Usenet newsgroups--an application on the Internet where individuals post messages for public viewing--can be used to do market research or to promote your business. Usenet, which started in the '80s, has over 13,000 different newsgroups today, organized by topic. To use news-groups you need special news-reader software. (Some online providers automatically provide this for their subscribers.) "Usenet is the framework, the hierarchy where newsgroups officially live," says Mary J. Cronin, editor of The Internet Strategy Handbook: Lessons from the New Frontier of Business (Harvard Business School Press, $29.95, 800-545-7685). "You can look at these groups and answer questions. It's a good way to get a sense of what people are talking about."
As a business owner, you must be careful how you use newsgroups, which use a distinct "netiquette" (an unwritten code of behavioral expectations) that discourages "spamming"--the posting of overt advertisements or inappropriate information.
Before using a newsgroup, consult their FAQ (frequently asked questions) section for information. Also, monitor the newsgroup before you participate; observe what people post and how others respond, so that you can enter discussions or post information in an appropriate manner. Sterne suggests "waiting for a question you can answer." For instance, if you sell bicycles, and someone asks about an upcoming regional bike race, you can write to the group with an answer and add a short comment such as: "By the way, we have a Web site where you can find all sorts of biking information."
Survey lists of newsgroups to determine which ones suit you best.
"Once you have identified target newsgroups, you should prepare a short note containing specific and concisely written facts about your product or service, and post it to the newsgroup which may benefit from knowledge about your product or service," say Birkwood and Hurley.