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Most people would not walk up to a stranger on the street and say, “I’m so f*&king happy! I just got laid!”; however, there are many people who might say this, or some other inappropriate remark on Facebook, Twitter, or more likely, MySpace. It sometimes can be easy to think that writing online is his or her online diary, but the reality is that when sharing your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, you are sharing to the general public, and those thoughts will be recorded for all time. Unfortunately, there are no rules of etiquette, except that abusers (as defined by other Users) can be identified and the operators of the service can ‘de-member’ them.
However, Social Media (SM) is the ultimate democracy in that it is self-correcting. On most Social Media tools members choose who they want to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’, so if someone is offended by the posts or practices of another member they can stop including them in his or her circle of friends. That is why there is significant peer pressure to abide by the unwritten rules.
How Rules are Formed in New Media
Historically, when any new method of communicating is established the rules of the media are created by the people who use the media. It is a system of experimentation where new concepts are tested and those that work become the unwritten rules. A good example is Western theatre which was formalized by the Greek civilization. The Greek playwrights established the characteristics of comedy and tragedy, but it was later observers, like Aristotle, who saw patterns in the different genres of plays and put these ‘rules’ down in writing for others to understand and follow.
Social Media has started out in the same way, with the Users creating unwritten rules and observers trying to identify and discuss those rules. The difference with the Social Media tools is that everyone has different pet peeves, which means the rules vary from User to User. Still, by using personal experiences and listening to the experiences of others it is possible to identify general traits and rules of Social Media.
There are some stereotypes that seem to find a home in one or more of the online social networks. Here are a few:
- Sit-Down Comic – This person has posts about everyday life and can often find the absurdity in her or his life to present to others. For the older crowd, think Erma Bombeck and for the younger crowd, think Paula Poundstone as examples.
- The Informer – This person typically posts informative items on a topic and may provide links to blogs or websites that elaborate on the subject. Often this is the person who wants to establish/brand themselves as the expert on the subject and uses SM to gather a following of believers.
- All About Me – This person is not at the level of humor of the Sit-Down Comic but tends to have a running dialogue about his or her life. It would be easy to identify this person with the teenage girl, but to varying degrees you can usually find people of both genders and all ages who fall into this category. To most, this User can be annoying; however, her or his circle of friends is often compact and consists of other Users who want to hear the diary of a friend.
- Pollyanna – This person seems driven to spread good cheer to all. Typically they quote others, but the quotes are always positive and uplifting. However, if the posts are used a vehicle for the person to preach and pray online then the User risks being unfriended by those who are not as zealous.
- The Photo Op – This person loves their camera, or at least photos. Often they are one of the other stereotypes I’ve mentioned, but they like to dress their posts with pictures. It can be great if they are a good photographer showing interesting photos…or bad if it is all pictures of them in varying states of embarrassing or incriminating poses.
- The Observer – This is the most mysterious User. They never comment or post, they just read other User’s posts. In some ways they can be creepy if they are male, but bizarrely okay if they are female.
There are some stereotypes in SM that are often seen as bad or annoying. They typically have a high loss rate in friends/followers:
- The Hoser – This person floods the network with posts. Sometimes it is for a short period of time each day (an hour or so) and sometimes it’s for multiple times during the day. This is the person who wants to dominate the conversation. It may be that these users just need to be loved, but my money is that they just need therapy.
- The Political Nazi – This person has an opinion and wants everyone know what that opinion. It can be appropriate if all of their friends are like-minded, but if not, their connections will soon shrink to just the like-minded.
- The Salesman – For most, the fastest unfriend/unfollow is the Salesman. People like the Social Media tools because they want to connect to real people, and not to someone trying to sell something. I’m amazed by people who just don’t get that SM is not a billboard for their use, but everyday someone tries to Amway/Mary Kay their friends or promote their service.
- Tally Ho – This person believes that quantity of friends=success, and so they are driven by getting the most friends or followers. They will do or try anything to get their numbers up. They are a number Ho.
- Prime Time Host – This person creates the impression that they are the person in charge and you are on his or her show. They tend to be online and connected all the time, ready to make comment on anything. They have a life….and it is spent watching you!
Typically a user of SM does not fit into one single stereotype, but is a combination of many online personalities. Regardless of the characteristics of the User, the unwritten rules have more control over all User types. These rules are mostly common-sense concepts.
Aristotle’s General Rules of Social Media
Overposting and/or Underposting – This is when a User is too visible or not visible enough on the media. On Chart 1 is a best guess at what turns Users on, or turns them off regarding the volume of posts by other Users. There is no good way to measure this value in the real world because most people just react when they’ve seen too many posts from one person and unfriend them. I would guess that an average of one or two posts an hour is near the ideal. Too few posts and a User becomes invisible, and posting excessively makes a User is too visible. The scale is a 1 to 10 rating with 10 being the ideal.
Be Interesting, Be Fun – It’s one thing to inform people, but if all your posts are a lecture delivered in 48 parts, then you become boring. Crossing over different stereotypes throughout the day makes for more interesting reading.
NEVER, EVER, EVER SELL on Social Media – Be the expert, inform, but anything that smacks of advertising will be interpreted as spam.
Age Mismatches – It’s okay to follow or friend younger or older Users, but older Users need to be restrained in commenting on younger Users posts. It will always be interpreted as creepy regardless of the intention. Yes, you have wisdom, but younger people don’t care to have another father or mother watching over them and it’s more likely to be seen as a sexual come-on.
Be Real, but Not Too Real – It’s okay for people to know your political and religious opinions, but they should be showing like a bra strap and not like exposed underwear. Passion is great, but it is exhausting and uncomfortable for others. The same goes for emotions, unprofessional conduct (drunk photos) and mating behavior (sexy talk, photos).
It’s Forever – Jimmy Buffet has a song that refers to a tattoo as a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.” That’s a good way to think about the Social Media. Anything written online is there to stay…forever. That scares many people, but if you just remember that your online self is just an extension of who you are in a public place like a mall or church, then you can keep your comments and emotions in perspective.
Social Media is the most empowering personal tool that has been invented since the automobile. It has the potential to change a person’s life…for better or worse. For years, the Social Media as been making or breaking the public and political figures that we all look up to, or down on. Companies and governments are being heavily influenced by the impact of SM. It is hard to overstate what tools like Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are having on our lives, but the people who participate will have an advantage over those who don’t and those that participate need to know the rules.
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