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Rules and Tips for Posting

So you've figured out where you need to post messages--now what? How do you approach this group? Do you go in full-force and advertise your business name surrounded by a border of asterisks--the equivalent of a theatre marquee? Do you post your entire inventory with prices, hoping to lure people to your Web site? Those are definitely aggressive approaches, and if you're in an area that is not defined as a buying or trading group, you would be in for some nasty responses. Before you start posting the first thing that comes to mind, consider the following tips.

Stick to the Topic 

When posting in the newsgroups or forums, stick with the topic. Just because you are selling hand-held electronic chess games doesn't mean you should promote them in just any video game group, such as Nintendo or Sega. Those people will certainly let you know you've entered the wrong territory. If you want to post information about your products, try to find newsgroups that are geared toward buying or selling. If you find newsgroups that are general discussion areas for the types of products you sell, pay close attention to them. Remember, though, members of these types of newsgroups are there to share information and are not fond of getting inundated with ads.

Think before you post. With a number of potential customers watching, you don't want to make a fool of yourself. If an individual makes a worthless post, the consequences are no worse than the other newsgroup members thinking the person is a dork. As the representative of an online store, an uninformed post can cost your credibility and customers. Most newsgroups have a large number of regulars, so if you make a bad first impression, you'll certainly be remembered.

Keep Promotional Posts Subtle and Simple 

An accepted and effective approach is simply to become active in the newsgroups--posting your opinions and taking note of what others have to say. If you can subtly include the fact that you own an online store related to the newsgroup, you'll likely have people inquiring about your store without having to shove it down people's throats. Here's an example:

Just wanted to send a note that we have received Soul Calibur at Tronix and I played it for an hour last night. It's really very good--the reviews and previews for this title were dead on. It's one of those titles that really makes the Sega Dreamcast shine. The graphics are fluid and the controls are very intuitive. If you're not a fighting game fan, this might not be the title for you (try NFL2K or Get Bass for an alternative).

In other news, we also got Tonk-Tonk, which is just an awful game and not worth your time at all.

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No-Nonsense Mail-Order for the Serious Gamer

If you're going to post an ad (and do this only if you think it's acceptable in the particular forum), it should be something small and simple. You can use a header like "New @ Tronix." Potential customers can see a list of what's new, and of course a date in the header will let them know when the ad was posted. You can simply list your newest arrivals with a trailing line of text, which lets people know how to get further information. Don't include the prices, which can flag your post as a flagrant ad. Your signature can contain all the rest of the pertinent information (such as store hours, URL, phone, fax, etc.). Most newsreaders today recognize links, so your Web site's URL can simply be activated right from the message, leading readers to your site.

What to Respond to and What to Avoid

Replying to the proper messages becomes a talent after a while. When you own an online store, everything you post in the newsgroups becomes an immediate reflection of your business. As you thread various topics, you might see people asking about where to find a certain product. You can join in with a reply and mention your business, as long as it's done in a way that does not look like a desperate grab for customers. For example:

[] Hey, does anyone know where I can find those new infrared Bose desktop speakers?

[] They should be available at most stores by now, but if you're having trouble finding them, we just received some stock a few days ago. Our Web address is in our signature.

Notice the approach. Don't push your store down the user's throat. Give the person options. Another post that's ideal to respond to is a question someone may have about a product. If the question relates to an item you carry, and you're familiar with it, you can reply with a small review. For example:

[] The translucent CD holder you are referring to unfortunately holds only 40 discs and it's not that convenient to get at your discs once it's full. I've had those in stock, but the newer model X holds a lot more and is designed with better spacing for easier identification of your discs.

With this type of response, you are helping a consumer make a better decision while simultaneously setting up a pointer to your business.

The types of postings that are best left alone are complaints about other stores. Replying to someone's complaint about a purchase from a store with, "You would have had a better deal had you come to us," does not solve a person's problem. It simply makes him or her look unintelligent and makes you look arrogant. While it could grab some attention and maybe even some customers, it also sets you up as a perfectionist--which you'd better be after a post like that. It also is a blatant invitation for flames and looks incredibly self-serving.

Responding to an Attack

If a customer goes public with a complaint about your store, reply publicly and personally with concern and ask how you can remedy the problem. This will show your customer that you are interested in the problem, and others will take notice. For example:

[] I went looking for a tape of Phish's "Lemonwheel" concert in Limestone, Maine, and Phred's Phishing Hole doesn't have it. Can you believe that? I'm never visiting that site again.

[] We have to apologize for the lack of a "Lemonwheel" tape at this point. We actually had a copy--a legal one!--, but the sound quality was so poor we didn't feel it would be fair to make it available. We're working on getting a tape we feel comfortable distributing, but until then--"We will trade no Phish before its time!" We're sorry for any inconvenience and thanks for your patience.

You can also take your disagreement into a private exchange, but always remain civil. If you privately call your nemesis a moron, there's always the chance your tirade will be made public by the recipient. Never email anything you don't want revealed publicly.

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