5 Rules for being a polite citizen on social media
It’s funny that I’m the one writing this because I’m usually the champion of all things social. It irks me to no end when people say things like “texting is making kids stupid!”, or “facebook makes people nasty!”. No, they don’t. What these platforms do, however, is highlight that something ‘special’ within a person for many, many people to see. If you don’t read, you probably can’t spell. If you’re a thoughtless person, you will be thoughtless online. I’m all for learning new ways to communicate, and all things considered, my online experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
What I’ve been noticing lately though, is that the grace and politeness we all should have been taught in our formative years is severely lacking on social media. I know a lot of people were not taught how to be polite, and all those people can do is watch people who were taught and emulate them. But there is also a faction of people who were taught politeness and for their own reasons, feel that social media is the place where they need not employ the finer graces. So be it. What I see though, is that the person who can employ old school values with new practices will have the business/social world at his or her feet. This is simply combining basic psychology with technology: you have the power to reach a lot of people with your message, so make your message a good one. Be the person who makes people feel good. Here are five ways to do exactly that:
5) Reply. This is a simple one that people are doing less and less. If someone were to walk up to you in the workplace or at a party and ask you a question, you would answer them, right? Social media is simply the new way of being at work or a party. This is your community, speaking to you and listening to you. Not replying to a direct message is incredibly rude. Okay, we’ve all forgotten to reply a time or two. Or ten. I have been guilty of this before, for sure. But I never want someone to feel they have been ignored by me, whether I know them or not, so I make a point of going through my messages once a month or so to make sure I haven’t forgotten anyone or left our conversation at an awkward point. This takes time, yes. I may have to watch one less Mindy Project a month or get an hour less of sleep, and it’s worth it. You’re not too busy for other people, and if you are, you need to step back and assess your priorities. When you give people your time, even just a little bit of it, that affirms them as people. And since they are just as important and valid as you are (yes, it’s true!), they deserve to be affirmed. It’s a small thing, but it makes all the difference for you and them.
4) Reply (and comment) cordially. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked someone a question or introduced myself and have gotten a thoughtless or rude reply back. These include but are not limited to “huh?”, or “wtf”, or derogatory comments. Would you speak this way to a person standing in front of you? I really hope not. And if not, don’t write it. There’s a phenomenon called dehumanization, and it’s how we can give someone the finger while driving, or get mad and say awful things about a person not present: we make others less than ourselves in our heads so they’re not really human, then address them as such. Do people do stupid things? Yeah, of course. Do you stupid things? You do, all the time. You have probably even posted something dumb in your life. So be gracious when you feel others do it. Realize that they may have been in a hurry that day, or mistaken you for someone else, or accidentally posted something that you believe to be false or stupid, or…whatever. Whoever did it is an actual person, just like you, who has a job and a life and people who love them and good days and bad days. Don’t be a part of them having a worse day by being rude online.
3) Engage. You know those people who reactively shut down their facebook pages, then come back when they need something? Maybe they started a new business and need to market it, or maybe they just want to creep people’s vacation pictures. Whatever the reason, it’s ridiculous to do that, and here’s why: social media is a community. Yes, I know we’re not all sitting around a fire right now signing camp songs, but we are virtually doing some version of that every day. Imagine being at that campfire for awhile, then throwing a mini tantrum and announcing you’re leaving because you’re just sick of it!!! You can’t just come back when the marshmallows are out and it’s time to make smores: that’s not cool, bro. Because this is an online COMMUNITY, if you want to be a part of it you will be expected to contribute to it. And here’s the truth: if your community sucks, it’s probably because you suck. If you have a complainy, whiny, low achieving, lame online community, guess what? Those are your friends, and that’s probably you too. It’s a lot easier to see yourself reflected on a screen than it was before we were all writing and sharing our lives on it. It’s easier to have a crap group of friends and pretend they’re just down on their luck, or the world is unfair, or they’re actually cool deep, deep down when they’re not posting affirmations of their lame selves. So check out what facebook, instagram, pinterest, and twitter are telling you. Are they good messages that are hopeful and productive? Are they encouraging you to share your best self? Are they accepting of you when you’re down, but encouraging you to get back up again? We have an amazing opportunity to create our lives online, which become our lives offline nowadays. Make friends on social media, engage them in real life, BAM! You have new friends. So choose wisely, contribute thoughtfully, and understand how community works.
2) Stop inviting me to like stuff. And if you do, limit it to your business. Facebook “liking” has gotten to the point where it’s completely pointless. I know when I see a business page that less than half of the people who “like” your page don’t even know what’s on it. So yay for you, you pressed the little button inviting people to like you and they aren’t jerks so they said yes. I have done this, I know how it works. But some people invite me to like something every day, and I don’t like it! I don’t know who you are or what this thing is, and you’ve given me no reason to care. You know what works? Maybe a handful of people have done this to me, and I have appreciated it immensely: writing someone a quick note when you’ve invited them to support a page telling them what it is and why they should care. It’s personal, it’s informative, and it connects people. Does it take more time? Yeah, lots more. But I’m way more likely to actually engage with you and your business if you do.
1) Be positive, be real. I keep reading about how social media isn’t “real”, and I’m flabbergasted. How many of us have family pictures from the night your little brother got sick and threw up at the dinner table, and your brother started crying and your Dad yelled at him, so your mom got mad at your Dad and everyone was fighting and puking and crying? Probably no one. Ever run into an ex and told them how terrible your life was? NOPE! You’re fabulous, it’s fabulous, everything is fabulous. We take pictures when we’re happy, we chat when we’re happy, we post when we’re happy. This is human nature: we want to remember good and project good. And the good in our lives is not fake (hopefully), even though when you look at your page it may look lopsided. There’s so much opportunity for us all to share our real bits if we so choose, like this here blog. I started it to be honest about things that I thought probably a lot of us could relate to. On my most “real” posts I’ve gotten tons of private messages from people who have thanked me for writing because they have similar stories, but they won’t share them with the world. And that’s ok, they don’t feel a burden like I do to share my private thoughts and experiences. We all have different levels of comfort with sharing ourselves, and if you feel you want to be more authentic, do it. If not, don’t. Keep your judgments to yourself and realize we all have different purposes on this earth. And if you delete a social media account because it’s not “real” enough, that’s your fault, no one else’s. Social media has no parameters about personal authenticity, only you do. You want it to be different? Change it. You’ll be surprised by how many people thank you for saying or doing something new. Now, some people are so negative (their version of being real) that I end up blocking them. If you’re going to post awful pictures all the time of world atrocities or denigrate other people, I’m out. I have only deleted two people for this, but I have blocked a few. Those I blocked I love in real life, but they feel the need to be overly critical or negative or just mean on social media all the time, and I don’t want to see that every day. It’s perfectly alright to filter people, but try not to drop them. Getting rid of people you don’t want to listen to is a slippery slope, because you may end up with a small group of friends who all think the same as you, and that’s how cults start.
So that’s the list I stick to in an effort to be polite and gracious on social media. Let me know if you agree, disagree, or don’t care, I would love to hear it!
Until next time, everyone! Be kind!