Lest we forget, “social media” didn’t start with Facebook. Or MySpace. Or even Friendster. Without going all the way back to IRC, we might remember that email and blogs (and the comments on them) are still a part of the social media landscape. With the social features of blog commenting platforms such as Livefyre and Disqus (nevermind all those social sharing buttons), blogs are perhaps even more social than ever before, and it’s easy to step in it inadvertently.
This week’s post addresses how to handle those situations.
I met Alison a couple weeks back when I was the featured guest on the Viral Content Buzz Twitter chat, to discuss #SMEtiquette. She mentioned she had a great topic for me and followed up with a link to a blog post she wrote after the incident, as well as a link to the original post, by Pam Moore.
Long story short: Pam’s post was a funny look at poor #SMEtiquette that many people practice online. Stuff along these lines: “You tag the max number of people on Facebook with every image or post so that you can raise your influence score and edgerank.” Alison was amused by the post, which at the end asked what behaviors her readers had seen that fell into the “tool bag” category. She posted a comment, aiming for the same voice Pam used in the post:
You take yourself too seriously. Sometimes I sense this with the bloggers who have achieved the dubious “guru” status.
Alison was not referring to Pam, and her “heart sank,” she wrote, when she saw the reaction to her comment was the exact opposite of what she’d intended, so she went back and read her comment to try to understand. She immediately saw the problem, of course. Without context, without a winky emoticon, without a prior relationship where Pam would understand Alison’s humor, she thought the comment was a slam against her, personally.
What I loved about Alison’s blog post following up is that she really parsed out what happened and brought forward some great lessons about proper #SMEtiquette while posting comments on someone’s blog.
I list them here, with my thoughts on each, but encourage you to click through (here’s the link again) to read her original post.
Put More Thought Into Your Comments:
I’ve talked about this before, in a general sense – most recently in my post about how I spent a day commenting with stickers on Facebook. This is a lesson we could all learn, relearn, and re-relearn. The immediacy of the Internet has caused many, if not most, of us (myself included, absolutely) to be too quick to respond. Most things that upset or offend or otherwise bother people online could probably be avoided if we just put a little more thought into what we say and how we say it. Re-read before hitting publish. Pause and take a breath before responding.
Make Sure Your Intention Is Clear
This is a corollary to the first lesson. When you re-read the comment, try to read it as someone else would. Writing can sometimes be far more detailed and nuanced than an in-person conversation. But all the social cues of saying something in person are lost – the raised eyebrow, the wink, the smile. This is why emoticons are so popular. They bring body language, in a sense, into the written word. This isn’t about being “politically incorrect.” This is about making sure that what you’re saying comes across the way you intend it to. You can’t always ensure that, but you can at least ensure that you did all you could to make it so.
Be Careful About Ambiguity
Alison points out this comment wasn’t a Twitter post. It didn’t have a 140-character limit. She easily could have added, “How about this one?” before her comment, and it wouldn’t have been ambiguous at all. This is more or less the same as the second lesson, but I like that it’s separate. And yes, it all goes back to putting more thought into your comments. Each of these lessons brings to mind the things you need to take into consideration while communicating online – whether in blog comments or on Twitter or uploading a photo to Instagram.
“You” Can Be Dangerous
When someone comments on your blog and uses the pronoun “you” to start off her sentence, it makes perfect sense to take it as directed at you. When there’s no context given, and you don’t have a prior relationship with the person, it’s far more likely that will be the assumption. While it was the pattern used in the blog post, it didn’t automatically follow that was the way it was intended in the comment.
When In Doubt, Leave It Out
It seems like most of the time when people are upset or offended by things we say online, they’re the little throwaway comments. Those are, of course, the ones we don’t put as much thought into. I don’t necessarily agree that Alison shouldn’t have posted it – I thought it was a great addition to the original “tool bag” list (here’s the link to that post again). I enjoy when people add to my original post with their thoughts or jokes. But the overall lesson is a good one – if you’re not sure if you should say something, you probably shouldn’t. And if it’s not important, and you’re spending too much time trying to determine if it could be taken the wrong way, you probably shouldn’t post it, either.
Step Up and Make Amends
This. A thousand times, this. For all the problems people end up having with others online, if someone just said, “Wow, I’m sorry. I phrased that poorly,” the majority of problems would end right there. A year or so ago, someone came up to me at a conference and apologized for something he’d said to me a couple years previous. I didn’t remember the incident, but I was very touched that this gentleman felt badly and wanted to make amends. It takes a big person to stand up and apologize. People remember and appreciate that.
The only advice I’d add is that when someone does sincerely apologize, accept that apology. We’ve all been there. Even if the person did mean the comment in a mean-spirited way, if the apology appears to be sincere, accept it. We have all said or done something we wished we could take back. Sometimes on purpose, more often not. And in the spirit of the rest of my post – there is no subtext in this paragraph. I am thinking more of myself than anything else – there are a few people I wish I could go back in time and apologize to for slights.
A few years back, in fact, I sent an email to a former boss and apologized for my behavior in a situation about 10 to 12 years earlier. It turned out both of us had been feeling badly about that situation for years. We came out of that exchange feeling better about ourselves and about each other, recognizing that we’d done the best we could at the time, and some situations just suck.
So. Think before posting. Be clear. Apologize when you screw up. Pretty simple stuff, but worth the reminder.