What to Think About Before you Comment

Friends in Circle

Image courtesy of Savit Keawtavee FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever read a community post and wondered, “What was that person thinking?” or more likely “Why wasn’t that person thinking?” While the onus is often placed on the community manager to deal with all kinds of crude or thoughtless posts, maybe it’s time that we all helped improve the constructiveness of our community dialogue by thinking more before we “speak.” While I realize that I risk “preaching to the choir”, here are some filters that I personally attempt to put my messages through before sending them out.

Who can Hear my Message?

Recently, according to Forbes, two attendees at a tech conference conference were talking to each other using crude sexual innuendos. The person in front of them was offended, snapped a picture of them, and posted it on Twitter with their comments. Needless to say things only got worse from there. One key learning from this is that whether we’re speaking to the person next to us in public or posting to a private forum on the internet, we need to think about who might “overhear” our message, and realize that it may go beyond our intended audience. The more public and unknown the potential audience is, the more conservative we need to be when formulating our message. We also need to moderate our messages based on how much trust we have in the privacy controls of our internet provider, social media platform, and our fellow community members. Even if the technology platforms are completely “secure” and “roped off” there is always the chance that a community member could repeat what we have said elsewhere, so remember to “let the buyer beware”, because there is no guarantee of privacy on the internet.

What Community Standards do I need to live up to?

Even if we have chosen a community that has good privacy controls and feel comfortable relying upon these controls, there is still the need to learn and follow the standards of a particular community. The best way to do this is to listen for a while until we understand the tone of the community. We need to watch what the community manager allows or doesn’t allow and observe how the more esteemed members of the community conduct themselves. Too often “free speechers” will join a community and declare their right to loudly express their opinions. Yes, it’s a free country, and no one knows you’re really sitting at your computer in your pajamas, so you have this powerful feeling of anonymity, but please don’t post your personal right-wing/left-wing political manifesto every other day; please don’t bait and make personal attacks against your community arch-nemesis; and please do try to support your ideas with logical, well-thought out arguments instead of resorting to name calling. Just as some professional sport announcers have to practice in order to avoid swearing on air, we need to filter ourselves and practice living up to the standards set by our communities. Obviously, these may differ from community to community, which is why it’s important to listen and observe these standards before going overboard. Again, when in doubt, err on the side of conservatism, even if it means deleting some of the best lines from that colorful rebuttal you have written. And remember the admonition of your mother, “If you don’t have anything good to say”, don’t say anything at all”.

Does my Message Construct Match my Medium?

Maybe I’m showing my age on this one, but I still believe we need to choose the right medium for the message and construct the message in the format appropriate for the medium (and of course, the intended audience). To me there is a continuum of mediums whose proper use depends at least partially upon the formality or informality of the medium as well as the context of the message. It’s OK to use “u”, “2”, and “8” as words in text messages, but as we move up the food chain to more formal mediums (e.g. formal blogs, business emails, business community forms), we need to use our best formal language skills. Twitter and Facebook appear to be more informal on the surface, but business pages and business targeted communications using these mediums require more formalized encoding of our messages than firing off a text does. If we all put more time into thinking before we speak or hit “send/post”, the world could be a better place for all of our communities.

What filters do you put your messages through before submitting your posts? What filters would you like to see others put their posts through?

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