Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating the 1st Amendment Right to Freely Rant... er, I mean, Freedom of Speech

Happy fireworks day, On The Vine readers! Hope that you enjoy all the oohs-n-aahs (pretty lights and resounding boom-booms) of this most monumentus day in the history of our country.

This post is a recap of and expansion upon a conversation had while road-tripping for this holiday weekend. One of the topics that got my blood pumping was the lack of etiquette of written communication via the internet, specifically via social media outlets. Some are the results of the etiquette that is still evolving around social media, others are just the omissions of well-defined/established etiquette because it's being used in a new medium. Still others, are just the virtual manifestation of some people's strange and off-putting communication idiosyncrasies; their general lack of people skills that now weird you out online as well as in-person.

To (possibly) help along the continued evolution of said etiquette and shed light on/create awareness for the poor uses and neglect of it, --  hence, restoring a shred of my sanity from the many irritations of poor communication habits -- I present you with this post on social media pet-peeves, in no particular order (for now). Enjoy... or feel free to skip if you're up to your eyeballs in people ranting already:)

  1. The written language has been developed and refined over the last several hundred years by very capable writers. Why is it that because you now type instead of hand-write, the rules (which have evolved for a reason) no longer apply?

    This one goes out to both posts/emails from friends and anonymous people that I stumble upon through the comment boards of various blogs, online communities and the like. Maybe you think it's cute or really creative or maybe you're just lazy, but punctuation and capitalization are not optional. These tools of communication actually serve a purpose -- to effectively facilitate your intended message.

    I notice the lack of capitalization most often among creative writers. For me, it is more of a distraction to read a full paragraph of 'I' as 'i' and without any capitalized sentence starters or proper nouns. My main beef is that now I (the reader) have to figure out what you (the communicator) intended by the random series of words that comprise most proper nouns and phrases. Even though you usually have very poignant things to share, I end up getting quickly turned off and stop reading; never receiving said message.

    The second group also guilty of this grammatical-omission tendency are typographic enthusiasts, though I don't know quite as many personally. The culprit? The purist theory that type's rhythm is destroyed by mixing upper and lower case characters. Typographic fiends will then either SCREAM or whisper with all their correspondences. In doing so, they sacrifice their message (which, by the way, isn't the message the most important thing/reason for writing to begin with?) for the visual rhythm (clearly a secondary priority).

    The lack of any punctuation altogether is a new trend that I've recently discovered. I know the people guilty of this one and I also know them to be smarter than they now appear in writing. More so, it's really quite difficult to dissect the intended meaning of such a sentence; exponentially so when several sentences are stringed together w/o any punctuation or capitalization to queue the reader when one thought has ended and another has begun.

    I'm certainly not saying that you've got to be a master of grammar or punctuation. I'm positive that I do not use all forms of it correctly (though I try my best to do so) or use them when I am supposed to do so in every instance. For me, commas are my weakness, and I've resigned to simply placing them where I think they should go to help communicate the my message more clearly. However, the biggies like 'periods' are not optional.You've played the punctuation game in school where you drastically (and usually comically) change the meaning of sentence by simply moving or including/removing punctuation. Just one example is something like:

    "Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off."
    "Charles the First walked and talked. Half an hour after, his head was cut off."
    If you have something to say (which you obviously feel you do, if you're posting to Facebook or commenting on a blog post), why give opportunity to your readers to misinterpret your thoughts? Perhaps, in your vane pursuit to share your thoughts with the world (thanks to the miracle of Fb), you have forgotten that communication is a two-way street -- it only works when a message is both sent and received.

    My plea to you (whichever of the aforementioned offenders you are): please, please, please write with your audience/readers in mind. Help us to help you -- to appreciate your humorous/insightful thoughts by reading and understanding them as easily and as clearly as possible. Utilize the grammatical tools available to you -- pretty-please.

  2. Stop trying to help me be a lazy, sound bite reader... you're not helping.

    I had an instance this week where one of my favorite social media blogs posted an article that seemed interesting. When I started reading, I quickly noted that almost all the copy was in bold... in sporadic extra long chunks. So much so that the words not in bold were so infrequent that they became the ones attracting more attention. Subequently, because of the distraction, I stopped reading the article after about 3 sentences .

    A true-to-life analogy for such a tactic (thanks to Mike Laskowski) is from back in the day when you would go to the college book store and purchase a used book at dirt cheap for an upcoming course. The trade-off to the bargain was that you were then subject to someone else's filter of what they thought was important. Sometimes, you got lucky and the previous owner had the same keen eye for spotting key/important points as you. Most of the time, however, you got stuck looking at a sea of yellow all semester because that reader deemed EVERYTHING as important, which of course had the exact opposite effect; nothing is important.

    I do enjoy that particular blog, so I decided to go back to the original Fb post where I discovered the link to the article. I don't usually like to pee on people's parades, but in this instance, I thought that they should at least be aware that their message is getting lost to such an easily avoidable irritation. Thinking it was the contributor's error, I wrote something like:

    "Totally random, but I was quite distracted by the over-use of bold phrases and entire sentences in this post. As a reader, I got side-tracked by it more often than drawing attention to the points as intended. Something to consider for future posts..."
    The response: "Hey Stephanie. We know that most of our readers are skimmers so we employ this tactic to help highlight the key points of an article. We find it generally does more good than harm."
    To my surprise, it was not the original author, but the editor who had gone highlight-crazy on the post. The reasoning behind it sounds somewhat logical, however my comment got three likes and several others chimed in concurrence that they, too, found it to be overkill. After some back and forth, the social media moderator reported back that they had edited the original post and slimmed down the use of bold sentences. It's one of the things that I enjoy most about online communities, such discussions can be had in real time -- and sometimes things change in your favor.

    The moral: don't go overboard in trying to predict/anticipate what you think your readers are going to find important points in your article. There's no way you can know me that well and you simply end up insulting my intelligence. Yes, I skim your posts. Fact of the matter is, I'm going to skim them either way -- it's the only coping mechanism we have in this information-overload environment known as the internet. If the content is solid and intriguing, I'll pick up on that quickly and will go back to the beginning to read your article in it's entirety. If it's nothing but fluff or there's any extra annoyances that show up in my scan, I'll move on without a second thought.

  3. On professional networking communities, please be professional.

    An illustration that is highlighted in the previous point is being professional when the situation deems it appropriate. This back and forth with the moderator was done via Fb, which is more open to multiple types of audiences; interactions are often between both professional and personal acquaintances. As a general rule, I try not be a jerk when conversing with either audience because (besides just being the decent thing to do) it helps my cause in providing a critique in not making the recipient too defensive. No one takes kindly to hearing how much they stink for XYZ reasons.  

    I have had several negative run-ins on LinkedIn's group discussions, which are supposed to be conversations amid an obvious professional networking environment. I choose my words carefully, particularly when disagreeing or trying to provide a different perspective on the discussion topic. However, I will sometimes be surprised by the super mature response I receive; something along the lines of:

    'No you are?! Are you stupid or something?... I can't believe anyone could possibly think something as idiotic as what you just said. 'Everyone the audience is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.'(ahh... classic Billy Madison:)
    I don't know where these people come from, but I typically will not justify their comment with a response -- also because past experience has taught me that they are the same people who will not let anyone else have the last word; it's futile to engage them. I just will usually take solace in knowing that their interesting take is captured for all participating discussion followers to see and that it's also just been sent to the email boxes of all those who have previously commented on the discussion thread.

    The moral here: you may get away with shooting off your mouth in real life and people's short memories have allowed you to save face. But, online, your words will live for a really, really, really long time... be careful, particularly in professional network settings, how you present yourself. If you can't say something tactfully, please don't bother saying anything at all.
  4. On virtual networking, please remind me how I know you or why you are contacting me unsolicited.

    I'm not usually one to toot my own horn, but when it comes to networking, it's one thing that I've invested time and effort in over the years and now consider myself to be a networking fiend. Because I have been an active networker for 5+ years, I am well aware of the proper etiquette and am quite easily irritated when people (who should know better) do some interesting and off-putting no-nos. 

    Again, just this week, I received friend requests via Fb by at least 5 different people who I had no previous interactions with. I think it's because the new Fb update this week that now provides rollover mini-profiles to the news feed and one of the new options now at people's fingertips is to '+request friend.'

    When someone friends me, I assume it's because we've met and I am just having trouble placing a name to a face... it happens. But in this instance, these are completely unsolicited invites. Usually, I would just ignore such requests, but because I'm doing more social networking and media marketing for On The Vine, I am more apt to consider such requests with a little more patience.

    That patience is thin, however, and the problem/irritation I run into is (again as the recipient) I am left to connect the dots and figure out why this person is requesting to friend me. There is this fantastic little option when you friend-request called 'Add a message to your request.' You don't have to write a book, just a short blurb, something like:

    'Hey there. I have been reading a lot of your recent comments on the posts of some of our shared acquaintances. I'd like to continue to follow your work...' 
    or 'Hi, we met like 4 years ago at [such and such a networking happy hour] and I just saw your post on [fill in the blank]. I'd like to reconnect.'
    The same etiquette that you use for Linked In connections (which hopefully you include a little more than the standard, 'I'd like to add you to my professional network', if you don't know the person well/at all), applies to Fb friending as well. Also be aware that, as an unsolicited friend, you're on probation (I actually have a special folder of the aforementioned title just for connections like you). If you send me a million-and-one event requests that are completely not appropriate for me or you dominate my news feed with all kinds of posts for an upcoming event in a city that I do not currently reside (Go Media and your related Fb pages + side projects... this does not apply to you:), I'll be swift to unfriend you. (See my other rant post about all the reasons to unfriend and save your sanity:

  5. If you don't like my social networking habits, please unfriend or hide me... Either way, get off my case:)

    Alright already, I got it... I'm a prolific social media fiend and you, for various reasons, don't like it. Fine... just unfriend or at the very least hide me.

    This rant goes out to my friends on Fb who have been giving me static about my Fb-ing tactics. What everyone seems to forget is that:

    a) my full-time gig (as a Marketing Coordinator, mind you) is to be in-the-know on the social media scene, which requires me to interact with it to learn best practices from what everyone else is doing;

    b) also at my full time gig, I am the sole designer. I use Fb/LinkedIn/the internet to stay connected to the design community and for professional development (ie: to keep up on trends, news/events in the industry, to learn new tips/tricks and generally to simply have design conversations that I'm missing out on at work); and

    c) for On The Vine (remember that I also have a freelance business that I am trying to grow?), I am implementing my social media game plan to gain new biz and to acquire the reputation as being known as the local resource on design + current happenings in the Pgh design community.
    I take my Fb-ing seriously. I try to be as professionally relevant as possible. I try very hard not to put too much crap up that no one cares about. If I read something I think others will find useful, I'll post it. If one of my designer friends posts an interesting article, I'll repost and give them props for it. If I meet someone who's really awesome and trying to change the world for the better, I'll suggest their business page to you to help get the word out. If I am attending an event that I think you'll enjoy, I'll share it and invite you to join me... if you miss it, I'll recap the event in a blog article so you're up-to-date on the local happenings.

    In short, I will try a little harder to be a little less prolific in my commenting or liking of everything that I think is super cool on Fb. In exchange, I'll thank you to get off my case:P

    Rant out.Take it for what it is... my 2 cents:)

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