Internet étiquette: has its time come?

As I sit here looking at this screaming blank space in my editorial calendar, once again, knowing full well that up to the 11th hour my promised guest post will not arrive, yet again, for the umpteenth time… I find myself thinking about internet etiquette.

Is there such a thing? And if not, perhaps it’s time to define one…?

It’s not just about being a bad guest blogger, although Heather Lloyd-Martin’s words on the matter of being a no-show are most appropriate for my current situation:

“The “deadline, what deadline” guest blogger This is the scariest type of blogger. This person promises “Yes, I’ll have your post by noon on Friday.” When noon on Friday rolls around, this same blogger is surprised that the blog editor is upset that there’s no post – and a big hole in her editorial calendar. If you’ve promised a blog post by X, treat it like you would treat a client gig and don’t miss the deadline. Remember, the industry is small – and people do talk. Missing deadlines is a sure way to mess up a valuable connection.”

No, it’s far more than that. It’s about being respectful and accountable to your community, whatever that community may be.

Offline, it could be your car pool or your neighborhood watch group. In this real world, you wouldn’t just blow off the group of people who share in your commute and watch your home in your absence, would you? No. Because you need them and depend upon them as much as they do you.

Online, your community may be freelancers and SEO copywriters, small business owners like yourself, or any number of Web groups. And again, you need them and depend upon them as much as they do you.

It seems to me that with the once-removed distance intrinsic to the virtual world, it’s just too easy to do just that – blow people off, forget about community, deny responsibility, and/or otherwise be a jerk:

jerk 1 |j?rk| noun 2 informal a contemptibly obnoxious person.

Okay, maybe “jerk” is too strong…how about just drastically selfish:

selfish |?selfiSH|adjective (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure: I joined them for selfish reasons.

Ah, most appropriate, the example: “I joined them for selfish reasons.”

I think this speaks to the heart of the matter, as far as internet etiquette – or lack thereof – is concerned.

If you’d indulge me, I’d like you to join me in considering these questions:

  • Did you join a community on the internet for strictly selfish reasons (e.g.,resume, PR)?
  • Are you guilty of not giving back to or honestly engaging with an online community?
  • Did you join that LinkedIn group just so it shows on your profile?
  • Do you really give a rat’s ass about that Facebook group? How have you contributed?
  • When’s the last time that you took the time to give genuine feedback on a post? (And by this, I mean feedback that means something – like you actually took a few minutes to read the post.)
  • Have you bothered to pause and thank that “nobody” who has faithfully tweeted and re-tweeted your posts? Ever?

If you’re still with me, I think you get my point, which is what is the point of all this crazed sharing and tweeting and klouting and plusing and liking and stumbling and digging and guest posting if it is ultimately only self-serving?

If not genuine, then it seems to me that all of this social networking must be some sort of a mass psychosis/narcissism: If no one is really interested in anything but their own social reflection, then it seems we’ve all been duped in a truly insidious way…

Or, far less dramatically, maybe we all just need to complete a “finishing school” of sorts to be honorable denizens of the web?

What say you? I’d love to truly hear your honest thoughts, assuming that you’ve actually read this post. :)

photo thanks to glans galore






24 replies
  1. Bas
    Bas says:

    hi Laura, have you been outside lately? Away from your screen? The offline world isn’t really much different than the “social” web 😉

    The only reason why you notice this online more often, is because you’re surrounded by the in-crowd, who are actually in-crowd because of this “natural” behaviour.

    So here’s the only tip I can give you: go and meet some new people outside your bound networks… you might like it there 😉

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Hi Bas – thanks so much for your comments! Yes, actually, I have been outside every day of my life as I do enjoy, well, being outside! One of those gifts I get in return for some grueling work.

  2. Heather Georgoudiou
    Heather Georgoudiou says:

    Hey Laura,

    Great post! A nice reminder that our online friends and business associates are valuable real people and giving back to that community always brings a lot of unexpected rewards. I always appreciate when someone thanks me for “retweeting” a blog post or sends a note of encouragement. No matter what line of business you’re in, a simple thank you goes a long way.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      I so appreciate your encouraging words, Heather! Yes, it is amazing what a simple “thank you” can do, and how giving back to your online community can yield huge returns of serendipity! And with that thought in mind: thank YOU! :)

  3. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Well said Laura.

    While I agree with Bas that there is – unfortunately – a lot of this behavior in the offline world, I think it is more prevalent (or maybe more obvious) in the online world.

    I believe that it is easier for people to “hide” online. Can it still hurt their reputation? Absolutely. However, we have all seen how “powerful” (read “arrogant” and “bullying”) people can be when they do not have to face a person and can say things virtually.

    Need an example? Just go to any news story that allows comments or Facebook page that deals with a heated issue. People who would most likely say nothing in the “real world” are suddenly spouting inflammatory comments and demeaning others. (I believe the term for this is “trolling.” Urban dictionary says it best: troll: One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.)

    But I digress …
    Shouldn’t Internet etiquette just follow the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    If that’s too simplistic, perhaps we need a Miss Manners – Internet Edition. You should take the job. :-)

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Amy, hi! Thank you for truly thoughtful comments and your righteous examples of anonymous trolls – I’m humbled! You’re absolutely right on target with what I was trying to express: that it’s too easy for people to hide behind their computers and blast out stuff they wouldn’t even dare tell their hairdresser :) I couldn’t agree more with your statement on how the golden rule is quintessentially the best model for internet etiquette, although I’ll have to respectfully take a pass on the job of Miss Manners – Internet Edition :)

  4. alanc230
    alanc230 says:

    I don’t think the Golden Rule is ever inappropriate. It may be simple, but it covers all the bases. It’s just that many, many people have forgotten it.

  5. karen marchetti
    karen marchetti says:

    It is especially bizarre to see what some consultants and agency types post in response to some updates on LinkedIn.

    My assumption is that consultants, copywriters, and other agency-side folks are on LinkedIn to:
    – pitch business
    – make contacts
    – prove their expertise

    Yet, I think these same individuals forget that EVERYONE can read their posts. These individuals berate others, they put others down, they take a “holier than thou” attitude — all recorded for their customers and potential customers to read.

    I read these completely inappropriate comments, and I wonder if it’s due to the individual’s lack of experience in business? But some of the nastiest comments have come from those “over the age of 40” (and I’m being kind here . . .).

    So with this “over 40” audience, then I wonder if their lack of experience with all things electronic in general have made them forget their comments are PUBLIC?

    It’s truly head-scratching to post a question with the goal of genuinely starting a dialog about a topic that others (and me) can learn from — and having people personally attack you for the position you’ve proposed? Hey, I thought the Internet was for sharing and communicating and expanding your horizons and . . .

    Some of the online behavior of people who should know better is truly unbelievable.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Karen, thank you for sharing your insights into this slippery subject! As a well-beyond-40 person, I too find it hard to believe what people fling out there, as if “no one is watching” or knowing that yes, that nasty-gram came from you! Especially on LinkedIn – is that not the bastion of respectful, mature, and polite exchange? You can blame it on being ignorant or pre-internet old, but still…c’mon! There’s also an old saying for those who have no grace, online or off: “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all.” :)

  6. Lena
    Lena says:

    Overall, I think it’s more than merely forgetting a forum is public rather than private. I think it’s more that these people say what they do because of they think they’re anonymous on the web. For instance, I used to play online games – think World of Warcraft. A lot of people would do things that were considered bad gaming etiquette. They’d get a bad reputation. Once everyone was wary of them, they’d simply delete that handle and start another.

    I also notice more bad behavior when addressing a touchy subject. My stepdad went off on me because I expressed a political opinion that was different from his. In his mind if I thought that way, then I must also think all these other things that weren’t true. Its all in the power of perception.

  7. Laura
    Laura says:

    Lena, you are absolutely spot on about the weird assumption some folks make about being anonymous, “because it’s on the web”…apparently they haven’t heard of such things as ISP’s :) Thanks so much for your comments!

  8. Lewis LaLanne
    Lewis LaLanne says:

    Just a very quick suggestion for anyone who’s having trouble doing what they say they would.

    Set up condition where there’s real imminent pain lurking in the wait if don’t follow through.

    What do I mean by “real imminent pain lurking in the wait”?

    Something a guy could do is make an agreement with someone you know that they get to punch you in the face, hard, if they don’t show up on Friday at noon and are able to see you’ve emailed the post you said you would.

    Something a woman could do is make a deal with a friend of theirs is tell them if you don’t deliver by the due date, you’ve got to walk into the mall in your town that you frequent OFTEN to the make-up section, sit down at one of the counters and ask one of the women for a demo and have a good amount of lipstick all over your teeth and the rest of your make up a total disaster as well. And the friend you set this condition up with gets to go with you and laugh their ass off at how embarrassed you are.

    Or, you make it so that if you drop the ball you’ve got to walk around or be out on the dance floor getting your grove on in the glitzy night club in your area with a long piece of toilet paper stained with chocolate hanging out of your pants or skirt waving in the air behind you. And once again, your friends get to come with and laugh their heads off at you.

    The reason people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do is because they make it too easy to let themselves and others down.

    But if you set it up where you’re burning the boat in your own little significant way, you’ll all of sudden find motivation you never knew you had.

    Thank you Laura for reminding me of these all important lessons you’ve laid out here.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Lewis, thank you for your well-considered and truly hilarious examples of “real imminent pain lurking in the wait” :) Brilliant stuff! I especially like the one to do with toilet paper stained with chocolate hanging out of your pants while you’re getting down on the dance floor…Brutally honest, and so very true to the core! Thank you for making my work here worthwhile!

  9. Stephen Monday
    Stephen Monday says:

    It may surprise some folks, but I look for the day to come in the future to where it is: 100% enforced and mandatory:

    “To log in, post, or contribute feedback on this site, you must log in with your real, full name. (If the name cannot be instantly verified online, then you cannot: log in, post, give feedback or contribute.

    The reason I believe this is because more and more you hear of courts using online pictures, media, or even testimony used (for or against) in actual court trial cases.

    The days of being able to hide behind your “handle” may come to an end. This is something to think about.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Hi Stephen! Wow! Appreciate you taking the time to write up such a thoughtful commentary… And I agree with you, there is a bit of a “reckoning” coming to the internet, where there is no place to hide. And while it smacks of Big Brother, it may just well be the only thing that stops folks from making a messy travesty of an otherwise brilliant forum. Thanks again for your considerate thoughts on this! :)

  10. Dean Cruddace
    Dean Cruddace says:

    I may have missed the switch that turned SM over to self promotion, I have personally never “self promoted” in nearly 10K tweets.

    I understand the mechanism and the power of it, but, that ‘communal’ feel is becoming lost in noise. Maybe I am guilty of following too many interested in where their next retweet is coming from. I also like to think I run a tight follow to my interests for my niche.

    I would like to think my engagement of a tweet goes beyond the 1 click mechanical retweet. Hence my comment here and reshare on Emerald Sea ;).

    Calling/hoping for Internet étiquette is a huge shout across a fan packed arena, those around you will hear, but that large fella on the opposite side of the stadium willnot hear you and continue to wave his foam hand.

    I understand, really I do, But the lazy arse mentality has already kicked in.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Hi Dean! Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re right that this call-out is in vain, and that foam hand on the other side of the stadium will silence it in the long run, but hey – thought it worth planting the proverbial seed. Appreciate you going beyond the 1-click mechanical tweet and offering your thoughts, however awfully cynical-yet-true :)

  11. Barry H
    Barry H says:

    Hi Laura,
    I’m new to the LI group — just joined a few minutes ago — but based on this refreshing article I think I’ll be enjoying my time here. :)

  12. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis says:

    Within your online community it’s important to play nice. It’s a two way street. You can’t expect others to share or promote your work if you are never repaying the favor or at the very least saying “thank you” and keeping in touch.


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