Tom’s Abbreviated Kindergarten Rules for Social Networking

Robert Fulghum in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, relates the challenges and realities of everyday life to some of the basic rules we learned in kindergarten. I’ve seen these rules shared in various business situations over the years. It is amazing how these simple life lessons we learned as 5 year olds can be applied to our adult professional life. 

This week I participated in a webcast on social networking in the ERwin and data communities. After listening to my fellow speakers and participants during the webcast and question and answer period, it became obvious to me that people were unsure of the etiquette of using and participating in social networks. My first thought is that this is new territory that needs a new set of guidelines for proper on-line etiquette. Gosh, wouldn’t it be cool to have a techie Miss Manners address these social faux pas on Twitter or Facebook. (I am sure there are some that I am not aware of.)
I then came to the conclusion that this is not new territory. Putting on my IT beanie, I soon realized that it is nothing more than a platform upgrade. The etiquette of carrying on a conversation by phone, fax, memo pad, greeting card, or letters should apply to modern technology platforms of smart phones, message boards, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a whole lot of other web enabled communications.
That brings me back to Fulghum’s kindergarten rules. I Googled them and read them again. Using it as a base, I built my Tom’s Abbreviated Kindergarten Rules for Social Networking. I thought about what I consider good on-line etiquette and grouped them into some of Fulghum’s rules, taking some liberty to apply them to Internet technology. Here they are for your review. I know the list is not comprehensive. I think they are good things to consider the next time you take out your iPhone or Blackberry to tweet or make a post. I would appreciate your feedback on how these align with your personal views and posting to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Tom’s Abbreviated Kindergarten Rules for Social Networking
  1. Share everything
    We all love to share: our lives, our experiences and our knowledge. A good practice is to separate your business and personal social networks. I use Facebook for my personal network and LinkedIn and software user communities for my professional network. When I post, I am selective of what I post; making sure the post is relevant to the other network members. I post positively and avoid negative remarks. Most importantly, I don’t overload by network with a hoard of posts.
  2. Play fair
    Social networks often become a close knit collection of people. There are very active participants, the occasional drive-bys, visitors who come and go, and a large number of lurkers. As with office and in person interactions, you need to adapt your personality to respect all of these voices. That can be difficult when you are engaged in a passionate on-line exchange. Rule #1 is to respect ALL voices. Rule #2 is to welcome newcomers.

    Here’s a good tip I urge you to follow. If you are a regular who responds to questions, lay back a few hours (or whatever time you feel is appropriate) and allow these newcomers and lurkers to come forward and offer their opinion. I know we want to use this media to get instantaneous responses but consider the benefit to the broader network of yielding occasionally to new voices. 
  3. Don’t hit people.
    Ouch! Nothing quite stings as badly as words. It happens in person and in the on-line community the consequences can be more damaging. When you tweet or post a comment, you don’t visually see your network’s physical reaction. In person you do and adapt the conversation properly. On-line, this happens through subsequent posts and updates; often becoming more hostile and off-topic. Here the rules are simple: No flaming and no disruptive trolling. Above all, PLEASE DON’T TYPE EVERYTHING IN CAPS. It is rude.
  4. Put things back where you found them.
    So, the network is discussing the proper way to model a specific construct. Don’t hijack and change the focus of the discussion thread by asking a question on another modeling construct you are working on. If you are discussing building blocks and your post looks like a ball and acts like a ball, guess what? It belongs with the balls. Just like kindergarten, building blocks go with building blocks and balls go with balls.
  5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    So easy, so tempting and something I must confess that I have done on-line. Citing experts, cross posting a fellow network member’s post, posting snippets of white papers, lines from books and quotes form conference PowerPoint presentations is so tempting. I urge you to limit the use of these techniques. I don’t advocate never using one of these techniques. If you do, it is a must that you give the original author credit. Make sure this information applies to the forum and is applicable to the discussion at hand. I’ve seen too many people mindlessly forward tweets and posts from an industry expert. It’s well intentioned but distracting. If fellow community members are fans of this industry expert, they most likely have added him/her to their network.
  6. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    Want to be a respected member of your social network? This rule will go a long way in solidifying your reputation as a star. The reality is that as much as you practice the above rules, you will make a faux pas and upset someone. I assume that you always try to be helpful and considerate. However, somewhere along the way, someone will see one of your tweets as being rude. What not to do is to justify your position defensively in a long chain of replies. What to do is to apologize and explain your point in a non-threatening manner. Make the chain of responses as cordial and as short as you can. Move on.
  7. Wash your hands before you eat.
    You have your morning Starbucks in hand and sit down at your desk to catch up on your overnight network updates. I know it’s early, but take a few minutes to digest the updates and consider the following before your thumbs go postal on your iPhone. Ask the poster to explain an ambiguous post before you post a critical response. Review related posts and replies before you reply. Don’t rehash history. We don’t want to see the long train of prior replies in your reply. We can read them ourselves. Ready to post: make sure it applies to this topic and category. Always, always tell the truth!
  8. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
    I love chocolate chip cookies and milk as much as I did as a kindergartener. It stays on the list. No explanation is needed!
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