How to start an online discussion

By Emma Wyatt

At Public Words, we often get asked how to start successful online discussions and conversations. The good news is that there are many ways now to engage your communities in active dialog. Blogs, social media sites and forums are great places to network, share information and points of view, appeal to your followers and win their interaction.

Here are 5 questions to keep in mind when starting your discussion:

1. What is the intention of your thread?

What are you asking people to do? Are you selling a product or service? Maybe you want to drive traffic to your blog or a webpage? You may want to get an opinion or conduct research. Begin by getting clear on what your “ask” is so that you can stay clear about your goals and stay focused in the thread.

2. Are you posting in a relevant group and will you get the desired outcome from this community?

Once you know what your ask is, make sure you and your followers are singing from the same song sheet. Be careful not to offend anyone that may see your post. Have a look through previous discussions to get a good feel for the tone of the group. Observe the comments that have been made by others. Join in existing conversations and introduce yourself to the group. Be consistent to gain trust.

Be aware that many online forums are monitored and you may need to submit your posts for approval.

3. Ask a question, one that is relevant to your intentions but also invites others to have an opinion or share their expertise. Is your question obviously rhetorical?

Getting the question right will have a huge bearing on the response you get. You need to remember what the intention of your discussion is without being too self-promotional. By inviting others to have an opinion you should be aware that not all responses will necessarily be positive.

Here’s an example: Hi all, what business books can you recommend? Here is a list of my top 10 management books; please feel free to comment. (link)

4. Are you going to add a link?

Most forums support the share facility so that when you add a URL link it will draw pictures and text from the original page. Make sure this is relevant to your discussion and introduce the link so it is significant. Make sure any links are working and will take you to the correct page.

5. How will you monitor the discussion and reply to comments?

Once you have posted your thread, it’s a good idea to manage your settings so you receive email updates or notifications when you get a new comment. Try to reply to these comments within 24hrs.

Keep the momentum of the thread going by asking further questions. It’s polite to acknowledge each person that joins the comment conversation. It may take a while for a new thread to ‘get going’ so utilize other social media platforms to alert others to your post.

You can delete comments on your own posts if you find them offensive or inappropriate.

Keep these five questions in mind as you prepare your foray into the online world and you will greatly increase your likelihood of success.

Has this post been insightful? I would love for you to share your experience with online discussion and look forward to your comments.  

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