As in any other community, there are rules

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.

8 thoughts on “As in any other community, there are rules

  1. I’d consider online communities like soccer matches in the green area of a local estate. No written rules but you wouldn’t run in and start playing without observing first and asking people who are also watching or participating how it works.

    To expect those on the pitch to be patient for every single person that attempts to join this game is asking far too much. You’ll only get a bollocking when you do something wrong, you’re not going to be sought out and berated for just being new.

    Equally to expect them to supply a set of rules for “their” game is also asking far too much. They want to a) play the game and b) the rules are still forming in front of their own eyes.

    There will be others who are watching this match who will take time out to explain the rules to the best of their knowledge. You’ll find them as you observe the match.

    As for harsh dressing downs. I think businesses experience the harshest of them because they are meant to be the pros, they are meant to have done the footwork and research because they have the resources to do so and when they ignore the same online rules which they adhere to offline then it’s arrogance not ignorance that’s to blame.


  2. I moderate a forum,, and from time to time a new member will post something that breaks some rule or other. My experience is that 99% of the time they are not consciously doing anything wrong and when told almost invariably act positively.
    Toleration goes a long way in my general experience.


  3. Like any good parent… Do it once, it is a learning… do it again (knowingly) and it’s a mistake… that needs to be punished. The Internet doesn’t really have any Police, as such, but it does have ‘elders’ as you suggest… and they should act in respect of their positions (elected or otherwise)…

    As to a business being any different to us ‘locals’…? The “Wild, Wild, Web” (as I prefer to call it) is still a huge minefield waiting to explode… with greatness or shrapnel, who knows…

    If we can’t act in a civilized manner here in this virtual, anonymous realm, is there really any hope elsewhere…?


  4. The other aspect about rules is consistency, demanding standards from businesses or individuals that one is disinclined to practice one’s self runs completely counter to that. There is an expectation in a business environment that there is some minimal degree of courtesy or professionalism at play. If the model of behaviour they see on-line is to be brash, rude and all about the end result then why should anyone be surprised if that’s the model some new entrants choose to follow in how they behave on-line.

    Imagine if a business were to claim it was being harassed or squeezed out of the marketplace by a named entity but then never backed up its claims it would be laughed out of the room. That’s not the case with some of the elders or commentariat, either here or elsewhere. Whether it’s about Gov. Palin’s fifth kid or how great your new business venture is the model practised if not preached on-line is to get in there first with your claims to build traffic and then worry about accuracy later.


  5. Damien, I think you are right that it is different for businesses than for individuals. On this (personal) blog I am much more relaxed about what I do and say. On the company blog it is very different. For one, we went off and got advice from members of the community both before and after launch. This is an important part of the process.

    Frank. It’s all about the intent. Very few ever set out to be disruptive. Showing tolerance and patience while newcomers figure things out is a big part of a moderator’s responsibility. Given that the online community self-moderating (so to speak) we could do with a little more tolerance and patience.

    BarterMan, we certainly still are in “a huge minefield waiting to explode” and this level of uncertainty is putting many off from getting stuck in. I spoke to people in work today about Twitter and Jaiku and they expressed amazement at the rate that things are changing online. Its getting harder and harder for (non-techie) business/marketing people to keep a handle on what’s happening.

    Dan, with traditional media the journalist has the responsibility to ensure the accuracy of what they write. The essence of social media is that this screening is removed. Everyone is free to publish whatever they want. The more inaccurate information that is put out in blogs the more people will turn away from them as reliable sources of information. This is a challenge as some research earlier in the year from Edelman showed that blogs are now less influential than they were previously.

    Thanks for all the comments guys. I’m glad that the topic is one that is in people’s minds. I’ll certainly try to figure out the rules, by both participating and watching, and document them where I can for others’ benefit.


  6. I for one am planning on chasing the online advertising gravy train with my personal blog, I dont see the problem. If you find them obtrusive youre not obliged to stay. I dont get why this merits a lecture from on high.


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