Guest Post by Kara Murphy. Drone technology is evolving rapidly and increasing levels of interest from the public don’t show any signs of waning. Navigating this relatively new frontier is exciting, occasionally frustrating, and oftentimes perplexing when it comes to understanding the ever-changing rules and regulations.
Those seeking help operating their small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), looking to move into a more professional role, aiming to drive awareness for a business venture, or simply seeking new tips are going to benefit the most from using forums and Facebook groups. As hubs for honest, unfiltered opinions and insider information, they are indisputably the greatest resource for exchanging information on a variety of topics.
Managing thousands to millions of users, on a monthly basis, takes considerable effort. Fostering productive conversations along with keeping topics relevant and on point is only possible with a consistent, dedicated, even-tempered team of individuals. Drafting, refining, and enforcing rules to keep everything running smoothly is an ongoing process.
As someone who manages drone-related communities for a living, I spend a lot of time in numerous forums. Some I’m impressed with immensely. Others are sadly lacking in engagement due to nonexistent boundaries outlining how members are expected conduct themselves. The few amongst the hundred odd drone-related groups that do get it right deserve recognition.
I recently caught up with their founders to discover what inspired them to start these forums, why people should join the conversation, and the things they wish users knew before posting. Here are the drone-related communities I recommend joining, listed in alphabetical order.
In honor of NPRM (FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) being released on February 15, 2015, Daniel Herbert started the largest, longest running, and fastest growing Facebook group dedicated to the professional operation of sUAS. Herbert is not only incredibly knowledgeable about commercial drone operations, he’s a master at swiftly diffusing minor flare ups amongst members before they escalate into raging arguments. “Part of the pride of the group stems from the lack of common internet aggravations. We do maintain a list of rules for the group but, in addition to the rules, there exists a general sense of respect for one another.”
Their philosophy: education. Anything else tends to get removed quickly. “Whether it’s a member sharing some new trick they learned with their equipment or someone asking a question about how to accomplish a specific task – we’ve always had a steady flow of knowledge in the group and that seems to benefit everyone involved.”
If there’s one thing Herbert wishes group members did more often, it would be to conduct a search and see if a topic they’re about to post has already been discussed. In keeping with respectful conduct, he hopes that if a member encounters a similar post, they scroll past to the next one. A list of common FAQ will be posted in the near future to help reduce questions surrounding some of the more common topics that have already been thoroughly covered.
A goliath in the drone world, the DronePilots Network is one of the largest family of forums with roughly 800,000 unique visitors each month and more than 4 million page views. Back in 2013, when much of the industry was DIY, Brandon Lackey and his then 14-year-old son relied heavily on forums like the original PhantomPilots group for guidance. Since both Lackeys possessed a natural entrepreneurial spirit, the two started selling prop guards. Due to their helpful nature, the father-son duo decided to acquire PhantomPilots and InspirePilots. Next, they re-platformed them to make them more user-friendly, improved the SEO, and also began engaging potential advertisers.
Over the years they launched six additional forums (MavicPilots, 3DRpilots, YuneecPilots, DroneRacingPilots, AutelxPilots, and GoProPilots). Speaking to the Mavic’s commercial appeal, “we saw the most dramatic growth of a single site. Within four months of the launch of MavicPilots.com, it generated more unique users than any of our sites other than PhantomPilots which has been around for about five years.”
Massive popularity invites great responsibility. A considerable amount of time and effort goes into keeping spammers and hackers out of the site. Moderators are especially wary of people with a particular agenda (commercial, political) but they’re good about warning repeat offenders of their missteps several times before permanent removal. For businesses looking to gain exposure, they offer affordable advertising packages that allow participation in the forums. As Lackey puts it, “we are focused on the overall good of the drone community, so it’s important for us to do our best to keep the dialogue civil, polite, respectful and helpful.”
Owners Support Groups for DJI, GoPro, 3DR, and Yuneec
Another veritable goliath, confined to Facebook, is a series of support groups focused on drone models including DJI Matrice M200, Phantom 4 + Pro, Mavic Pro, GoPro Karma, and Yuneec Breeze. Curtis Dart initially started them as “a way to connect to my friends who purchased the same drone I did. In all honesty, we never planned for the groups to get this big.”
By assembling a team of “the most talented and successful individuals anywhere on the planet” including Marc Mulkey, Tony Lindkold, and Mark Bailey as fellow admins, total membership has grown to over 125,000 members. Visit any of the groups and you’ll discover that with all inquiries posted, around 100 other members have experienced something similar and will chime in to help.
While the vibe is supportive and welcoming, Dart doesn’t shy away from reminding members that “you’re a guest in our house.” Relative questions and informative articles are permitted. On the flip side, users posting links to their own group pages will get banned. The admins delete over 200 links to other self-promotional material on a daily basis. Dart doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with starting your own group, he just encourages would-be influencers to attract new members by providing compelling content – much like his groups have done – consistently.
Boasting 1.6 million users, RCGroups is the most active Radio Control model community around. Initially founded as a home for all RC enthusiasts, drones and FPV got their start in their web forum a few years ago and now represent a significant portion of their daily discussions. Unlike other more commercial forums, RCGroups hosts discussions about every kind of drone you can imagine including quads and fixed wing. If someone has a question pertaining to an RC aircraft or piece of related equipment, chances are that question has already been answered in the forums.
With millions of pageviews comes acceptance that topics will be repeated in spite of a prominent search bar. Says editor Matt Gunn, “I constantly receive replies to news articles from members stating ‘there’s already a thread on this,’ or something to that effect. I’ve concocted a copy and paste reply that lets the member know all about the added benefits of news articles, and how they are seen by many more users than the typical forum post.”
Started by Andy Putch, while he was still working on FreeSkies, sUAS Commercial Mapping Pilots is a central place for mapping resources and discussion. Mapping is rewarding yet complex, to say the least. People tend to have a lot of questions and resources are scarce. Says Putch, “I thought all of these things could be solved by a community.”
The Facebook group was started (disclaimer, I am co-admin) in August, 2016. It has grown rapidly this year, currently boasting over 3,000 members from 500 on New Year’s Eve. All types of mapping are discussed at length and as Putch puts it, “our specialty is our strength.” Members are allowed to post about their related businesses or complementary groups if they notify admins first. Nevertheless, there are some hard and steadfast rules: complaining about a service without giving an explanation for why you dislike it or bashing would-be competitors to boast your own offering will get you removed quickly. So will name-calling and personal attacks. Thankfully, it’s rare. Anyone looking to learn more about mapping or enhance their existing skills can expect to find a lot of quality support and guidance.
Best known for in-depth articles and online preparatory courses for drone operations, Alan Perlman, aka UAV Coach, opened the site’s community forum roughly 18 months ago. At the time, his email inbox was filled with incredibly thoughtful emails from people with a variety of vocations in the industry. High-quality Q&As and discussions were coming in, but they were confined to the inbox. When he felt he had enough questions, articles, and product announcements, along with their specific successes/challenges in the industry, it made sense to gather it all into one public space.
Staying on top of frequent updates, adapting, striving for creativity, and continuing to look ahead while knowing what moves to make is what Perlman defines as factors that have helped drive positive growth for his community. “I’d like to think that’s the kind of energy behind some of the discussions that are happening in the forum. We’re a fun, consultative (and sometimes heated) group of folks who love what’s going on in the drone industry.” Two names you’ll encounter regularly, Steve Bennett and R. Martin, are experienced, helpful, and articulate when it comes to advocating their views on a range of subjects. Anything goes as long as it’s informative. One thing to keep in mind, though, if you don’t want to annoy Perlman: “I’m a stickler for spelling.”
Hopefully this article has given you sound advice on which forums to participate, depending on your objectives, and some insight into how the admins expect you to conduct yourself. I make it a point to read the community guidelines before participating in a forum, lest I get banned for any wrongdoing. While I share a lot of informative articles relating to my work, I also try to abide by an unspoken rule that 90% of my time should be spent helping others. People will appreciate your input more if you focus on being useful.
Which communities do you enjoy most? Did I miss any? Please let me know in the comments, below.
Kara is a Bay Area-based certified remote pilot, marketing consultant, and writer working with clients including DroneDeploy, Flying Robot international Film Festival, Wedding Drones, and ACE Hardware. Follow her on Instagram for her more artistic aerial imagery, find out how to hire her here.