After seeing this great instructional guide to eating sushi, I realized the only way I knew any of the rules or guidelines for sushi dining was through example. I learned that one of my examples was wrong – you’re not supposed to make a “soup” with your wasabi in your soy sauce.
These sushi instructions remind me how tough it can be to teach social media. I have had a few college professors ask me, what should I be teaching in a social media class, and how will I know if they have the lessons learned that they will need? I have been thinking about this question often.
One answer is, social media is just another tool in the toolkit to help you do your job. So, the same rules apply as in other learning situations. Yet, I think this answer is a copout. Some lessons are harder to learn than others and may be quite public and offer some humiliation. With an online community marching towards a goal, the stakes are higher than whether or not I made a wasabi soup.
In some cases, the situations are as specialized the rules of a golf foursome. Don’t talk or make excessive noise while someone else is concentrating on their swing. But golf has many more detailed rules that you learn as you practice, or rules that apply when it’s hotter than 90 degrees, such as where you can drive a golf cart. Golf insiders know these rules from years of practice and from having someone show them the rules.
So what are some of the rules we should help online community members with?
Understanding Subtleties and Helping with Guidelines
Social media and online community settings have many obvious rules, yet there is also subtlety in many online communities that insiders must explain to others. Guidelines you would find for online communities are basic for any people skill.
- DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. You sound like you’re shouting! The same sensation can occur with exclamation points!
- Some communities will have more or less tolerance for people who sell things – be it software or services.
- Introductions are still important in online communities.
- Your dress and appearence may not matter as much as in-person meetings, but your online representation of yourself can either look spiffy or slobby.
- Interruptions are also difficult to judge in an online setting, so you want to go with the normal flow of conversations that you can observe.
- Make sure community members have the resources and connections they need to do the job. This guideline is basic business etiquette but might be more difficult in an online setting.
- Know when to switch communication to real-time – whether it’s phone or Skype or IRC, having a good feel for when to talk synchronously is valuable.
- Understand local cultures and norms, even when participating in a global community. Basically, be considerate of others.
- Know when to ask questions, how much to research before asking, and figure out where questions are answered.
I know there is much, much more to business etiquette than just these guidelines. What am I missing that is essential for a student of social media to understand before approaching an online community? How should a student conduct themselves online?