Rhetoric, Forums and Marketing

This is a sub page of Marketing in the Digital Age.


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Abstract

Forums are an integral part of the internet that can be a useful tool in today's business world. While forums tend to be self perpetuated, it takes a mix of good moderation and the promotion of a logical and constructive community to ensure a more profit orientated forum. This page will be discussing the particulars of promoting such a forum and will be using Tom's Hardware as it's specific example.

Setting the Tone of a Forum

Every forum needs a starting point, preferably something the users can see that will set the mood for the forum and provide clear guidelines for how behavior should be conducted on the forum. The main goal is to create an encouraging, responsive and helpful environment. One of the best ways to do this is by clearly marking the guide at the top of forums or by creating a page one must read before using the forums, such a brief user agreement. The website Tom's Hardware uses a locked administrative post to do this. They make it visible by keeping it at the top of the forum, and marking it with a golden lock next to the post.

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In this post moderator r_manic states,

Here we talk about computer hardware, software, gadgets, gaming, and geekery in general. Speech is free but Tom's Hardware is moderated. We like people who make sense, stay-on-topic, and play nice.

By posting this at the beginning of the forum, r_manic sets the tone for the forum early. He uses the "sticky" (what the locked post is referred to as) to describe what the forums should be used for and he hints at how certain "geek" specific language will be used with the word "geekery." He appeals to pathos here with a bit of humor by stating that speech is free but the forums are moderated, which gives an almost playful feel to the forum. This statement shows the forums will be monitored and regulated, but also encourages people to be lighthearted at the same time. The moderator does an excellent job of encouraging "geekery", playfulness, and logic in the forums. This tone helps to create an environment that will use logic to perpetuate a goal of profit.

Hot-linking and Cultural Convergence

The forum prides itself on being logical and supported with evidence, usually provided in the form of hot-links to websites with computer components or articles. This is done mostly because the forum guidelines have promoted the use of these hot-links and even created an etiquette for doing so. The main protocol of this etiquette is to list all the components one intends on purchasing, and to provide links and details of the components. Bawlern1 does this by posting,

"- looking to order everything from newegg
- budget $700
- no plans on overclocking and/or doing crossfire.
Current Build (please critique):
1.) ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
Item #: N82E16827135204
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827135204
2.) Antec Gaming Series One Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
Item #: N82E16811129181
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129181
3.) VisionTek 900505 Radeon HD 7850 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
Item #: N82E16814129230
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814129230"

This is part of his build. Number 1 is a DVD burner, number 2 is the case, and number 3 is the video card, which is commonly referred to as the GPU. These links allow those critiquing the build to reference the component directly and look up the compatibility, airflow, and performance of the components. These are crucial for providing evidence in the forums and are also commonly used to suggest different parts. Obsama1 does just this by suggesting,

"That harddrive is a laptop harddrive.
Pay a little bit more for a better mobo:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157302"

Obsama1 uses the medium of hot-links to critique and help Bawlern1 in his build, further reinforcing how crucial hot-links are for this website.

The hotlinks are the most important part for creating a profit oriented forum. With these links users can easily see what they want, and how others think about it. Making hot-links an integral part of a forum is key for generating revenue. As we can see with the previous examples by bawlern1 and Obsama1, these links go directly to websites used primarily to purchase computer components. If a website wants to generate revenue for itself, it should encourage users in it's forums to link to articles and/or products with the website of itself. I'll continue using the online book store website as an example. Say that users were using a forum to give suggestions of books to another user. If they linked the user to a book review on the same website to further inform them and see if they would want to buy it, the forum is then leading the user to his or her eventual purchase. By linking said book review to a page where one can purchase the book, or if the forum stipulates that a link should be used to direct a user to a purchasing page, the forums become a direct marketing tool fueled by a community orientated to purchasing great books.

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One could also follow Tom's Hardware's example. While Tom's Hardware doesn't necessarily create revenue for itself from the users in the forums, it keeps a close kind of partnership with Newegg.com. Newegg.com advertises on Tom's Hardware's forums, and Tom's Hardware's users link their forum posts to Newegg.com for parts. Having a close partnership with another site with similar interests can be highly beneficial for both or more sites. These links between the sites has been referred to as "cultural convergence" by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture: Where New and Old Media Collide. Henry Jenkins explains,

By convergence, I mean the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who would go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they wanted.

While not necessarily being used in the context Jenkins initially intended, cultural convergence can be seen here in an almost naturally evolving way. Tom's Hardware's is the convergence of several different sites including Newegg.com and pcpartpicker.com. While Newegg.com is mostly a site where users can purchase computer components, and pcpartpicker.com is a place that directly checks for compatibility of these components while linking back to Newegg.com, Tom's Hardware's forums is a place where they all cohabitate and merge into one fluid, profit creating entity. From this we see how creating a forum with these links to other sites makes the forums the staging ground to many other websites (especially considering the pcpartpicker.com's main function is to create hot-links to hardware sites and serve as a middle man of sorts). While old and new media may not be colliding on the forums, different technology sites have found a common ground to discuss and create on Tom's Hardware. When these separate technology sites converged to create TH's forums, it also created one of the best examples of how to market a forum in today's digital world.

Maintaining a Forum with Moderators

The moderators of Tom's Hardware are exceptional. They seem to know how to answer questions just right and to keep information flowing. They are an excellent example of how to maintain a forum. In a thread tilted "Why is Global Moderator 'Area 51' Sarcastic?" moderator Reynod used a bit humor to defuse tension with a sarcastic story about how Area51 is a cat eating alien who was deserted on the planet in the 50's. This seemed to be held as a postitive response as confirmed by the comments that followed the story. This is just one of the many ways in which the moderators help to diffuse the tensions in the site. By doing this they help to keep the site from dissolving into an illogical fray, which is exactly what you want a moderator doing. If users have to sift through heated response after heated response, and never get to hot-links or information, then they never get to point of purchasing products. Tom's Hardware is one of the best examples of how moderators should be, because actually finding tensions in the forums is fairly difficult to do. I asked Realbeast, a regular contributor to the site, if he had ever had a conflict in the forum section fo the site. He replied,

No, IMO [in my opinion]—having done Internet help posts for a long time this is the finest site available and things are very civilized here but the moderators really do an awesome job keeping control while not even being very visible (November 12, 2012)

This showed throughout the forums with the relative lack of conflict in many of the threads. Even when conflict does occur on rare occasion, they are quickly diffused by a joke or hyper-link to an article. This seems to be because the moderators lead by example, which encourages others to be relatively conflict free as well. A more serious situation occurred in the thread "Struggle for freedom from meaningless thread closing". User skb1234567 (skb) describes how he is being oppressed by moderators because all his threads get closed and he always is being banned. Randomizer explained to skb,

The reason you were banned is because Tom's Hardware does not permit under 13s to participate on this forum. This is stated in the Terms of Use which you agreed to when you registered. The legal requirements for knowingly allowing under 13s to post are extremely strict and completely impractical.

Randomizer upholds the forum's belief in logic by presenting skb with the reasons as tow why he has been banned in the past. He then shows a bit of kindness by allowing skb to remain active on the site long enough to understand why he is not allowed on Tom's Hardware before removing him again. By describing the legal implications to skb, he demonstates how TH believes in logic and creating a safe environment for everyone involved. This helps to maintain the site. When conflicts occur on a forum, the moderators should be able to diffuse these conflicts and regulate the forums as necessary. Setting up a forum alone will not ensure profit for a business; a forum needs to be maintained. Tom's Hardware's moderators do an excellent job of just this, and are a shining example of how to handle conflict on a digital medium. When setting up a tone on a site, the moderators need to be able to keep the tone alive and enforce the forums rules, and being humorous when performing these tasks never hurts.

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Conclusion

From Tom's Hardware we have seen how to create the tone of a forum, how to use hotlinks for marketing and how to maintain a more profit orientated forum. By promoting logic, hotlinks and dissolving tensions, Tom's Hardware has become a successful platform for generating profit across several websites such as Newegg.com and pcpartpicker. We have even seen how integrated each of these websites are and are able to see just how a forum should be created in order to generate profit. For another example of how forums can work to generate profit and how cultural convergence can be used in digital writing, see here for how AMC's show "The Walking Dead" integrates their show and website in order to generate more profit.


Bibliography
1. Bawlern1. (10-16-2012). First $700 Gaming PC – critique plz placing order soon! Tom's Hardware Forums: Systems: New Build. Retrieved October 30th, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/366947-31-first-gaming-critique-placing-order-soon
2. Ellie R. (9-16-2011). Moderator Cat. Rubberrepublic.com. Retrieved December 11th, 2012, from http://www.rubberrepublic.com/2011/09/4488/lolcat-funny-picture-moderator1-3/
3. Jenkins, H. (September 1, 2008). Welcome to Convergence Culture. In Convergence Culture: Where New and Old Media Collide (Introduction). Retrieved November 7th, 2012, from http://henryjenkins.org/2006/06/welcome_to_convergence_culture.html
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5. obsama1. (10-16-2012). First $700 Gaming PC – critique plz placing order soon! Tom's Hardware Forums: Systems: New Build. Retrieved October 30th, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/366947-31-first-gaming-critique-placing-order-soon
6. r_manic. (03-10-2010). Read This First. Tom's Hardware Forums: Systems: Homebuilt. Retrieved October 30th, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/282333-31-read-first
7. randomizer. (09-18-2012). Struggle for freedom from meaningless thread closing. Tom's Hardware Forums: Forum Feedback: Feature Requests. Retrieved October 31st, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/34882-12-struggle-freedom-meaningless-thread-closing
8. Reynod. (06-28-2012). Why is Global Moderator “Area 51” Sarcastic. Tom's Hardware Forums: Toms Network: General Discussion. Retrieved November 2nd, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/26563-41-global-moderator-area-sarcastic
9. Tom's Hardware Screen Shot. (12-11-2012). Tom's Hardware: Forums: Hombuilt. Retrieved on December 11th, 2012, from http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum-31-202.html
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