In the past few months, I’ve heard a few generalizations made about social media that have me thinking back several years to when the field was coming alive and we were all trying to figure out this new space. Comments like “social media is an open forum” (yeah, but….), “community is number one” (it may be, but…). While things have evolved significantly, a few things remain unchanged.
I wanted to resurrect three main ideas that have stuck with us since the start, and ones that everyone should remind themselves of right now. These are applicable to individuals, professionals, brands, organizations….
- Social media is an open, public forum, but still runs on basic social norms. There is no such thing as hiding behind a virtual veil and you’re not being smart to think that your actions online aren’t being immediately attached to the image people have of you as a person, online or offline. Do you have some buffer zone online? Sure, but why use it?
- You’re still dealing with other human beings. In many cases, this means people you’ve never met. But it also means people you’d like to meet, people in your field, peers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, future friends/peers/neighbors/co-workers. You just never know. Can you disagree? Of course! But there’s still constructive disagreement and destructive disagreement. I suggest considering yourself at a cocktail party with your peers every single time you interact online. If you want to be disrespectful or harsh, that’s your choice of course, but expect reactions the same as you would get at that party if did the same thing.
- [This one is very important!] Interactions and communities online are the result of bi-directional conversations and relationships based on mutual trust and respect. I won’t get into the business/customer service implications of this, as that’s a larger topic for another time, but you can’t have an effective social media relationship with anyone or anything without this. Period. And people will and should call you out if you step outside social norms. Guy Kawasaki will tell you all about how to gain respect.
In summary, social media isn’t just a type-and-click forum, and too many people think it’s a place to sit and throw rocks around without consequence, that it’s somehow more acceptable to do this online than you would in person.
I have always run my life based on honesty, trust, integrity and genuineness. It also helps that I’m a pretty darn nice and respectful person. This is exactly how I run my online life as well, without exception. If you don’t run your life this way, that’s fine, but you’ll get the same feedback and reaction back online as you would off.
In this instance, social media is tool for communication, not an excuse to change your behavior, and it never has been.