With our society rapidly transitioning to a digital world, it’s no wonder that traditional water cooler talk has moved online. The conversations that once took place in the workplace lounge or at a happy hour after closing time, have been taken from this single location and spread across the country. The convenience of online forums has opened many doors within the automotive industry, especially given the sheer number of members of the business.

An online forum can serve many different purposes; they can answer questions, provide genuine and heartfelt advice, or simply offer comradery when you’re job has you down in the dumps. In the automotive industry, online forums are widely used for both sources of information or as a safe place to vent. In most situations, the conversation remains appropriate and conversational. However, what is acceptable in said forums and what isn’t?

Group forums can come about in many different ways, either a Facebook group message, Twitter chat, Google Hangout, or in a safe online group. In all of these instances, the messages delivered back and forth amidst the group are safely contained within that group. There are also cases of public forums, but these would be less common for automotive employees and more common for answering general questions. Most often, a forum can serve as a way that people in similar fields are able to come together across the country.

In some cases, these forums are uplifting. If you’ve had a hard day and you want to vent about it, your fellow group members are able to lift you up or make you smile. This provides an opportunity to meet with people with similar positions or even similar genders to talk about the struggles or triumphs unique to your personal experiences. This gives people in a tough industry the ability to easily learn from each other, comfort one another, or get answers to questions.

Most forums are started with the best of intentions, but some have the ability to turn negative. As these forums are seen as a secure way to express oneself, all too often they have the potential to become a place to vent, and at times, rather harshly. What we say when we’re angry or frustrated is typically not edited and most of the times isn’t written with regard to others’ feelings. It is in the instances that the potential increases for hurt feelings amongst other members of the group. What could have been considered a very pointed statement comes across as a generalization.

Another risk of online forums, is that the danger exists for people to misunderstand the purpose and take it outside of the group. Statuses are updated on Facebook bragging about how much a salesman “made” off of a client. These cases are rare, but when they do occur, it can be disastrous. A message, tweet, or status update like that, seen by the wrong eyes, can cause major trouble for not only yourself but for your store as well.

While there are certainly downsides to committing your feelings to print by way of an online group, the upsides can be amazing. Women in the industry, still the underdogs, can utilize an online forum to commiserate or rejoice in their triumphs. Many females in the industry find that the support of others in their shoes is helpful when they need to be talked down off of a ledge or when they just want some solid support.

Another amazing facet of the online forum is the overwhelming sense of protectiveness and familiarity. A newbie to the group is welcomed with open arms and given solid and truthful advice. Fellow automotive industry members on the hunt for a new position are given solid leads or even interview dates. Any intentional slams to a fellow group member that is not done in good humor will not be tolerated, as the automotive field is fierce and fun-loving but not to be messed with.

Certainly, the benefits of these forums outweigh the downsides. In an industry that is spread far and wide, forums provide the perfect means by which to connect with a counterpart in another state, and at times, another country. Whether for research or just for fun, forums give dealer employees the prime opportunity to “meet” and joke around with vendors, thus bridging the gap between these two very different fields.

Even with the advent of online forums, friendly conversation is still happening in the workplace. With the addition of these online safe havens, technology has connected people that had previously only met at yearly conventions. In an industry as boundless as this one, can you see the benefit of such online meeting spaces?