Everyone 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…
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.”