Manners are everything.
Recently, I've been thinking about conversation and the best ways to have it online. I am hardly the world's greatest advocate for for reasoned discussion. I am particularly good at taking a strong position and working to defend it. I know, however, that my favorite approach is only useful in limited circumstances. More often, reasoned conversation is the way to effective communication.
It's really hard to do that online. The competitive struggle for attention favors assertive stances. You get more attention if you sound really sure of yourself. It's hard to maintain a posture of "I sort of wonder if this might be true." It often gets you insulted or ignored, rarely respected.
So, the airwaves get dominated by personalities who are always on broadcast and only a little on receive. It's good for big puffy egos and really bad for community. The celebrity of the moment tends to have little ears and high output.
With a couple of recent dust-ups and a broad influx of new members, it's a good time to think about what makes for effective online community and conversation. (I've covered this issue elsewhere recently.)
I was talking with Jason Davis about this question this morning. We talked about the most important things for developing a sense of community. I walked away from the conversation and came up with these notions:
- Remember that those words and letters on your computer screen are a person.
This is really easy to forget. In the heat of the moment, alone with your thoughts and reactions, it's hard to recall that the text you are mad about is another living, breathing human with feelings. It's easy to say harsh things that are hurtful. Try not to do it.
- Understand the person who is receiving your message.
You know what happens when you confront a liar with his lies, right? He always denies them. Always. Many responses to your online postings are that easy to predict. If you are going to draw fire for what you say, be sure you know why you are doing it. If your writing is obviously hurtful, write it but don't publish it.
- Use the right function for the message.
RecruitingBlogs.com has blogs and forums. If you want a conversation, use the forums. If you want to confront, to post a commercial message, to have a one sided dialog, to preach, use the blogs. Free speech is important at RecruitingBlogs.com. Manners dictate the appropriate forum.
- The Forum is for Conversation
This is where the community gets to know you. We work together and collaborate here. It is a place for talking and moving toward shared opinion. Celebrate and incorporate diverse views. It makes for richer conversation.
- Your Blog Is Your Own Personal Kitty Litter Box.
Okay, that's harsh. The idea is that this is your own personal theater in which you can yell "Fire" if you want to. If the forum is the living room, the blog is your office.
- Use Email
Not everything needs to be available to everybody. Finding the balance between public and private is part of learning how to adopt to your new home on RecruitingBlogs.com.
- Find Ways to Meet Other Community Members Face 2 Face
It's amazing what happens when you can remember a good laugh, a great story or the general tenor of your last conversation with someone you know mostly online. Part of the point of the Recruiting Roadshow project is that online community depends on physical community.
- Always Reject Intolerance
Respond quickly and strongly to mass generalizations about groups of people. Remember that this is a public place and our behavior reflects on our profession. It's a bad idea to give the world the impression that we think discrimination is okay, that bullying is acceptable or that shirking responsibility and whining should be tolerated.
- Be slow to judge, quick to forgive
Until you've been on the receiving end of harsh online criticism, you can't understand how awful it feels. People make mistakes and good community is all about incorporating it it while encouraging even more risk taking.
- Be Positive. Encourage People To Participate. Praise heavily.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that I've gotten some things wrong and missed others. I'd really appreciate your help fleshing out this list and making it better.
(Here's a little known, very useful guide to building online community. Scan it. It's an easy, quick, value-laden read. It's by John Coate who was the director of community experience at the WeLL. I reread it - and let it influence me - as I pulled this piece together.)
John Sumser is the CEO and founder of the Recruiting Roadshow. To see more of his work, check out JohnSumser.com.