Social Media Charm School

There’s no reason to talk to anyone anymore. Seriously, why would anyone want to risk calling someone and having an awkward conversation, or (gasp), talking to them face-to-face? I know I don’t. It started with texting a few years ago and then led to social networking sites and Apple’s iChat app. The advent of all these services has made it possible for me to quit talking (with my voice) to most people, except of course my coworkers (who I have to look at and talk to at the same time!) and my family.

In any event, I talk much less than I used to but communicate with many more people than I thought possible. If I am not messaging them on iChat or commenting on something they posted on Facebook, then I am reminded frequently of their status updates or blog posts. But this doesn’t mean I am a social butterfly. I am a reserved type of personality, and social networking has allowed me to become more so. I just maintain a lot of vague conversations while staying within my comfort zone.

But I am not the worst offender in this trend of non-verbal communication. I know that there are many people who have had far less face-to-face interaction than me. One of them is sitting right next to me now. He describes himself as a withdrawn person who probably wouldn’t talk to people at all (almost) if there were no social media forums or World of Warcraft.

This admitted curmudgeon isn’t likely to have learned the same social skills online that most of us learn through face-to-face verbal interactions. It’s much easier to say things online that you’d be plain uncomfortable saying in person. It’s so simple to send a short text or message to a person you would probably never call in the first place. And it’s even easier to regret it, especially when certain beverages play a role. But that’s another story altogether.

One thing is for certain – we are losing our social filters, and in many cases – our manners. Anonymity is no longer required to act foolishly, and getting attention is more important than investing in real relationships.

Is the world changing into a place where good manners don’t matter? If humans don’t behave with some level of decorum whether online or in person, then they are really no different from animals. Here are some tips on how to stop acting like an animal online.

  • Be real: If you’re genuine online you’ll be more likely to make sincere connections. You also won’t have to worry about people feeling disappointed when they meet you in person. That is, if you post a real picture of yourself. One from ten years ago doesn’t count.
  • Treat others as you would like be treated: People will be nice to you when you’re nice to them. Instead of getting into a public argument with someone, simply de-friend them. You wouldn’t air your dirty laundry in public, so why do it online where just as many people (and likely more) can see it?
  • Be respectful: I am sure I am not the only one who gets annoyed with social media whores. You know those people who are updating their profiles every other second, joining every group, and essentially making social media less cool. Yeah, they annoy me, but it’s not really worth it to call them out. Certain people may choose to handle themselves in a manner reeking of desperation, but you can only control your own behavior.
  • Don’t be a hanger on: Remember those people in high school who tried so hard to be cool, but just weren’t? Don’t be that person in your social networking dealings. Be an important part of a group by offering quality information, genuine conversation, insights, and humor. Don’t expect to become popular until you have earned the trust and respect of the group.
  • Thank people: When someone gives you a comment, they’re doing you a favor. Don’t forget to share the love by sending them a “thank-you.”
  • Don’t be a creepy stalker: Anyone would be suspicious of a person who showed up at his/her home, work place, gym, or favorite bar asking to “be their friend.” This same impression can be given online when you track down someone in every social network. Take time to get to know a person before invading their social networking profiles.
  • Don’t publically or privately unfriend/unfollow: There’s no good reason to make anyone (including the person in question) aware of your decision to defriend someone. It’s unnecessary, and makes the defriender look like an attention-obsessed jerk. There’s no point in embarrassing yourself or others, unless you really need that Whopper…

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