How do you handle/moderate commercial members?

Does anybody here support commercial members - members that represent companies that sell a product or service related to your industry?

I’ve struggled to design a meaningful system that gives commercial user accounts access to my community in a way that allows them to offer value to the community (advertising services, answering questions about their products/similar products, answering general questions that are not specific to their product or services), without turning the entire site into a sales/product pitch site .

My questions:

  • How, if at all, are you segregating them from the rest of the non-commercial members?
  • Do you have a commercial posts/users area?
  • Are you labeling their user accounts in a special way? Flair? Something else?
  • Do you allow commercial users to create topics in non-commercial areas?

I’ve thought about charging these types of accounts for access. Is anybody doing that already?

  • How do you charge? Monthly membership, one-time, per post?
  • Do you impose any limits on what they can and can’t do? Topic frequency limit? Moving users off-site?

Thanks so much!


Very interesting topic.

I’ve found this on some sites like even the Open AI Community.

This Topic, is imho a total bike shed of sales patter:

Which undermines the serious intellectual side of AI and is very distracting.

I appreciate Open AI want to promote economic activity that involves them, though! :smiley:


A good example of a good policy, is here on Meta, where most requests for services are restricted to marketplace and solicitation elsewhere is not encouraged.

Another place which is somewhat overwhelmed and undermines its usefulness is LinkedIn where there’s a lot of bragging/sales posts that create a lot of noise.


Thanks for the thoughts!

The OpenAI link is super cool. Thanks for sharing!


This isn’t an easy problem. I’m a fan of this paragraph the Stack Overflow/Exchange policy:

If a large percentage of your posts include a mention of your product or website, you’re probably here for the wrong reasons. Our advertising rates are quite reasonable; contact our ad sales team for details. We also offer free community promotion ads for open-source projects and non-profit organizations.

I cribbed that language for College Confidential’s guidelines and it works pretty well for most situations. Where things get complicated is when we sign partners who want to use the site to reach clients. The bane of our existence for a while was essay-help services. We have a forum for getting essay feedback and services would reply to a bunch of questions with thinly-veiled pitches that barely answered the question.

When we reached out and signed them as partners, they had to agree to a few stipulations such as actually answering the questions in the forum. In return, we gave them a custom signature that included a link to their service. The problem, however, was they would either:

  1. fail to live up to their end of the bargain or
  2. find the restrictions too onerous and give up participating.

In the first case, we’d drop them as clients, making our sales team unhappy. In the second case, they’d drop us, which was just as bad for sales. So the pressure on the community team was to loosen the rules. We went back to the drawing board and came up other solutions.

First, we gave up on essay services as partners and created our own community-driven service. It’s been very popular and brought more value (because of new registrations and participation) than the partnerships did. Essay services are happy to advertise with us using traditional ads, so it’s a win all around.

Second, we moved partners to AMA events. It works best with schools our community is already interested in. We set a time (an hour) and a single topic. (Here’s a sample: Exclusive ASK ME ANYTHING w/ U. Chicago) The topic includes a relevant poll so people can participate without writing a post and we start collecting questions a week before. In the context of an AMA, we found partners naturally answer questions to the satisfaction of the community.

AMAs also allowed us to give partners better leads than if they were randomly posting on the forum. Obviously we love when school representatives join the community organically! What doesn’t work is forcing partners to behave like regular users when they aren’t motivated. Limited events sets an honest tone: these partners are here to sell something and we are inviting them into our space as guests. It’s kinda like a Tupperware party. It’s no problem for your home to be used as a store as long as everyone knows the deal and the selling ends when the party ends.

At the risk of self-promotion, I clipped a bit of a talk I did a few years ago on the topic:


I work for an online retail site that allows our vendors to answer customers questions directly.

Our buyers alert me when they know one may post but most often, I discover them. I have a group called “Authorized Vendor Representatives” that I put them in. This gives them a title in the forums for my community recognize that this isn’t just a regular community member.

We have a two main rules that we expect them to follow.

RULE #1: Identify Yourself
Introduce yourself and sign your posts with your company’s name.
If you’re creating a new account, use your company name as your username.

RULE #2: No Fake Accounts
Do not create fake accounts to post how great your product is.
Our community sees right through this and you will lose credibility with them.

Then we give the following advice:

Be an expert. Look for customers who need information and insight, and answer their questions. No need for an overt sales pitch - just share your knowledge and let the customer take it from there.

Be inquisitive. This is a chance for you to learn something, too. Ask questions to find out how customers use your products and what features they like, or just to keep the conversation moving.

Be specific. Customers appreciate answers that address their personal situation. Make your comments as specific as possible.

Be honest. Telling a customer “this might not be right for your needs” is a powerful way to build trust and goodwill. And it’s much better than selling them something that they later regret and return.

Be natural & personal. Our customers respond much more warmly to human conversation than to marketing material. Don’t be afraid to share as much detail about your experiences, background, and insights as you feel comfortable with. It’ll go a long way.

Be above the fray. Some customers may post comments that offend you. Some will be obnoxious just to get a reaction from you. You should counter any misinformation, of course, but otherwise, shrug it off. That’s just the nature of the Internet. Don’t give the trolls more attention than they deserve.

Be a good forum citizen. That means following the basic rules of the community. Keep your comments PG. Stay away from controversial subjects like religion or politics. Don’t get drawn into personal arguments or flame wars. Report obnoxious or troublesome customers.

Hope that helps.

Oh, and if some company that we don’t know posts a sale in our community, that post is deleted and they’re banned forever. :slight_smile:


Great questions!

In general I would say: you don’t separate the members, but you separate the content. Like @merefield said in his post, commercial activity could be restricted to a specific marketplace category for example.
Here on Discourse Meta, we see plenty of people that sell stuff, but they are also very helpful members of our community. Answering questions etc.

This could work, it would really depend on the type of orgs.
In a community I managed before, we had official partners. Those were clearly labeled differently from the “random” implementation people.

Yes, probably.

But the key will be a strong, non-ambiguous (and enforced!) Code of Conduct. Clearly spell out what is and what isn’t allowed. What behaviour is expected and tolerated?

This will depend on what’s in it for everyone.
Here on Meta, we don’t charge others. We believe that they make the overall Discourse environment stronger. We want many people to use Discourse, our community members help to make that dream a reality :slight_smile:

If you are facilitating the transactions, and not benefiting (indirectly) from those transaction happening… then yes, maybe you should charge. It all depends on the specifics.


We’ve witnessed this as well with past attempts of a commercial system. The give/take balance doesn’t last.

I love the idea of an AMA event. Thanks!

Set the expectation. Exactly! Thanks so much!

These are excellent!

This is how we’re operating currently, and it’s working as expected.

Yes, again, set the expectation from the onset. So right.

Wonderful community btw. My community is involved in finance, so the propensity for snake oil salesmen and con men is high, hence my question about paid commercial accounts. Con men and spammers are less likely to game a system if more than time and typing are required to get involved. We’ve thought about baking in minimum registration length or minimum post count, but that would undoubtedly create additional barriers for commercial accounts to register, and I could absolutely see registrations dry up. So the policing and moderation aspect becomes important, and that’s made easier by limiting post-creation to a commercial area or marketplace. And we could even limit the number of new topics created to say 1 per week for example.

Excellent feedback that I’ll be able to build off of. Thanks so much to you all.


Thinking about this a bit. You could consider using the Trust Level system in Discourse. Similar to how TL0 isn’t allowed to send PMs, you could restrict posting marketplace to TL1 and higher.
It’s a small speed bump for real participants, but it cuts spam massively.


This could work as the first layer perhaps, you’re right. But promotion to TL1 is still a low barrier IMO. It’s reading. Would take 20-30 minutes if that. But tied in with some additional layers, it’s a great place to start.


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You’d be surprised how much people hate reading. (Well, in this case, scrolling through posts.)

But the other benefit is that people who want to promote themselves (and don’t care about the community) will not spend the time to understand how to get to TL1. They are far more likely to just give up.


This is a great point for the casual spammer/bot.

We however have some spammers playing the long game. We’ve had instances where accounts are managed for years, actively engaging with other members though infrequently, who then start to spam links unrelated to our industry in public posts.

These members took the time to get elevated to TL1 so they could add links.

It’s hard to say if these accounts are created and then sold or if the same individual/company is managing these accounts all this time.


True, buty there is extremely easy way to filter them out, so you will see none of them. This way is given by LinkedIn itself.


Thats why we are actively filterijng accounts out in many ways.