It takes society longer to fully adapt to new technologies than it takes to introduce them on a mass scale. It takes time for norms for the use of new technologies to be established, and until they become ‘unwritten rules’ or etiquette, people generally apply habits formed using older technologies to new technologies.
This creates problems that extend far beyond more technical issues, like whether it’s ok to use a :) in a work- related email. The whole way we perceive the public vs. private dichotomy is changing – and very significantly for those working in the media and communications industry. You now have to be careful what you do online, as social networking has become as much an integral aspect of professional life as it has of personal life.
While a good understanding of netiquette is perhaps not as widespread as it should be, it is interesting to look at what rules have been established, or at least are accepted, and expected, in some circles, especially regarding online PR and communication. If people aren’t aware of these unspoken rules, they should be!
In 2007, I wrote a short article on blogger relations, which touched on what kind of etiquette bloggers expect from PRs. However, since then, there have been enormous developments and a huge increase in how, and how many of us, make and maintain relationships in the online world. But it all boils down to the same rule I referred to regarding blogger relations: that the common decency and respect that is expected of us in the offline world, is no less important online.
Jeff Sexton explains this well in his article – stating there is no need to ‘understand’ the rules of social media; we merely need to stick to the basic rules of human interaction. Also, it’s important not to think of your online behaviour as somehow being more ‘anonymous’ than offline behaviour. Both online and offline, there are spaces in which we can let our guard down; and spaces where it’s not appropriate.
Here are just a couple examples that irritate me especially:
1. Would you show unflattering pictures of a friend to a big group of people? Then don’t tag embarrassing photos of them on Facebook.
2. People who constantly talk about themselves and their company aren’t fun to be around. Don’t use twitter for shameless self-promotion; or only stream your blog’s RSS feed on your Facebook status updates.
3. Plagiarism is always met with disgust – so don’t copy and paste someone else’s thoughts or copy a blog post without attribution.
4. The odd inspiring quote is ok but, as Sexton puts it, “don’t get either too “successories” nor too Despair.com on us. No one wants to share an office with either a relentlessly upbeat Pollyanna or a “life sucks and then you die” cynic.
5. It’s irritating when people have long-drawn out personal telephone conversations in the office that nobody else wants to hear. Similarly, if a tweet or wall post on Facebook turns into a long conversation, rather use private messaging or email.
The list is endless, but the message is clear: nobody really needs to learn these rules. The point is people need to remember the humans behind the screen names and avatars and that the basics of human interaction are as important as ever.