It seems like a hundred years ago when a client first asked me: "What's Usenet and should we be seeding it?"

I don't know who they had been speaking to but whoever it was should be locked away in a room with angry toddlers.

Usenet is a collection of groups and forums, which harks back to the early days of the web. It was popular before many people had personal email accounts and in my early days at my first University we geek students would rush to the computer labs and check Usenet first.

In fact, the first controversial Google acquisition I recall was back in 2001 when the search engine bought's Usenet service.

Usenet was a place where people chatted about various topics; everything from hobbies through to work. Usenet seeding was a marketer's attempt to join in the conversation and direct it to a website of choice. Most of the time it was clumsy spam and the rest of the time it was clumsy marketing.

The problem was that the marketer didn't really join the conversation. He popped into the group, made his post - and hopefully tailored it to interest the subscribers - and vanished again.

The concept is the same today. Drop in a link or a mention of something and from this "seed" of awareness a healthy garden of interest will grow. 

One of the many benefits of the current interest in social media marketing is that more and more marketers know that to participate in an online community, you need to be part of the conversations.

Hit and run techniques are neither wise nor effective. You can't toss a seed into dust, walk away and except anything to happen (other than people getting annoyed at your littering). If you want a garden to grow you need to put more effort in than that.

Nevertheless, the term "seeding" gets bandied around by different people who use it to mean different things.

It's not Usenet that gets targeted these days. Today we see marketers haunting forums ready to drop in a link to the latest naff social networking attempt.

Forum posts which begin; "Hey guys, I thought you might like…" are usually 'seeds'. All too often the poster hasn't made a comment on the forum before and will never comment again.

Now, of course, there are valid and perfectly ethical ways to join in the conversations that happen in the social space and equally effective and appropriate ways to alert communities to any new initiatives. Let's not dismiss them as 1990 style 'seeding' though!

Andrew Girdwood

Published 28 July, 2008 by Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Media Technologies at Signal and a guest blogger for Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter here.

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Comments (1)

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Independent Social Media, Digital Transformation and Communications Consultant - MCIPR at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

Great post Andrew.

I too feel strongly about the word 'seeding' and the covert, short-term application that the word implies. I have to say that it is something that I have done in the past and I have learned a great deal from this.

I firmly believe that if the strategy is right and the research has been done then there should be no place for seeding.

Agencies and specialists who 'seed' or recommend short term social media strategies to their clients need to consider potential reputational issues of hit and run social media techniques with short term SEO/traffic/awareness gains.

There may be a place for occasional reactive engagement in social media spaces but this kind of strategy needs to be worked through and communicated ethically to the PEOPLE that you conversing with and the rules of engagement in each network understood fully.

Here are some of the many key questions that the (hopefully, soon to be converted) 'seeders' need to ask themselves:

Are you really being useful by taking part in conversations this network?

Is the product, service, widget, announcement that you have REALLY interesting, helpful, useful to this audience?

Do you know and have you communicated what you are allowed to talk about and where a line has to be drawn?

Have you communicated how long you can spend in their environment each day, how quickly/slowly you are likely to respond to questions and whether you are going to stay or leave the network?

Are you being transparent, honest and ethical?

Do you really understand how this network works, who is influential within it, whether it is influential and to whom (and on what basis?), how individuals may react to your post and what your reputation management strategy is?

As I mentioned, there are many other questions on the checklist and I’m sure the community will add their thoughts.

This links in to a thread last week about whether the role of the SEO is dead and should PRs own natural search and it seems to be a very hot topic on and offline amongst my networks.
There are basics that anyone in this space MUST understand before creating online engagement, online outreach, networked word of mouth, Online PR, SEO PR or whatever-you-want to-call-it strategies.

Because I am allowed to, and because it is relevant to this conversation and a number of community members, I am going to use this as an opportunity to highlight E-consultancy’s training workshops which cover these important strategic elements of online brand/corporate social media research and engagement:

If you would like to speak to me directly about the courses then my email address is

I will be dropping in and out of this conversation intermittently as I am training all week so if I don’t reply to your comment or email, please be patient.

No ‘seeding’ required…….. ;-)

about 10 years ago

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