What to expect from online message boards
Message boards and discussion groups (which now include Twitter) are an excellent way to engage with people who have similar interests and for this reason, book publicists often encourage authors to explore and participate in appropriate online venues. But message board newbies would be wise to note that online companions don’t always play nice. Let me provide an example. (And no, this example does not involve a certain South by Southwest panel going, well, south.)
About a year ago, shortly after Katie Holmes finished the New York City marathon in just under five-and-a-half hours (putting her in the bottom 15 percent of women her age), I made an admittedly rude comment on a running message board about Suri probably being able to crawl that fast. I also found fault with the commonly-held notion that marathons are somehow the gold standard of fitness (I think being, well, fit is the gold standard of fitness — whatever “fit” means to an individual) and said I thought marathons — a supremely unnatural 26.2 miles of exertion — should be reserved for faster, fitter runners. In an all-that-matters-is-you-crossed-the-finish-line age, this did not go down well.
Let me share with you a few gems from the comment thread (but before I do, let me just say, sic, sic and sic):
“Thanks, sweety, for insulting all 5 hour marathoners.”
And file this one under Bang-Head-Against-Brick-Wall:
“You can attempt to explain yourself as much as you want, but you are still wrong.”
And the crowning glory:
“… you’re basically a d**k … you simply need to STFU!!!!! Anything else will make you look like a bigger idiot than you’re already coming off as.”
For those of you unschooled in the ways of online abbreviations and wondering what “STFU” means, let me just hint that the first and last words are “shut” and “up.” I think you can fill in the blanks. Of the 56 other comments, about 55 averaged somewhere between indignant and condescending.
Although message boards do attract people of similar interests, this online interaction provides a shield of anonymity, which some interpret as a license to be rude. In the most extreme cases, “trolls” incite “flamewars.” (In this instance, I’m not sure I’d classify the commenters as trolls — who deliberately seek to be contrary or cruel — or simply as semi-literate.)
Another feature of message boards you should keep in mind is that only a fraction of people who read them ever comment. (Readers who never comment are known as “lurkers.”) So there might have been 59 comments to my Rude Comment About Katie Holmes, but the message thread garnered more than 17,000 views. Yes. 17. Thousand. Keep this in mind if you’re a blogging author who fears no one reads your posts. And if you’re someone who reads message boards but doesn’t comment, give it a whirl. You’re interested enough in the topic to visit the site — why not interact with others who share your views (or who don’t share your views)? Make yourself heard (preferably once you know the style and tone of the group).
For every wacky person out there, there are many who participate in ideological rather than personal debates, whose arguments are measured and sound and professional. Whose views are enlightening and from whom you can learn. These are the people with whom you should engage for informative and productive discourse. As for the others, ignore them. Then wait and make fun of them on your blog.
Have you had any particularly good (or atrocious) experiences with message boards? Do share.
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Fall 2012: I’ve really enjoyed writing about book publicity and meeting (0nline and in person) writers, publicists, editors, agents and others in the publishing industry, but I’ve — reluctantly — come to the conclusion that I just don’t have the time to maintain this blog.
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For some time now, I’ve closely followed a lot of very informative sites about media and about the publishing industry. Since I find myself quite voluble at times about issues that pertain to my job in the publicity department at a large publishing house, I thought I’d set up a book publicity blog. The purpose of this blog is provide tips, primarily, but also information about publishing / marketing trends that will help book publicists — and hopefully others in media and publishing — do our jobs with greater ease and efficiency. Please note that the opinions expressed on this blog are my own, not those of my company.
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