Doug Haslam: Gischeleman’s Blog

January 23, 2008

Common Courtesies: Online needs to catch up with Real World

Filed under: social media — Tags: — doughaslam @ 11:20 pm

This week I was thinking about the “social” part of social media. Do we need to rein in behavior standards? I’m not talking about blog comment trolls and other social reprobates– I am thinking more along the lines of Miss Manners. Just because we are conversing online, and sometimes not in our off-line voice (but in avatars and pseudonyms), does not mean some common courtesy rules can’t apply.

One thing I have observed is the use of online invites, like eVites and Upcoming. People RSVP to events, but then don’t show up. Others don;t RSVP regrets when the invite asks them to. This is plain rude, and should not be accepted in offline life; nor should it be here. I will not outline specific examples I have seen, because frankly, in any single case I may not have all the information. So, this isn’t about calling out individuals.

Other things I have observed, both positive and negative. This is based on my experiences in social networks, so your experiences may be wildly different:

  • Accounting for tone, culture and language difference: online social networks have opened us up to a lot of different cultures, and different ways of communicating. Largely, I think online communities quickly attune to the heartbeat of the group, understanding what people mean, and how their expression comes across.
  • Knee-jerk responses: I actually have no problem with this. The Web actually breaks down inhibitions in some people who are usually shy in person, and in turn helps them communicate better in the “meat” world. Knee-jerks, speaking (typing) without thinking, etc., are al part of the process. So the lesson is not so much to think before you communicate online (though it’s not a bad idea), but to be tolerant of people’s mistakes. A lot of perceived rudeness is covered in the last bullet, the rest is covered in patience and thick skin.
  • Too much information: I don’t mean I don’t want to know what you had for lunch today (I don’t but feel free to tell me anyway, I can’t stop you), but there is a disturbing lack of concern about the private information we put out there. Where we live, who is in our family, what we owe on our mortgages– that’s all out there to find, but that doesn’t mean we have to advertise certain information. I hold things back certainly, including information I know anyone can find, but I just don;t want to invite trouble. I can always change my phone number, email address, my blog. Some things I can’t replace. I’m just afraid there will be some incident that will scare the pants off of everyone in my online groups– I just hope not.

Hmm, all this from my observation that we need to pay more attention to RSVPs– and thank-you notes, while we’re at it. What do you think about online manners?

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  1. I agree completely Doug. I think that manners are manners and relationships are relationships. The people that we know should not be treated rudely just because they are online, even the people that we don’t know for that matter. Good post!

    Comment by RandellFever — January 24, 2008 @ 7:59 am

  2. I personally don’t reply to rsvp’s from people I barely know when I’m not going to attend.

    This may be construed as ‘bad form’ but I am quite sure that those who don’t know me well are PR’ing me and so only interested in those who WILL attend.

    Certainly if I have said I will attend I will do all I can to attend and will only not turn up as a result of extreme circumstances, usually to do with my family (which always comes first).

    Comment by Lee Hopkins — January 24, 2008 @ 8:07 am

  3. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

    I agree people need to be more courteous and respectful of other’s time by responding to RSVPs and writing thank you letters. There is harm in being too informal.

    Comment by Lauren Vargas — January 24, 2008 @ 8:08 am

  4. Doug – I’ve been meditating on this topic as well, and, while not specifically on the RSVP component but more along the lines of communication on places such as Twitter.

    I have some (hopefully) strong relationships on Twitter – people who I include in @s and people who @ me when I ask a question, etc.

    However, and this is what I just need to get over, I have provided links and information to people who I realize don’t follow me. That’s fine. (I use daily TweetScan to catch any responses to questions of people I don’t happen to follow.)

    Just like a dinner party or networking event where there is an idiot talking trash, arrogant – I avoid them. I do that online, too.

    People use social networks for all sorts of reasons – to boost their blog readership, to network, to connect with others with similar interests, to learn something new, to feel included…I don’t know if I feel comfortable dictating how someone uses Twitter, for example. If I follow someone whose tone is abusive or just plain annoying, I stop – just like I walk away from that person at live event. I also try, but don’t succeed always :), to not make a beeline to the most famous, popular people there…

    One thing I’ve learned, about Twitter at any rate, is that when you are there, listening, reading, and interacting with people – you don’t always know how that snarky comment might hit nor that snub hurt nor that helpful message help.

    Comment by Ami Chitwood — January 24, 2008 @ 8:17 am

  5. Well I find that people are polite online for the majority of the time. The RSVP thing is a spill over from being bombarded with webcast invites which is easy to sign up for and hard to fit in the schedule. Also you know you’ll always be able to get the recorded webcast anyway. So convenience has a lot to do with the first part of your post on RSVP.

    Or how about the in-person rude action of answering a phone, writing a text message or multi-tasking on a website during a conversation, that is just plain rude. It is also now accepted a commonplace, this is a major, major problem in our society related to rudeness. This is related to a combination of technology and personal demands on time.

    However, real time platforms like Twitter I believe keep people honest for the most part. I even think the rude ones are so as part of their “personal brand”, that’s another topic for another post. It’s their shtick

    You’re a nice guy, it shows, and rubs off.


    Comment by Albert Maruggi — January 24, 2008 @ 8:18 am

  6. I have seen this from both sides, an attendee and event planner. RSVP’s exceed room capacity, turn people away, attempt to expand capacity, allow more to attend, total turn out does not approach capacity. Everyone is disappointed.

    Organizers also have a responsibility to structure an event for success and communicate changes effectively and quickly.

    Strong relationships, trust and common courtesy (and maybe empathy or the golden rule)are the glue that bond organizers and attendees of successful events and promote a high turn out rate and a successful event.

    If you don’t know, don’t care and are self-centered it doesn’t turn out well as an attendee or event organizer, right?

    Comment by Jim Spencer — January 24, 2008 @ 8:25 am

  7. Thanks everyone for comments–

    Lee, Albert and Jim, This is why I tried to keep the post broad– people who do the inviting need to show some discretion as well. Many invites can– or do– appropriately request RSVPs for attendance only, or for “regrets only.”

    I am thinking of personal events as well as “organized” gatherings.

    Comment by Doug Haslam — January 24, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  8. Doug, repeat after me… “The Internet is serious business.”
    I, like you, have thought about this often and I’ve come to the following conclusions:
    1)People are rude on the Internet r because they ~can~ be. 2) People are rude on the Internet because the Internet is serious business. See: or 3) People are rude on the Internet because they are forever stuck in a Vonnegut-esque “Breakfast of Champions” moment where everyone else on the planet is a robot that only comes to life upon their personal interaction. To them, you simply do not exist.

    However, if you’d like to experience the “polite” internet, you already know where most of them are hiding… LinkedIN. There, people put on their most polite versions of themselves in the name of business networking.
    Personally, I find it to be equally pleasant and a little scary.

    Comment by Nancy Masse — January 24, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  9. Thanks for this post Doug. This needed to be said.

    The RSVP issue isn’t just an online issue, it’s an offline one too. Manners, in general, have taken a fall.

    What goes online stays online, and that can come back to haunt.

    I don’t care to know when people had sex, what they ate for lunch, or what they’re cooking for dinner. But you can control that by un-following people who put out that info repeatedly.

    There’s a casualness to online that I like, but there also needs to be the realization that the whole world really is watching and reading.

    You’ve given good advice.

    Comment by B.L Ochman — January 24, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

  10. This is some great advice, Doug. There probably is a blog on online etiquette somewhere — must search it out 😉

    Something that is also not well understood is written tone of voice. Often the way that someone writes can open the door to miscommunication. Humor, for example, can easily be misinterpreted … especially when you dont know someone.

    Comment by Gavin Heaton — January 24, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  11. Doug, you’ve raised some essential points about online courtesy and security, as have other commenters here. It is always a question on Twitter, for instance, how much one should say about one’s home life and personal activies, for instance, vs. only tweeting “strategically” about one’s business, work and other tweets that will show professional expertise. I’ve also felt annoyed when people online do not follow up with me, but I find even offline contacts lack this common courtesy at times. There is less accountability online, which is why I find it really helpful to keep in touch by phone and meet online friends in person when possible—it really changes the depth and responsiveness of relationships, besides being a lot more interesting. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    Comment by Cathryn Hrudicka — January 24, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  12. Doug,

    I guess it depends on the RSVP. I have RSVP’d to some webinars and haven’t shown up due to last minute scheduling issues.

    RSVP’ing to an event, like a launch party, might be a little different. And certainly responding to a friend would be quite different all together.

    As for responding with regrets, problem is I can’t make up my mind in some cases and then the last minute comes and well it is really too late by then. I know bad me, but sometimes…

    But agreed if it is a common practice it becomes putting your ego above everything else and that ain’t good.

    Comment by Jonathan Crow — January 24, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

  13. Aloha Doug!

    For me, the scarier thought is the person whom appears courteous in real life, but rude online. Almost like having a dual personality, which one is genuine?

    Online RSVP should be dealt with the same as any other type of RSVP. If something has come up, let the host know you’ve had to make changes in your schedule. At least that puts the guessing game out of things, and it’s the courteous thing to do.

    Comment by NEENZ — January 24, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  14. Here we go…. I ~knew~ I had just discussed this notion recently somewhere else!

    Comment by Nancy Masse — January 25, 2008 @ 9:10 am

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