This is a post I’ve meant to write for a long time to talk about links in the support forums and elsewhere. It’s not targeted at anyone specific. The forum moderators have been dealing with this for years.
I’m going to walk through this with a few situations by example. I’m trying to illustrate a simple ethical problem.
- If a 3rd party sends people to your site, that’s good.
- If you send someone to an article on your site occasionally (not as a routine), cool.
- If you are sending people to your site as a matter of routine then that could be a problem.
I know that’s vague. I’ll try to expand on that.
Plugin or theme authors in their WordPress support forum
A user posts a problem in a support sub-forum for a plugin or theme and Alice (the author or contributor) in reply posts an external link to her plugin/theme company site or her own site.
That’s fine. If you have code in the WordPress repository then yes, you can send people to your site or service within your WordPress.org support forum.
If you have staff helping you and they’re not clearly designated as part of your staff then get them to add the words “Hey, I work for the author” in their replies. Don’t use signatures but have them make it clear who they are in their reply. If you are amenable to it then make that staff plugin contributors. The moderators will thank you.
Posting 3rd party links
Scenario: Bob comes across a topic in the forums and provides assistance via an answer in the small text box. He walks the original poster through the steps guiding them to a solution. At some point in the conversation he uses his favorite search engine and posts a link to a site that has some good information. The user reads it, gets assistance and solves their problem.
This is acceptable since the link Bob posted is a 3rd party to him.
There is no connection between Bob and that site. It’s not his blog, he doesn’t work there, he’s not getting an affiliate fee, etc. The link provided information that Bob believed could help the person with their problem. There isn’t a possibility Bob could benefit from that exchange except by gaining the satisfaction of helping someone.
Links to your own site
Now take the same scenario above but in this hypothetical another person named John directs the topic to John’s own personal site.
John has written a post extensively about a WordPress problem complete with images, detailed step by step instructions and a good video. It’s a great post on John’s site. He’s proud of his documentation and he maintains the article as versions of WordPress are updated. He has spent hours on that topic and John is the undisputed champion of solving that problem. His intentions are good.
He also shouldn’t routinely send people there like that from the WordPress forums. Note the word “routinely”, an occasional link is OK. Here’s why: John’s site isn’t a community resource. His helping people in the community forums shouldn’t possibly be about getting traffic.
At the moment John does not have ads on his site, he does not offer WordPress consulting services, he doesn’t gain anything but satisfaction. But what if that changed? What if he decided to supplement his family’s income with a small ad or offer paid WordPress consulting services?
It’s that possibility that I believe should be avoided in the community support forums. Posting a link to your site to help people is alright but making a habit of doing that for every reply may not be good.
If the article in question is that much of a resource, then please consider adding that info into the Codex. The Documentation Team is actively working on a Codex replacement. If you’ve a lot of information, articles and documentation on a topic then you may want to get involved with the Helphub project.
Links to a paid service, plugin or theme
I’ll take the hypothetical in a new direction. Elsbeth is a plugin author who also provides a paid service for WordPress users. Her plugin is hosted in the WordPress plugin repository.
I’ll pause to reiterate the opening:
This post isn’t about you, your plugin or your service or anything you’ve recently posted.
This has been an issue for years and it’s good to get it out in the open. Talking about things in the community is healthy even if you don’t agree with it.
That original person who posted in the forums with a problem? Elsbeth wrote a plugin that addresses the problem exactly. She’s part of a team that has built a company to solve that problem. Her company is staffed by pros, they are a market leader in that space and Elsbeth replies to that topic with a long step by step that gets them rolling to a solution.
Elsbeth also refers them to her company’s site. She provided the original poster with a link to sign up for a service they obviously need. She explains that they can sign up and their site will be fixed going forward. And when Elsbeth did that she went too far.
I’m not talking about something plugin authors have posted in their own sub-forum. I’m talking about visiting general topics and crossing the line into promotion.
It doesn’t really matter that Elsbeth’s company site has an extensive knowledge base written by experts. It now appears that she’s promoting her company and that’s not really a community activity.
What about other companies? Why do they get a pass?
If you think this post is about you then you may think moderators are showing favoritism or giving your competition a pass. You point to all the good your company has done, how you put community first, how your intentions are good.
Other companies do not get a pass in the WordPress ecosystem. When they cross that subjective threshold about links and promotion then they are politely asked to stop doing that. No one doubts anyone’s good intentions and if you are taking the time to help people in the forums then you are already in good graces.
But please, keep it in the WordPress forums or Codex. Avoid even the appearance of self-promotion. It will help you and the community if you do.
#3rd-party, #links, #self-promotion