In 1970, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote Let it Be. It starts out with,

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Ive long held that if any Angel or Ascended Master came to me, Id be scared out of my mind and start screaming my head off.

For me, the safest place to find solace, other than friends, family, prayer, meditation and books is the Internet. Typing is an odd way to reach out to people because theres nobody there to hold your hands, yet weve grown accustomed to comfort in the form of emails and text messages.

Not only do we fire up our browsers for a hug, we also look for people to cheer us up. The beauty of online communities is they serve us in so many ways. The more we contribute to them, the more satisfaction we get in return.

I joined my first online groups via AOL in 1995. Within a month I was actively involved in several, and before long, a moderator for an email list that delivered our conversations one email at a time to our inboxes. In the years to follow I joined chat rooms, clubs, groups, Deja News, Usenet, and BBS (Bulletin Board Systems), newsgroups, IM and others. Anyone remember alt.seo? Thats where I met my first SEOs who, like me, were out there helping others figure out search engines.

As a moderator and forums owner over the past 12 years, I could say Ive seen it all, but I havent. I have had some extraordinary adventures such as a member who threatened to kill everyone on the email list, to death threats from Usenet members because I wrote about how they ripped off web site owners, to the creation of many friendships that have withstood the test of time. Ive lost friends from communities too. Its one of the most painful experiences and its always traced back to misunderstandings or differences in goals.

Today, we have a fancy term for hanging out online. Its called Social Networking. Our forums, blogs and networking sites are called Social Media or Social Conversation sites. For some social communities, the entire point of the discussion is to be anti-social or create social unrest.

I cant tell you how many times community participants make me think of The Argument Sketch:

M: Ah. I'd like to have an argument, please.
R: Certainly sir. Have you been here before?
M: No, I haven't, this is my first time.
R: I see. Well, do you want to have just one argument, or were you thinking of taking a course?
M: Well, what is the cost?
R: Well, It's one pound for a five minute argument, but only eight pounds for a course of ten.
M: Well, I think it would be best if I perhaps started off with just the one and then see how it goes.
R: Fine. Well, I'll see who's free at the moment.
R: Mr. Debates free, but he's a little bit conciliatory.
Ahh yes, Try Mr. Barnard; room 12.
M: Thank you.

For me to stick with online communities for a dozen years and tolerate the incredible voyage that is Cre8asiteforums, Ive come to learn some lessons that I thought might be helpful to share. Whether you Blog, Twitter, own a forum, or participate in MySpace, Facebook or social sites focused on specific themes, these suggestions may help.

How to Build Up and Participate in an Online Community

1.When asking to be a Friend, Follower or to Connect, ALWAYS offer a reason why you should be accepted. Are you a coworker? Fan? In a related industry? If someone refuses an invitation, dont take it personally. Its their choice.

2.Links! Show where you can be found via profiles by offering your Twitter URL, IM name, Facebook or MySpace URL, etc.

3.Keep up with your Status. This tells people youre there, active, interested. It also aids in creating a better picture of who you are.

4.Leave notes on Walls. NEVER leave spam or unsolicited posts to promote your favorite hobby.

5.Start groups and communities within communities. These enable a feeling of belonging.

6.Create badges for your community that members can place on their sites to show their membership.

7.Never come to a forum and ask I just started my own forums. How can I get people to come to it, leave your URL and think you impressed anyone. This is like crashing a party where you were not invited!

8.ALWAYS treat guests and forum staff with the utmost respect and consideration at all times. Moderators leave forums for other forums when they discover environments that treat them better than where they are.

9.Participate! Over and over, again and again. Stay where you fit. Dont force it. Theres plenty to choose from.

10. Avoid me me me, both as community owner or member. Reach out. Invite ideas, opinions. Celebrate birthdays, holidays, change logos, create a pub

11.NEVER pull a surprise on membership. At Cre8asiteforums, we have a Forums Issues forum where we share all news of any changes we make. Plus, members tell us what they want.

12.Welcome new members, congratulate members on milestones, change titles as they progress and display their dedication. Offer contests. Some forums hold a Member of the Year where moderators pick the member who showed the most progress as they used the advice gained from the forums for their business. Some forums will interview members who are most helpful.

13.Send private messages of support or welcome to community members. Encourage good members by letting them know you appreciate them.

14.Blogs " NEVER edit comments if you dont agree with what they say. If you invite opinions, be advised that people will share them.

15.Give back to the Community in any way you can think to show your appreciation. Recognize that the Community is not about you. Its a combined effort by many people who volunteer long hours to make your community look good. Be grateful!

16.Invite Community members to be guest bloggers, submit articles, or write testimonials for your Community.

17.LAUGH! Dont take yourself, your Community or comments so seriously. When people are afraid to post, you have no Community.

18.Dont expect to be a star. Dont underestimate how long it takes to be recognized as a good online community.

19.If your Community is global, learn to accept blimey! English humor is different than American. Australians dont gloss over anything and will tell it like it is. You must be tolerant of different customs or your community will not survive.

20.As a member, ALWAYS read House Rules before posting. Every community is different.

21.Before responding, ask yourself if what youre about to write is true, necessary, and kind? If not, accept the risk and dont blame anyone else for the choice you made.

22.Check spelling. Youd be amazed at how poor grammar and spelling irritates readers.

23.Dont link drop in forums. Some communities will offer a place to do so. Others will never allow it.

24.If you ask for help, give back by helping someone else.

25.Allow yourself to be open to alternate views and opinions. NEVER insist on getting the last word.

26.Be Bendy. Everyone has bad days. Some community members share their emotions. Allow some room for feelings.

27.Avoid judging someone when all they have is 140 characters to write with.

28.Turn a negative into a positive. Ask yourself, could this person be a good member of our community? (Sometimes a small nudge is all thats needed.)

29.Use emoticons to express feelings, emotions, and slant of what youre trying to express.

30. Get involved in your community; volunteer!

Recently I asked in Twitter if sharing grief online was selfish. Those who responded were unanimous in saying that it was not. In the 1990s, most of us were hesitant to use our real names. We made up screen names to hide our true identities. Today, nearly everyone is comfortable coming online as they are. Whether to reach out in grief, share news, ask for feedback, point out resources, share funny things or assist someone in need, we come online to learn from and connect with others.

"For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be"

Usability consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of, and Cre8asiteForums. Her work combines usability testing with a working knowledge of search engine optimization.

Images courtesy of: Randy Read,, Merlin Mann and Mark Lewis