The Internet is a pretty big place – and I mean ‘place’ deliberately. There is a way we can be tempted to think about the Internet as a ‘thing’, primarily because we access it using devices.
I’m careful about this language because it is easy to forget, while we are cozily ensconced at home in a favourite chair with our iPad, or snugly settled at our laptops in a beloved coffee shop, that we are actually taking ourselves into another world, a virtual world – and that world has customs, norms and expectations.
Cyberspace is a place, even though we can wear our pajamas there.
I often hear people say that social media is just a tool. Recently, one of my much-loved clients, a tall jolly giant of man, a community activist who’s as smart as a whip, equated social media to a slick photocopier.
He was reflecting on how advances in duplication technology have made churning out protest flyers exponentially more effective.
His main point was that while the tool has changed, the principles of community engagement haven’t, and social media, like a photocopier, is just part of the broadcasting arsenal.
In part, I agreed. I, too, remember the Gestetner. It was a fume-ridden, clunky, hand-turned duplicating machine. I spent many hours as a young teaching assistant ‘Gestetnering’. Yes, it became a verb. Trust me, the mimeograph and the Xerox were big improvements.
Agreed, the technology has changed, as has the way we engage with it. But here is where the jolly giant and I parted company: social media goes far beyond being just another gadget in the outreach toolbox. Social media has the power to connect and amplify, and to build meaningful relationships and communities of interest. Provided, of course, we understand and respect the customs of the online community. The Internet may be virtual, but the relationships are real.
In the same way that today’s uber-efficient computer-networked smart printer-scanners can produce thousands of copies in the time it used to take to produce dozens, social media allows us to reach a world-wide audience at the tap of a screen. But numbers don’t tell the meaty part of the story.
We are humans. On the other side of those screens are other humans – having good days and bad days – and what makes for good relationships offline, makes for good relationships online.
So, what are the behavioural expectations on social networks?
First and foremost, social media is social. This is the meaty bit. It’s a platform for engagement, a two-way form of connection and interaction. Good social media means good manners.
Be polite out there. Introduce yourself. Follow conversations and contribute in a meaningful way. Get to know online contacts before you dive in with a big ask. Find the communities you resonate with. Join them and offer value in terms of content and opinion.
If friends and followers are commenting on and sharing your pithy, wise, insightful, entertaining or information-filled posts, say thank you. Share the love by liking them back, sharing their content and amplifying their success. The social media community is a generous one, born out of the kind of collaboration that made the Internet possible in the first place. Welcome here.
Vicki McLeod is an author, TEDx speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. She is a business and personal coach and consultant. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or find her at www.vickimcleod.com.