Still more on social networks: Behaving yourself online!

Jun 19 2009 Published by under acad lib future, blogging, social media, web 2.0

This is the third in my informal trilogy on engaging in social media. The first two are here and here.

I left off last time with this sentiment:

It seems to me that one possibility if we want to engage these groups, is that we have to figure out where they already are and how we can fit into and improve that rather than try and build something completely new that we'll then try and entice everyone to join.

Where do we go from here? Maybe if the communities we build were more accepting, civil and inclusive, that would be a start.

Well, I like what Clay Shirky said recently about how our conception between our online life and offline life will begin to blur.

People my age tut-tut at kids, telling them that we wouldn't have put those photos up when we were young, but we're lying. We'd have done it in a heartbeat, but no one ever offered us the chance. Now that kids have these capabilities, it falls to us to keep our prurient interest in their personal lives in check. Just as Bill Clinton destroyed the idea that marijuana use was a disqualifier to serious work, the increasing volume of personal life online will come to mean that, even though there's a picture from when your head was on fire that one time, you can still get a job.

Hopefully as people's lives, personas and identities become more integrated between the two worlds, what happens in one part will stay in that part. Do I think this is going to happen any time soon? Not really, but I think we at least need to start thinking about it, talking about it and, where possible, doing something about it. Those of us in the position to make hiring decisions also need to stop confusing people's personal lives with their public lives and leave them separate.

In this way, we'll create a more humane and inclusive social media and networking environment. This will make it easier for people to decide to opt in rather than playing it safe and opting out.

But this raises the question of how should we behave in online social networks? Are there any rules or guidelines to follow, rules of thumb, a Miss Manners for the online world?

Once again, not really. It's still very much the wild west out there and there's not much we can (or probably should) do to homogenize or regularize contact and interaction online.

I do however like Aliza Sherman's 10 Golden Guidelines of Social Media. (Yes, I changed the title from Rules to Guidelines, because that's how I see her suggestions.) She's mostly concerned with business, branding and marketing on the net rather than personal and professional social networking, but I think most of what she says can apply far beyond those contexts if you just adjust the wording a bit.

I'll list the 10 and give her complete text for one of them. It's well worth reading the whole thing.

  1. Respect the Spirit of the 'Net
  2. Listen
  3. Add value
  4. Respond
  5. Do good things
  6. Share the wealth
  7. Give kudos

    Social media works when you are generous. There is nothing wrong with self-promotion, but things really take off when you give others praise or a moment in the spotlight. The rise of retweeting -- real retweeting, not spammy retweeting -- shows how far giving credit to others can go in social spaces.

  8. Don't spam
  9. Be real
  10. Collaborate

Once again, all this is easier said than done, and it's certainly easier to try and live these guidelines in my own online life rather than to try and get all the trolls out there to behave. On the other hand, if more people behave well, then the trolls will truly be marginalized and will have less of an effect on the enjoyment of others. For example, I am truly and constantly amazed how generally open and welcoming the Friendfeed experience is compared to so many others.

Building communities that reward trust and civility isn't easy but it can be done. It's what we should aim for.

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