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In the past year, WM Media has had the interesting experience of acquiring several forums. Since forums are essentially communities of people, it gave a very interesting look at how people react in a variety of situations. Here are several conclusions drawn from these experiences.

A Story About Integrity, Perception, And Trust

Last year, we’d acquired a Candian car club forum called Vital Motion, which I’d written about in Seven Mistakes In One Day. With that acquisition, we treated the forum like a normal information portal and changed the advertising on it however we wanted. Additionally, we didn’t introduce ourselves, nor did we show any concern that there were people present. As a result, when we tested out various forms of advertising, people immediately took that as a “hostile” move on our part. They protested in whatever form they could. They complained. They cursed. They swore to never click an ad. A thread formed where almost every person complained bitterly. Not only that, but they pretty much refused to hear anything we had to say!

Compare this to another acquisition of ours – the largest final fantasy information portal, which included a very sizable forum. Here, we introduced ourselves very cordially to the staff, stating our intentions to make the website the best out there. Then, after giving everyone a chance to settle down, we added a small amount of advertising to the website. Additionally, we ran a promotion that gave away a PS3 and kept the staff informed of our plans.

6 months later, as we were changing the ad layout again, some people were alarmed by the changes and started a thread. However, unlike the one at Vital Motion that spiraled out of control, people valiantly leapt to our defense! They knew our intentions were good and that the ad layout changes were probably just temporary. And if it did bother the users a lot, we would be open to admitting our mistakes and fixing the problem.

As I read that thread, I realized the importance of perception and trust in a relationship! In both cases, we were claiming the same things, yet the difference is drastic. In the first case, we had a revolt on our hands while in the second case, we had enthusiastic support!

When you don’t think the other guy is on your side, nothing he says or does will be perceived positively. If he gives you money, you wonder what he wants in return. If he says something nice about you, you perceive it as something fake. Yet, when you do think the other guy is working with you, everything he does is suddenly okay! If he runs into you, it was an accident. If he says something really bad about you, he was just in a bad mood and didn’t mean it!

Two similar forums – two completely opposite results! And it’s all because in one case, the members trusted that we had good intentions while in the other case, the members didn’t! Therefore, it is very important to state your intentions and then work towards them to build trust in any relationship.

As I wrote that sentence, I realized that it is the very definition of integrity! People with integrity are people you can trust. People you can trust are people who won’t screw you. People who won’t screw you are great to be in a relationship with (be it professional or personal)! No wonder integrity is one of the greatest virtues!

What Makes People Come Together

Another interesting idea came as a result of a post in the staff forum of the final fantasy portal. The staff were saying that everyone had already played the final fantasy games, and as such, the topics on the boards are about the same things over and over again. They are trying to come up with events and games to “kill time” until the next game is released. Except a lot of the events are being met with lukewarm participation as well since many have been done over and over again in between previous releases!

It made me realize that people gather together to talk for a reason. If you talk about the same things over and over again, it eventually gets old. Then the conversation becomes very dull and boring! Sure, this is probably relatively obvious to you, but it has some interesting ramifications for relationships.

It means that in order to sustain a long term “conversation”, there needs to be a constant source of new information to discuss. There needs to be new problems to solve and challenges to overcome! That is why to keep a healthy relationship, it is absolutely vital to have long term common interests. Long term common interests give you “news”, and “news” is well, new, so things are always exciting! It keeps the relationship from becoming boring and the two people involved from falling into a “rut”.

We can see this very clearly in a notre dame football forum we bought. Since college football is generally a lifetime dedication to loyal fans, we have a very good audience. In addition, there are always new games, new statistics, new recruits, etc. In short, it’s a source of constant news and excitement!

As a result, the forum has grown to more than twice its original size since we bought it last year! We also get random splurges of traffic if some piece of news happens to hit our forums first. With real issues to discuss, there’s a lot less complaints and boredom since there’s so much new information to process! People are often engaged in heated debates instead of nitpicking over little things that don’t really matter!

So it seems like if you want a good relationship, “get a [good] life”! Good life -> lots of long term interests -> lots of news -> lots of excitement.-> Lots of need for conversations and relationships!

All in all, definitely some very interesting lessons learned! :-)

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