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Navigating the Etiquette of Social Media

Navigating the Etiquette of Social Media
Jumping People

    Blogging, social networking and a veritable host of methods of stay in contact with people are all very new. There is no real handbook of online etiquette that we can turn to with questions of how many comments are too many or whether we really have an obligation to follow our second cousin’s blog.

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    The mere word ‘etiquette’ feels old-fashioned, without application in a web-based world. I’m not suggesting that the Internet needs formality or help addressing emails, though. Instead, I think that the aspect of etiquette most helpful to those of us living a significant portion of our lives online is the ability of social rules to suggest a next step. At the very least, I think that paying just a bit of attention to old-fashioned manners can help those of us who hope to avoid looking trollish. (There may be no helping those trolls who enjoy irritating others.)

    Miss Manners — Judith Martin — said the following in a 1995 interview, and I can’t help but think that it’s still true:

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    You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you’re trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you…There are plenty of people who say, ‘We don’t care about etiquette, but we can’t stand the way so-and-so behaves, and we don’t want him around!’ Etiquette doesn’t have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behavior is unbearable.

    Our goal in participating in networking sites and other online media is almost always to interact with other people. If Miss Manners is right, ignoring the niceties of behavior is the fastest way to lose out on the benefits of social networking.

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    How to Avoid An Online Faux Pas

    For the most part, being a reasonably nice person is enough to avoid most accusations of bad manners. That’s not quite enough, though. There are a few types of behavior that don’t necessarily seem to be in bad taste but wind up irritating the person on the receiving end. I don’t claim to have a direct line to Miss Manners on all matters of the Internet, but I’ve come up with a list of things that I think should be included in the first Internet etiquette manual.

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    • Give attention if you want attention. We all get plenty of requests on our time, whether some PR flunky has sent out a mass press release to every blogger in your niche or someone on LinkedIn wants an introduction to one of your connections. I’m not suggesting that I want everyone to do something for me before I do a favor for him or her. Instead, I want those askers-of-favors to make it clear why they’re asking me: PR guys should be telling me why my specific blog should talk about their products and LinkedIn users should be making it clear why I’m the best person to make a connection beyond the fact that I’m available. Prove I’m not just some name on a list.
    • Don’t overwhelm your connections. Every time I log in to Facebook, I have about 10 invitations to throw sheep, play werewolves or otherwise do something to my friends. Half of them are all from one person. I don’t even check what invitation he’s sent anymore — I just automatically ignore them. This particular person has lost my attention in a big way, that he could have avoided by just slowing down on the number of applications he invited his entire friends list to in a given week.
    • Be as clear as possible. There’s a tendency to try to take shortcuts when writing online, but being less than clear is the fastest way to irritate someone. It goes far beyond 1337-speak and poor grammar, though: readers can easily misconstrue ambiguous writing.
    • Keep private information private. I know plenty of well-meaning folks who wouldn’t hesitate to give out a friend’s email address or phone number in hopes of helping out another connection. I even do it — but only if that contact information is readily available. I’ll Google the person’s name, and if I find an email address or phone number easily, I don’t worry about giving it out. But if that person has gone to some effort to keep their contact information private, I do my best to respect their wishes. (Offering to pass along information to someone who keeps their contact info private seems to work almost as well.)
    • Don’t contribute to information overload. It’s extremely difficult to keep a conversation involving hundreds or even thousands of participants on track, like on a large mailing list or on a comment thread on a popular blog. But I can’t think of a single person that really enjoys all of those tangents. Avoiding them when possible is truly good manners.
    • Avoid anonymity. As a general rule, little good seems to come from anonymity online — everyone seems to delight in discovering who an anonymous blogger or poster might be, therefore compounding any damage done by associating your name with an unpopular opinion. There are, of course, some topics that certain people can’t write about, such as their employers, without some form of protection, and I can’t provide a good solution for those cases, but anonymous individuals rarely stay that way online.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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