How Not To Be A Marketing Clown In Online Techy Communities

When a big technology client asked me to be its eyes and ears in a big online technical community, my initial reaction was "Whom did I offend?" This 1.8 million-member online community of technology specialists thrives on topics like storage arrays and server scripting.

Techies are notoriously unforgiving.  Reveal ignorance about the topic under discussion or express admiration for an unpopular vendor, and you can earn hundreds of critical comments. Participants are opinionated and often quite blunt. They particularly dislike marketers.

Was I intimidated? You bet. During four months of trial and error, though, I learned how to appreciate and even enjoy the unique language and style of the uber-geek community. If you're a marketer trying to reach technical types through social media, here are some tips:

  • Shut up and listen. "Enter talking" might have been Joan Rivers’ formula for success, but it's a disastrous strategy when courting technology pros. I quickly came to appreciate the fact that techies have their own language and culture. I was at best an invited spectator. At first, I mainly listened and learned that answering questions posed by others was at least as important as asking my own. Helpfulness is the currency of relationship-building.
  • Stay within your comfort zone. Most of the conversations in technical communities are so complex and domain-specific that you can’t even hope to make a meaningful contribution. So don’t even try. People will interpret your clumsiness as a waste of their time. The good news is that you can find common ground. I made it a point to bookmark interesting articles about tech trends and careers and contribute them to relevant community discussions. By finding recommendations from other sources, I was able to move the conversation forward without pretending to be a subject matter expert. I achieved the coveted designation of "Best Answer" a few times.
  • Keep your promotions in your pocket. Tech professionals are some of the most marketed-to people in the world, and they react to sales pitches with the same enthusiasm my infant daughter reserves for mashed green beans. In my early days in the community, I posted a few promotional links to my client’s webinars and white papers. My pitches were met with resounding silence. The only exception was a webcast that was gated by a registration wall. Members absolutely hated that, and they didn't hesitate to let me know. That's when I learned a secret:
  • Challenge and provoke. I tried a new tactic with much greater success. Instead of promoting a white paper, I scanned the document for controversial statements and led the discussion with those. Bingo. Instead of crickets, I now got dozens of comments, many very thoughtful. And people were clicking through to the white papers, which was the goal in the first place.



I also learned an important rule: When you start a discussion, it's up to you to continue it. Revisit the forum every day and comment on other people's contributions. When members answer your question, they're doing you a favor. Show them you appreciate it.


  • Have fun. Technical types have sophisticated -- if sometimes slightly warped -- senses of humor. On Spiceworks, the "Water Cooler” forum is where anything goes, and it was the home of some of my most rewarding contributions. For example, I posted a question - "What's the Perfect Geek Christmas Gift?" and offered a few inexpensive tchotchkes for the best suggestions. More than 70 people responded with imaginative and often hilarious ideas.

You see, techies may speak a different language from you and me, but they're still people. I may not be an uber-geek, but I'm finding connection points with people who are. And my client is pretty happy about that.

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