Social Networking…a brave new world.

j0439344Everyone in the writing biz has heard of social networking.  We are taught from the beginning that readership requires a platform, social networking, and “putting yourself out there”, regardless of what we write.

Yet, many of us are not comfortable with the ins and outs of this type of self-promotion.  More than that, we don’t know how to use social networking sites and develop appropriate on-line friendships.

This difficulty with developing good online friendships happens, in my opinion, because of the very nature of what it means to be an online relationship….IT’S ONLINE!!!

Social marketing gurus tell us that in order for these types of relationships to work, we must treat them as real.  Good advice, right?  I mean, would we really interrupt other people’s conversations with our own, self-promoting info (like what can happen on Twitter) – - – probably not.  Or would we trash talk each other in public, not usually. 

Yet this happens all the time.  More than that, we forget that everything we write online – even when we think there is a certain amount of privacy, is not THAT private.  Not really. So we get ourselves into trouble sometimes with our own words.

There is another reason I think online relationships are really difficult to navigate.  Although we need to treat them as if they are REAL – with the same amount of respect and care we give our real-life relationships - we must do so while missing a very important aspect of the relationship itself…

CONTEXT.

You see, most communication between people happens without words – written or spoken.  Most communication occurs through nonverbal cues and gestures; none of which is easily recognizable (if apparent at all) online.

It is very much like we are being asked to assemble a puzzle without the foggiest idea what the picture is.

This is not to say that these relationships are somehow less than the ones we create in real life.  Not at all. 

In fact, some people I consider the most amazing people in my life I know only in the context of our online relationships.

These relationships, however, are different.

We get ourselves into trouble when we insert our idea of context into the relationship.  That is, when we make assumptions based only on our interpretation of the meaning behind the words used – without the benefit of cues to guide us in our interpretations. 

Sure, we are writers, and we often write exactly what we mean.  That doesn’t mean we are the best with context.  I mean, when we write blog comments, or add our two cents to a forum conversation we aren’t exactly setting a scene and carefully constructing the way we want the reader to feel.

So, what does all of this mean…Well, I think we need to spend a little time trying to understand intent and context before we react to things we read online.  For example, before blasting an agent or publisher, understand the context of their words – the frustration they feel at times regarding query guidelines and people who don’t follow them.  Or try understand what someone may have meant in a particular blog post, before assuming the worst.

We should do this in real life too.  But we often have the help of contextual cues and nonverbal gestures to guide us there.  Online we have nothing but words. 

And these seldom tell the entire story.

Moral of this little post…before we write things in comments and forums, before we make assumptions (good or bad) about the people we interact with, remember that all we ACTUALLY know is what they have written…nothing else. 

If we want to know more, we should ask different questions. 

And when in doubt, do what your grandmother told you:  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

For some great tips on the ins and outs of social networking, check out this great link.  Or this one.

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4 thoughts on “Social Networking…a brave new world.

  1. Good advice! I’m sure we’ve all bent (or even broken) these rules at some point in time, but we should keep them in mind. Networking on-line is totally new to us. My old job didn’t really require it, and this type of information is very helpful. Thanks!

  2. Great post, Christine! Thank you for this :).

    I love your “when in doubt” at the bottom from Grandma. Luckily for me, I know the majority of my family is online and can and will track me down, so I don’t say anything that I wouldn’t want them to read.

    I also try to think of what I say online, even to friends, as part of my professional world. If we want to be taken seriously as writers, we need to remain professional, even when we’re having fun ;).

    Then we can be as unprofessional as we want in our stories. Bwahahaha!

  3. Firstly – I love your little clip art guy. I just used it in a big presentation I had to give earlier this week!

    Anyway, great post.

    Something for a lot of people to consider when they put their thoughts on paper, er, I mean online. It doesn’t take much longer to reread your words before posting them than it does to write them all down in the first place. And even if it is just a brief comment on a blog or a 140 character tweet, when you first put your thoughts down, it’s a first draft and would you ever submit a first draft to an agent?

    Thanks for giving us something to consider!

  4. Lisa – I know I have been guilty of “bending” the “rules” with online relationships. That being said, the hardest part for me is the contextual piece. I am so used to understanding things that go way beyond the words…online I find that I miss that aspect of the relationships and constantly miscue things…Ugghh

    Rebecca – I totally agree that the online aspect of our lines is definitely a professional gig. And the “unprofessional” in our stories bit…LOVE IT!!!

    Windy – I love Mr. Internet Surfer Dude too!!! And thanks for you comments as well.

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