The Internet as a Tool!
Many bemoan the slow death of philately and the ageing population. They point to the decline in show attendance, or the lack of interest in the younger crowd. What many do not realize is that there has been a shift in how people collect and where they gather to share their interests.
Many of you (Collectors and Dealers) already use the Internet as a tool to help with you with your philatelic interests. If you are not, you are missing an entirely new world in philately. However, even those of you already online may be missing opportunities that exist today. One such opportunity is stamp related forums.
I’ve spoken with Don Denman, founder and owner of StampSmarter (www.stampsmarter.com). He is also a moderator on Stamp Community Forum (SCF) (www.stampcommunity.org). Part of our discussion involved online membership, average ages and interests. It seems that the average age of the members in the forum is generally in the mid-fifties (although there is a younger crowd as well). For many, the forum is where they go to share their interests and their knowledge. Many ask questions about philately and items in their collection. Don told me that many of the members shared an interest in philately when they were younger but left the hobby for one reason or another. Now they are back again.
Forums are a great place to engage other people who share your interests and level of knowledge. You can ask questions and hopefully get a useful answer. Not all forums are alike. In some forums members don’t play nice and have little interest in newbies or people who ask basic questions.
Dealers should consider forums as well. You can certainly purchase an ad on forum web sites. The rates are very reasonable for the number of people you are reaching and should be considered. But, more importantly, is the sharing of information on the forum. Members are constantly asking questions, some of which may be within your area of specialty. As you gain respect within the forum you may gather new customers as they search for items for their collections.
One of the things Don mentioned, and I agree, is that in this digital age, dealers are not forging the relationships they once had with customers. In years past collectors might develop a friendship with a local dealer or two. They would go visit, looks at stamps, ask questions, and occasionally make purchases. Nowadays this has become more difficult. Many dealers have closed their shops and operate only at shows or online. You can still build relationships and develop new clients in the forums. Become a participant and help forum members by sharing your knowledge.
Before you think about using the forum as simply an advertising tool you need to check the rules. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, using the forum simply for posting sale items or spamming collectors is strictly prohibited and can get you barred from the site. Be respectful of others. If you can’t be an adult and act accordingly don’t bother. Many forums will allow the occasional site link or sales information, but only after you have either become an active participant, or have contributed financially.
Another source of information is the various Societies and Organizations who are active on the Internet. For example, if you have an interest in topicals, you can visit the American Topical Association (www.americantopicalassn.org), the American Stamp Dealers Association (www.americanstampdealer.com) and the American Philatelic Society (www.stamps.org). They have a wealth of information. Here you can find articles and stories relating to philately, or specific types of materials.
Don’t forget other organizations. There are various societies around the world devoted to specific areas of philately from topical interests to country specific interests. One example would be MEPSI - Mexico-Elmhurst Philatelic Society, International (www.mepsi.org). This society is dedicated to Mexican philately. Another country specific society would be the Bermuda Collectors Society (www.bermudacollectorssociety.com). The list is endless. All of the organizations listed above contain links to these societies.
In coming issues I hope to give you tips and show you how to use the Internet as a tool. I want to try to show you the not-so-obvious places to have fun and grow your philatelic interests. There is a lot of unexplored territory on the Internet. As I mentioned in my previous article, being safe on the Internet is important. But you can find almost anything you want, safely, if you know where to look. That’s what I want to help you with.
About the author, Bruce Drumm owns and operates a web design and hosting company, Servers, Inc® – www.servers-inc.com, dedicated to philately and e-commerce. He’s been designing sites since 1997 and has partnerships with Adobe, Google, PayPal, Microsoft, and others. As a collector, he has an understanding of philately and how to do business on the Internet.