Using the Usually Unused Usenet

Using the Usually Unused Usenet

by Dr. Michel Fortin

When it comes to promoting an e-business, many tend to ignore other components of the online world that can also help to effectively bring traffic to one’s site. Aside from the Internet, newsgroups are discussion-centered bulletin boards and part of what is called the Usenet, the predecessor of today’s Internet.

According to the Internet FAQ at, the Usenet is a “worldwide distributed discussion system.” It consists of a set of groups with names that are classified hierarchically by subject. They are similar to discussion groups in that they deal with a wide variety of themes and topics, from the specific to the obscure — each group being dedicated to a particular topic.

Newsgroups are also wonderful places to get your message out effectively since you can easily participate in those that relate to your expertise or in which your target market congregates.

But here’s a caveat. Many of these newsgroups are moderated (i.e., your post is filtered by a moderator) and others do not allow promotional messages of any kind. Always check the group’s charter, FAQ, or guidelines before posting. In other words, if you wish to participate in any one of them, always ensure that your post is acceptable — otherwise, it will be considered spam and will entail the consequences that spam normally incur.

Maintain a Consistent Presence

Some groups completely disallow commercial messages of any kind — including long-winded signature files — while others are strictly commercial. When participating in moderated discussions, your posts must be on-topic and your signature file may often be restricted to your e-mail address and website URL.

The flip-side of these conservative forums, however, is the fact that non-commercial groups can become tremendously effective for developing good, pre-qualified traffic — the more focused and specialized the group, the more qualified the participants. If you actively participate by posting at least once a day, you will become known as a credible expert in your field.

“Out of sight is out of mind” is certainly true here too. Since you are not overtly marketing your company or product, you must therefore maintain a consistent presence in order to spark interest, traffic, and of course sales. Non-commercial, moderated newsgroups are wonderful platforms through which you can build credibility let alone good, long-term prospect relationships.

On the other hand, commercial newsgroups exist for the sole purpose of posting advertisements. And since your ad will be among a multitude of other ads, a great way to attract the attention of newsgroup readers is to post articles or”advertorials” instead of blatant promotional messages.

If you produce your ad to read like an educational tool, chances are that it will be read by more people more often. Posting some of the articles you’ve written, sample issues of your e-zine(s), long copy special offers, news releases, media kits, and FAQs about your company or product are also potentially effective.

Here’s a list of newsgroups to which you can post ads. At the
time of this issue’s writing, most of these groups are identified as commercial or non-moderated, and open to posts of that nature.

Many groups also carry information that you may find useful for your own business. Some may provide helpful advice on marketing, selling, the industry in which you operate, writing, publishing, public speaking, specific software, and many others. You can also post topic-oriented questions to which others reply publicly.

Since the Usenet is actually the predecessor of the Internet, there are many participants who do not surf the web at all but remain fairly active in newsgroups. Therefore, by including Usenet in your online marketing efforts you can potentially reach a larger number of people in your target market.

Make The Most of Your Post

There are a wide variety of newsgroup topics on the Usenet, which include specific interests, industries, geographic locations, tastes, activities, themes, and so on. Your goal, therefore, is to pick those that are especially frequented by your target market. In other words, you want your post to be read by those that fit within your demographics as much as possible.

If you cater to car manufacturers, for example, there are groups dedicated specifically to that very industry. But also, other groups include car aficionados, auto mechanics, cities in which car manufacturers operate (e.g., Detroit), car parts suppliers, race cars, and so on. In essence, select appropriate groups for posting your messages so that they are targeted as well.

When posting to commercial (or non-moderated) newsgroups, your signature file should not be limited to your identification. It should also include descriptive information about your product, its special benefits, special offers, free offers (like a free catalog, a free report, or a free newsletter subscription), your physical address, any cross-promotion offers, and so on.

Moderated newsgroups, on the other hand, are a little more conservative. Avoid posting messages that appear self-serving or promotional, and use a signature file that is no more than 5-7 lines. If these rules are not followed, your post may likely be considered spam and you’ll be banned from the group along with the possibility of losing your Internet connection altogether.

Nevertheless, one of the greatest ways to use targeted newsgroups is to conduct marketing research. Among others, you can obtain ideas for potential new products or services or suggestions on how to improve your current ones. Ultimately, never underestimate Usenet for gathering market intelligence let alone for marketing itself. Keep in mind that many potential clients (both Internet and non-Internet users alike) congregate there.

Michel Fortin, Ph.D. is a consultant dedicated to helping businesses turn into powerful magnets. Visit to receive a FREE copy of his book, “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” He is also the editor of the “Internet Marketing Chronicles” e-zine — subscribe FREE at