If you join any club, are a member of any organisation, or are part of any community there are some basic rules that you must follow. If you don’t you’ll be reprimanded and even worse ostracised. The same applies in the online community.

Free Stock Photo - Wire-Tailed Swallows Arguing
Photo owned by Photo_Mind (cc)

Over the past while I have witnessed several individuals and companies being dressed down by leading members of Ireland’s online community. These are individuals and companies that have broken the rules of the community. The misdemeanour could range from the way they set up their blog, taking advertising on their personal website, to sending unsolicited emails to large numbers of people. Individuals are named and shamed, and often rightly so.

For anyone looking to dip their virtual toe in the online waters seeing this can be quite discouraging. The problem you see, is that there is no rule book. The elders of the online community of course know the rules; the etiquette; what is permitted and what is not. The rest of us are figuring it out, often only learning from our mistakes.

Personally I can afford to make mistakes as I don’t claim to be an expert and I don’t have a brand or reputation in this area to defend. As a business with a brand to protect I would be concerned, since any mistake we might make could engender public and sustained ridicule. Companies invest huge amounts in their brand and the risk of a negative backlash is enough to put any business owner off engaging in social media.

Initiatives from Damien Mulley and the work I’m involved in with the IIA’s social media group are a positive step towards deciphering and setting out the rules. As the community matures it will hopefully become clearer to everyone what is acceptable and not.

The online community in Ireland is often described as cliquey. I certainly haven’t found this to be the case and have found it very easy to engage, and my participations have been very welcomed. The community does want to encourage more people and businesses to participate. I wonder though would it be more appealing to newcomers if the dressings down weren’t so harsh?

The elders have a very important role to play. The community looks to them for leadership. We look to them as examples of what is appropriate in this community. We also look to them to see how to treat others who make mistakes. Should they be taken aside for a quiet word in their ear or should they be publicly ridiculed for their stupidity? Personally I know how I’d like to be treated when I break the rules (unwittingly) in any club or community I’m a member of.