The technology we have available today to communicate, educate, commiserate, delegate, and even tailgate is simply magical. It's cheap, it's easy to use, it's readily available and it's known as Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and all the many iterations of them. We've been singing the praises of Social Media for more than two years.
By definition, Social Media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue — conversations. These conversations are over a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideals of different groups and use technology to create and exchange user-generated content.
In other words, with Social Media, content is king. It's a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of valuable content.
Some would even go as far as saying that Social Media is a harbinger of change. Just take a look at how it was used to bring about the Arab revolutions and revolts we're witnessing this year. One Cairo activist was quoted to say, "We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world."
But there's another aspect to social media when its use becomes racist, mean spirited, and dark. I've noticed that with Social Media comes a certain anonymity that emboldens people to say things that, in face-to-face or telephone conversations, they wouldn't dream of saying.
Some of this "commentary" borders on juvenile, can cross the line, and be hurtful. It can lead to heated debates that can spiral out of control. In Social Media parlance, this is called flame wars or flaming.
It amazes me what professional people in all industries sometimes say online. Check any number of discussion forum sites that abound on the Internet. From investment advice to motorcycle enthusiast forums, flame wars deter from the socializing and information sharing that make such arenas so much fun and so useful.
Even this industry's most popular discussion forum site, HVAC-Talk.com, is not immune to such behavior. Much of this drama starts with simple name-calling and pretty much devolves from there.
There is a psychology to this behavior. In an article titled, "How Social Media is Influencing Your Behavior," posted on Searchengineland.com, author Jordon Kasteler writes, "We like to think that we are largely in control of our day-to-day lives, yet most of what we do, from what we eat to the way we feel, is significantly influenced by those around us and those around them, and those around them. Our actions can change the behaviors, the beliefs, and even the basic health of people we've never met."
That's powerful stuff. I think this is just as true in the physical realm as it is in the Social Media realm.
With that in mind, perhaps there should be some simple rules to follow when in social media situations. The lessons from childhood are good rules of thumb. Try these on for size:
Be polite. Don’t say or do anything to others that you wouldn’t want them to say or do to you.
No regrets. Everything you post is there forever. So don’t post anything that’s embarrassing or regretful.
Content is king. Keep in mind the topics and threads that you’re participating in. Is what you’re posting worthwhile and does it contribute to the advancement of the conversation, or does it detract from it?
Stay focused. Whether your networking is personal or for business, remember that you’re contributing to a living database. The things you say and how you say them matter.
Be Social. Share freely with your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, Linked-In contacts. Be fair when disagreeing with your fellows in discussion forums. And no name calling!
Have fun. There's nothing wrong with this. Just keep in mind that what you're doing is sharing words, and words can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.