How to converse online

Jan. 24, 2011 update: Listen here to my thoughts on lessons learned in the class.

This is a draft of a session that we are offering next week to internal staff and also the community. Any feedback/input would be appreciated.

Online dialogue: Best practices

Let’s see what we know already. Here’s a quiz about what some call netiquette.

How did you do? Which ones did you miss?

Perhaps, the most important thing to remember is the golden rule of netiquette as stated in there:  Remember the human! You are communicating with other people.

And, as the quiz says: understanding and practicing some basic netiquette will help you leave a positive impression on others. And why is that important? For us to engage, connect and inform our communities we have to leave a positive impression with others.

Remember when we communicate publicly on the Internet what you say is there for everyone to see.

Example: When you search for my name (Christoph Trappe) on much of what shows up are things that I wrote on a SourceMedia site, filed to my own site or my blog.

During a couple of Washington Redskins games during the 2010 season, I participated in a game day chat on somebody else’s site. When I searched for my name that following week that chat showed up on the front page of the Google results.

That’s a good example that much of what we say online is public, even when we perhaps don’t think of it as a public conversation.

And while many networks (Facebook, Twitter, for example) do allow us to restrict privacy settings, there are ways around it.

For example:

  1. On Twitter, users can block you from following their updates. But in some instances you can still see their wall.
  2. On Facebook, on some settings, you can still see people’s wall even if you aren’t their friend.
  3. Also on Facebook, at times you see people’s posts, pictures (even if they are locked down) if you’ve requested to be their friend.
  4. Could include Twitter direct messages. (See WikiLeaks case where Twitter messages are being subpoenaed).

I break personal options down like this:

  1. Be very familiar with privacy settings and keep up on changes.
  2. Assume that everything you write online may become public.

Personally, I find it much easier to go with No. 2:  Everything said is assumed public.

How can you participate?

  1. Stand for something:
  2. Who are you? Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.
  3. For the purposes of this we’ll assume that you’ll decide to be a contributing member of the community that will help us move forward and help each other out.
  4. What can you say online that’s always OK to say?
  5. How can you further the conversation?
  6. Be human!
  7. How do you want to come across when people Google you?

Some things to consider when you communicate online through only the written word:

1)      Tone.  Is the tone you are trying to get across coming across that way?

2)      Relationships: You may be able to post something on a friend’s Facebook wall that everyone involved will read as a joke, but how about others who aren’t in that inner circle? Will it come across that way?

3)      Your mindset when reading other’s posts/comments and how your react.

a.       Let’s say some people rub you the wrong way at times, but are they trying to? Are they unintentionally picking the wrong tone? Try not to read too much into neutral posts. For example: Think of all the ways phrases can be said out loud. Depending on how it’s said it could have a positive, negative or neutral meaning. Just a couple examples:

i.      OK.

ii.      Not right now.

iii.      Hey.

iv.      What?

So, you have figured out what you stand for, you understand all this. So, now how do you do it? It takes practice. Sometimes you’ll say something that wasn’t received the way you’d like it to have been received.

The best way to handle a situation like this is to follow up   and explain your response.

For example:

I tweeted a link to Tim McDougall and Jason Kristufek saying that I thought option 2 sounds like a great idea. Optioned 2 was “gaming the score” which of course wasn’t the better option. Option 1 to offer value, etc., of course is better.

So, what did I do?

I followed up with this tweet:

“Oops. Where’s an editor when you need one? No. 1 is of course the option I meant to suggest: Offer value, etc.”

Really, what has helped me talk publicly is to:

1)      Embrace the transparency.

2)      Admit missteps and correct them.

3)      See the value in connecting with others who are like me or have the same interests.

4)      Understand or try to understand what shouldn’t be discussed publicly. (Confidential information or discussions with people who may not want their names attached to it.)

a.       For example: The other day somebody made this comment: “Christoph wants to teach everyone how to use a smartphone and a computer.” I took that as a jumping off point to write about what I do want to do. Really, what I did, I took a piece of information provided to me by somebody else and used it to expand. Though, I didn’t use the person’s name. Would it have even added value? Did she want her name attached? Think of how you can apply this in other cases.

We’ll plan on doing some live chats in these class sessions offered in January and February 2011.

Some notes/ideas for the live chat are below:

Let’s pick a topic for the chat. How about: Living in Eastern Iowa. Why do we all live here?

So, with that in mind, what do you stand for on that topic? For myself, I would probably say: I like it here because it’s a nice area for my children to grow up.

Below are some ideas of what people may say. How would you respond?

Commenter: KCRG’s coverage highlighting area towns is really good.

Ideas: Thanks. What do you like about it specifically? Any other personal observations?

Commenter: There’s absolutely nothing to do in Eastern Iowa, ever!


What kind of things are you interested in? Have you checked out this community calendar?

Talk about what you like to do… places you’ve found that are fun, etc.

Commenter: I want to connect with others who care about the same things that I care about, but you guys never run any information on events I’m interested in.

Ideas: What’s your interest? Could topical communities help? Perhaps this the time to provide a link?
Commenter: What about the brain drain?

How will you react when a commenter says something negative? Inappropriate?


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