A Little Online Etiquette

Now, I’ll admit right off that what follows is mostly subjective and that there are Etiquette Mavens who would disagree with much of what I have to say, but I’m also pretty sure there are lots and lots of people who would agree totally that what we need is not so much a hard-and-fast set of Rules for Online Living as a return to some sense of civility. I blame much of the rudeness and selfishness you see online on the political blogs, those early adopters of online discourse (and here I use the term “discourse” very, very loosely and should probably use, instead, “haranging” and “hate speech”) that thrive on name-calling, ranting, and snarkiness.

The mixed media community is way more civilized, of course, but even we could use a few reminders now and then. If I were to offer one rule–even though I said we didn’t need a list of rules, we do need maybe at least one–it would be the one your mother surely mentioned at at least point in your growing-up life: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Simple enough, right? Online interactions–comments on blog posts, replies to tweets, posts on Facebook–those are not the places to vent your spleen. If you’ve got a feud going on with someone across the country, keep it private–no one else needs to read your lastest snarky comment on someone else’s wall post. No one needs to be drawn into a long-distance controversy about a collaboration gone wrong. The thing to remember is this: if you post something in a public forum–on Facebook, twitter, your blog–the operative word is “public.” It’s like taking out an ad in the newspaper, if you can remember those. While some of us are used to living our entire lives in a public way, plucking our eyebrows on the commuter train and changing into workout clothes in the break room, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things private. You don’t need to share every thought that crosses your mind, and no one needs to know that you thought the last collage they posted wasn’t quite as good as what they were doing last year. If you must say something negative to someone, say it privately. (And, while you’re at it, keep in mind that anything posted online, even in private, and anything sent by email won’t necessarily *stay* private–the forward button is right up there next to the delete button, and while you may have been exercising good judgement by saying what you had to say in an email, there is no guarantee the recipient won’t choose to share. Beware.)

Some more things to keep in mind:

–Just because you can right-click and save images doesn’t mean they’re yours. Don’t use other people’s photos for your avatar, your blog banner, or your newsletter. Just as you wouldn’t use someone else’s work in the real world, don’t use it in the virtual world, either. If you find something that’s so fabulous you want to share, ask if you can link to it. At the very least, if you’re showing a piece of work on your blog, for instance, caption it with the artist’s name and website and provide a link to the site where you found it. The same goes with videos–if you’re sharing a video tutorial, for instance, provide the name of the artist and a link to the website or YouTube channel.

–Twitter–the way to make twitter work for you is to think of it as cocktail party chatter. Avoid stringing out half a dozen tweets to complete one thought–if you’ve got that much to say, write a blog post. Respond to people who mention you, and retweet tweets that grab your interest. And above all, remember that you have an audience. Don’t bore them with minute-by-minute accounts of your day (“Toast and eggs for breakfast. Another cup of coffee. Cereal.”) Don’t ever, ever be tempted to overshare. There are things NO ONE needs to know about you. Really.

–While you may be online mostly for marketing and self-promotion, don’t make every tweet an advertising tweet. Although there may be some people out there who love following someone who is all marketing, all the time, I haven’t yet heard from them. If I follow someone and then read nothing but ad tweets, I unfollow. Life is too short for constant advertising.

–And that brings us to:  when you comment on someone else’s post, whether on their blog or on Facebook, don’t even think of it as a marketing opportunity. If your signature is 12 lines long and if everything you post has a link to your Etsy shop, you’re not going to be wildly popular. While commenting on other people’s sites and posts can be fabulous for making contacts, if you think of it that way, it will show. People are savvy enough to know exactly what you’re up to, and they will not be impressed.

–Don’t get involved in arguments on Twitter or Facebook. There are all kind of reasons why, but the best one is: it’s tacky. It’s like standing out in the middle of the street in your housecoat and ratty slippers, having an argument with your neighbor about her dog using your yard as a toilet. Please. if you have to yell, use the telephone so the rest of us will be spared and your reputation won’t become a joke.

–And the do’s? Make friends, engage in conversations, post compliments on work you like. On Fridays, do the Follow Friday (#FF) and recommend those Twitterers whose tweets you enjoy. Be nice, share inspiration and ideas, and keep things positive. We’ve got enough negativity and snarkiness in the world without it seeping into the online mixed media community, too. We’re a fabulous bunch of people, and spreading the fabulousness around is nothing but good.

Next time I’m going to talk about Facebook and some of the things that drive us nuts, but for now, please go somewhere–to a blog, a page, someone’s wall–and say something that will make their whole day.


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