually voted FOR the advertising ban), so as a result, Alt.Wedding.Marketplace was born.
A.W.M. is a group where vendors may advertise their services and products freely, without having to resort to advertising on A.W. or S.C.W. It keeps the discussion groups A.W. and S.C.W. relatively clear of advertising, and yet permits a forum for vendors to advertise their services without fear of recrimination.Taking best advantage of A.W.M.
It is important to note that A.W.M. is not read on a regular basis by a lot of HCs. Instead, most people use an archive site like Google Groups (groups-beta.google.com) to search for services in their area. For this reason, it is important that each post contain the following information:
Frequency of posting to A.W.M.
You may post to A.W.M. as often as you wish. However, you should be aware that some ISPs monitor newsgroup posts and can cancel repetitive, duplicate posts. The policies vary from company to company, so the best advice is to post on a weekly basis, and to vary your text periodically. If you market to different wedding services, you are allowed to post different messages targeting different areas.
Flooding the newsgroup with dozens of similar messages is considered extremely poor "netiquette", even on a marketplace group, and should be avoided.
Participating (and profiting) from A.W. and S.C.W.
So, the question remains, how does a vendor successfully participate on A.W. and S.C.W. in a productive (and profitable) manner and avoid getting in trouble with the participants?
The answer is pretty simple, actually. There are only two steps you need to follow:
Let's examine each of these a little closer.Be as helpful as you possibly can
Every book on marketing will tell you that one of the best ways of attracting business is to give something away for free. In the case of Usenet, what you are giving away is information. Your experience is a valuable commodity to people who have probably never before gone through the trials and tribulations of planning a wedding.
When you give information that is truly USEFUL to people, they will remember your name, particularly if you do it on a regular basis. Remember that if there is one person posting a question, there are probably a dozen others who are looking forward to the answer who have never posted publicly. Just because the original poster may not be from your area doesn't mean that you won't benefit by responding to their question.
I can't tell you how many times I have received leads and ultimately contracts from people who have read one of my posts on one of the newsgroups. I very seldom initiate a thread. Instead, I simply respond to the questions that are being asked, and comment on issues that are being discussed.
Just because a thread doesn't involve your particular specialty doesn't have to exclude you from commenting, either. For instance, we get a number of posts asking for suggestions or comments on various reception sites. If they are requesting information on a site where our band has performed, I am more than happy to pass on my thoughts. I am also more than happy to pass on suggestions of sites that might fit the needs of the person requesting the information.
Note that I don't use the response as a means to get a plug for the band in. I don't add "...and by the way, if you're looking for a band..." kind of comment. If they are looking for a band, fine...they know I work with one from my signature file, and if they want information on the band I'll be more than happy to give it to them if they ask. The point here is that I try and keep my responses strictly on-topic...responding to the question at hand without going far afield.
Go out of your way to avoid even the APPEARANCE of advertising
I can't stress this enough. If you can't offer HELPFUL information on a thread, don't post a meaningless tidbit just to get your signature file posted. If you want to respond to a non-wedding related post, (they DO pop up), suppress your signature file.Signature Files and newsgroup posting
I've mentioned a signature file several times now, so perhaps this is a good time to discuss what it is and what information to include in one.
A signature file is a piece of text that is generally appended automatically to the end of a post. In some cases, depending on the software you use, the signature, (also known as a ".sig"), does not even appear until after you post your message.
A signature file may contain any information you want. I recommend that you include at least your name, company name, and website URL in your .sig. You may also wish to include your return e-mail address, (although it can be found in the "reply-to" portion of your post), as well as a brief description of your business or service.
Usenet standard says that signature files should not exceed four lines, and in general each line should not exceed 72 characters. Yes, it is true that some people use mammoth signature files. However, as I have already stated, the goal here is to gain acceptance by playing by the rules.
The FAQs for both A.W. and S.C.W. allow vendors to include business information in their .sig file. This is not considered advertising, provided the post is on-topic with the thread, and contributes constructively to the discussion.
Should vendors be held to a higher standard?
Once you are familiar with the rules and accepted behavior of Usenet and of the wedding newsgroups in particular, the first thing you will notice as you read the posts is that many people do not follow these rules. I've seen and heard of many vendors complain that it isn't "fair" that they are held responsible for adhering to the rules of the group when the other participants are not.
The reality of this is that as representatives of the industry in general, and of your company in particular, vendors MUST be held to a higher standard than the brides and grooms that post to the groups. The newsgroups are a forum for HCs to discuss their plans, ask questions, compare ideas, and often simply vent their frustrations.
We as vendors are invited guests. We have a lot of information we can share with them. We see and participate in weddings every week, and as a result we can contribute real world solutions to their problems. However, we are only the GUESTS. A.W. and S.C.W. are for the folks getting married.
I like to picture it this way...we are guests in someone else's home. When you visit someone else's house you abide by the rules of that house. You don't insult your host, and if you have a difference of opinion you can discuss it rationally, but you keep your cool, remember you are a guest, and politely withdraw from the conversation. This SHOULD be the standard for vendors participating on A.W. and S.C.W.
Unfortunately this is not always the case, and for this reason vendors have gotten a bad rap from many readers. It is important to remember that we as professionals must ACT as professionals. Vendors that behave badly on the groups not only tarnish their own company's image, but the image of the industry as a whole.Conclusion
It is my sincere hope that this little essay has helped explain what vendor participation on the wedding newsgroups is all about. I have been participating for several years now, and am quite proud of the fact that our band has performed at many weddings of newsgroup participants, yet I have never had to resort to posting an advertisement to attract attention.
The calls I receive generally start out something like "I've read many of your informative posts on the newsgroup and appreciate your sincerity and genuine desire to help the participants without attempting a sales pitch".
Other vendors who participate report the same kind of response. The secret is quite simple. Be yourself, dispense advice like it was your sister's wedding, and abide by the rules of the group in spirit as well as to the letter.
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Gaithersburg, MD 20886-5003
Copyright 2007 by Steven Kimbell