Social networking hasn’t been around that long, and I’ve been using it for maybe two years. In that time, here are some important lessons I’ve learned, largely from making mistakes.
1. You will not change someone’s mind by replying to a post. This is true about their opinion on politics, religion, food, music, or anything else about their life. Trying to explain it just one more time in another comment doesn’t work either.
2. Do not turn the angry person who posted a nasty comment into a pen pal. Do not answer them at all. Seriously. You will not make them go away or (see #1) change their minds. They will have another quote, another link, another argument. If you don’t answer them at all, their comment will just hang there.
3. Do not get off the high road to wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it. The late Gordon Bowman gave me that advice the first week I was working for him, 20 years before social networking. It was brilliant then and it is still brilliant now.
4. When someone whines, is looking for sympathy, or is proud of an achievement, be nice. Do not tell your own story in the comment section. Empathize with the person posting. Instead of “I know how you feel,” say, “that must have been really [great, awful, fun, no fun]. You may then unfriend them, if necessary.
5. Be useful. Be helpful. Re-tweet interesting messages. That includes your own blogs. “Includes” means there is more than the thing listed. Don’t link to just your blog or website all the time. It’s a big world, find other interesting sites to share.
6. Strangers become friends in a strange way in social networking, but they may not act like friends. Practice one of the following: “Thanks for the feedback,” “How kind of you to offer,” “Interesting information, I’ll think it over.” You really don’t know these people well enough to say, “Are you crazy? You don’t know my mother! That will never work, she will never, ever love me, and you don’t care either!”
7. Say half of what you think. The practical, useful half.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and social network user. She learns slowly.