Any group develops its own characteristics, habits and personalities. If you are new to using forums, the following guide is aimed to help you feel at home as quickly as possible. It is a guide, not a set of rules and is based on the experience of those who have gone before you. Yes, even the most experienced folk were also new to this once upon a time.

You’re welcome – but please don’t litter.
To all new members. A truly heartfelt welcome.

Please feel free to make a post telling us who you are, what you do, and maybe include a subtle advert.
But please – pick one section, and make one post. Maybe try the “meet and greet” forum for your first post.
The same post or series of posts with a similar theme plastered all over the forum to make sure we “find it” doesn’t impress.

We love meeting and supporting fellow business folk here. We’re not into saturation advertising.

Be gentle on Junior Members.
Before pouncing on a post that seems off somehow - take a look at the experience of whoever posted it (total posts).

Posting in a forum can feel like public speaking - and we know that public speaking is a major fear for most people. Let's help each other through it.

In particular, it is common courtesy not to heckle a "maiden speech".

As for the observers out there, don't hesitate to get off the bench and make yourself heard. It’s a good time to overcome that fear of public speaking in an understanding environment.

Argument vs Debate
A forum is a very powerful tool for exploring issues.

Life can be messy. Sometimes there just isn't an obvious right answer. However, at these times, there is probably no better place than a forum to gain perspective. It is a fast, effective way to get a range of different opinions.

It can also get really uncomfortable when healthy debate descends into an argument.

It would be easy to say "Don't get emotional" and "Think it through". But sometimes the very best posts are spontaneous and emotional.

The trick here is to look for warning signs that you could be getting argumentative:
• You are looking to "win" the point
• You attack the writer at a personal level
• You strongly criticise the writer's point of view
• You post in the thread more than once or twice a day
You are most at risk when you are too close to the subject matter. The best trick is to focus on giving your perspective and respect the right of others to hold a different view. If you find yourself being drawn into an argument, put off making a post in that thread until the next day. Amazing things can happen in 24 hours.

Happily, if you really need to blow off steam, it seems some attacks are actually welcome. Politicians, government departments, Telkom, Microsoft etc seem to be fair game.

Use an appropriate title.
When starting a new thread, try to use a title that clearly indicates the subject matter. When scanning through a forum, or when trying to find a particular thread, imagine if they were all titled “Help”.

There are no “stupid” questions.
This one probably stops many folk from raising issues.

After a while a forum is a wealth of information. Sometimes your topic might have been covered before. Probably the best first step is to use the search function near the top of the screen. Just a warning, the search is a bit limited. Try to use one or two key words both longer than three letters. No matches – then fire away without hesitation.

Got to be honest. The only stupid questions I’ve ever seen on a forum have been my own. Maybe we all just feel that way.

There is definitely one thing sillier than asking a “stupid” question – not seeking out the answer!

Are you giving appropriate info?
Hopefully you will pay some attention to setting up your user profile. Of course, you can give as much or as little detail as you’re comfortable with. However, appropriate background information helps you get the right answers faster.

For example, if you are looking for someone local to install an air conditioner, it will help to tell us where you are. Many of us are small business owners, not nationwide corporations (well, not yet anyway).

If you are discussing the contents of a website, give the web address. OK. I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now.

Selecting a category.
First try to find a related category. If you can’t find one, then use General.

It might be tempting to just post under General, but this can be a busy forum and your thread will slide down the page fast. Also, selecting an appropriate forum makes it easier to find a thread later on.

Keeping a thread on track.
Given that this is a forum and lots of people have the opportunity to contribute on any given matter, a thread (or discussion) tends to have a life of its own. These twists and turns can be quite exciting and sometimes produces unexpected results.

The first post in a thread really forms the theme of the thread. When posting a reply, try to keep in mind what the theme of the thread (that first post) was about.

The occasional aside is OK, but a good point unrelated to the main topic of the thread deserves to be started as a new thread.

Be thankful.
This is common sense but something even the best of us forget. If your question has been answered, thank those that helped supply the answer.

If you asked a question and found the answer elsewhere please be so kind as to supply the answer. Others might be searching the forum for an answer to a similar question. If an issue has been resolved, let the rest of the community know what happened.

Close a post and don't leave it hanging.

Learning how to use the bells and whistles.
Just a quick note on the mechanics of using some of the bells and whistles:

Take a look around the FAQ link in the tool bar at the top of the page.
Also (depending on your browser) hovering over an icon tends to tell you what it is for. Hover is to place your pointer over the icon without clicking.

If you still find something that you need explained - put a post in the “Administrative issues” forum.

Private messages.
Private messaging is a good means of communicating information that isn’t for general consumption. It could be an apology, a personal question, a little note of support or thanks.

If there is no need to reply to a private message, it is good practice to click the “Message read” button. It saves the sender worrying whether you got the message.

It’s a good idea to check for private messages (near the top right hand corner of the screen) whenever you visit.

I originally compiled this guideline for Business Warriors and it wasn’t without some help from the following people:

Nicholas, Olav Greis, Tracey, Henry, dsd, Thilo, Dirk Lombard, Hans Botha, Gordon and Peter Carruthers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it helps you get as much satisfaction out of your forum experience as I have so far. I wish you ever improving business success