I’m back with a new perspective.

Written by

Andrew Millar


June 26, 2007

Readers of The Bleat have a right to feel neglected. I have been off playing with another form of internet based communication to the blog.

Yes. I confess. I joined a forum.

I did it mostly as a social experiment – anywhere people congregate is a chance to observe and learn how people communicate. I also thought I might learn something about the subject of the forum – as I just bought one. (See previous Bleats.)

However after a month of visiting and reading the posts, I found that this forum seemed to follow, in a digital sense, all the normal patterns of human crowd behaviour. All the stereotypes were there. There were the Dominants, Submissives, Rulers, Rebels, Clowns and Workers; all contributing their parts to the conversation. After a month I found some of the answers I was after, but to get them I had to endure sarcasm, sanctimonious comments and passive aggression through to outright aggression, but most of what I read was banal.

One particular contributor I found particularly annoying. He fell into that category of people who consider they are adding valuable contributions by simply making noise. Most of his posts were insightful comments like, “Yeah right.” or “Awesome” or chirping in with his favourite put down “”Sounds like something an old man would do.” But volume was his favourite weapon. At one stage, he had posted the final comments of 20 of the last 25 threads on this site. He would often be seen to make every 2nd comment on a thread. But most destructive of all, his juvenile prattle killed threads simply because people had lost the desire to continue the discussion. Readers simply found it too hard to contribute. He was dominating and restricting interaction by dumbing the conversation down.

The Empty Gong was like an undisciplined child in a theatre, jumping up and down in front of you while you try to follow the plot.

It seems that this forum had a hierarchy. In general forums are fiefdoms ruled by people who have assumed power by posting the most comments. The highest post count rules. It encourages people like the aforementioned Empty Gong to climb the ranks.

My experience left me a little exhausted, but with renewed respect for Market Research Moderators.

If you’re interested in group dynamics, there is another great place away from forums to study behaviour. Most nights of the week Market Research companies run research focus groups – forums, but face-to-face. And every one I’ve observed, through oneway mirrors, the people seem to fall into the same stereotypical categories. And the Empty Gong I experienced in my online Forum is always represented there – controlling the chat, squashing conversation and guiding the direction inevitably towards negativity.

This is where I applaud the person who controls the group – The Moderator. Research is expensive. And it’s The Moderator’s skill that controls the conversation and stops people like the Empty Gong or The Chip on the Shoulder or The Opinionated Aggressive dominating conversation. Unlike forums, people who sit in focus groups are naturally cynical. They claim they are not influenced by advertising but they somehow feel qualified to comment on it.

A good moderator can see through all this and get to the truth. They earn their money.

To use a favoured Empty Gong comment: “You guys rule!”

Andrew MIllar (Username: Adman)
Creative Director

(Afterthought) With regards to forums, manufacturers beware; your brand name is constantly being discussed in a special interest forum somewhere, everyday. Read them. Watch what is being said. There is a measure of informed comment but most is opinion. And because of that, you could sit and watch your brand values evaporate right before your eyes.

Now finally, a word to anyone venturing into a forum. If someone answers you with “No offence intended” be ready to be very offended.