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June 11, 2008

Faceless Communication

“If you can’t stand in front of your target, reading what you’ve written aloud, you have no right to it.” – Frank Watson

After reading countless articles on social media, and sadly more recently of the tale of Megan Meier, it would seem that the bad element of society thrives on the safety of being anonymous. So often I’ve looked at blog postings, or more specifically the comments left by unnamed visitors, and wondered if those people would actually be able to say what they do to someone else face to face.

While some people are quite blunt while conversing face to face most are not. So how is it that they can go about posting comments like these? Simple, it is because nobody knows who they are and they are not likely to be held accountable. While we all know how difficult it can be to tell a mother-in-law that the dinner she just spend 2 hours preparing is terrible, it is so much easier to simply grin and get on chewing. On the other hand it takes 5 seconds to blog about it later, especially if you know for a fact that the said mother-in-law is never going to read your blog.

These are things that must always be considered when dealing with people in any form online. In a world that has quickly moved from posted letters that could take weeks to get from one place to another to airmail to email and now text messages so much can be lost in translation or even the lack of it. Twitter another step in that direction. While it can quite easily be possible to convey a solid point or idea across in just 140 characters many people can’t. Let’s face it, there really is an art to getting a wide audience to understand your idea or drive home an idea with little more than a few written words. I guess that’s why writers, good writers mind you, have always been in great demand.

Points to remember when dealing with people online, netiquette if you like:

  1. Sometimes visitors to your website or blog are really just looking for a spot to vent. Moderation can be a friend here, but why not contact them and politely ask why they want to leave such harsh comments.
  2. With email and other simple text message systems out there, if someone seems upset with you it could be that they misinterpreted the tone of your message.
  3. Sometimes email or other messages genuinely do get lost somewhere along the line in cyberspace. This can and does happen quite regularly. Don’t assume that someone is fully clued up on all correspondence unless they actually agree that they are – or at least think they are.
  4. Don’t take everything at face value, just because it is online doesn’t make it true. Think to all those hoax virus emails we get regularly. Take it with a pinch of salt and move on.
  5. Don’t take it personally. Okay, so if someone has had a real go at your name or business reputation it’s kind of personal but don’t resort to similar retorts. Rather turn it about and give a civil helpful reply. You might just be able to convert them into a glowing reference.

While it’s not always easy to deal with people face to face it’s sometimes a lot more difficult to deal with anonymous entities. Try to get to know who it is that regularly posts comments on your blog or replies to your emails with scathing remarks. You might just find that it’s little more than miscommunication.

Sometimes however you do have those that wish to incite or mislead others for whatever their reasons may be. The best answer at these times is no answer at all. Some things simply do not require an answer, but if you feel you simply must answer remember – “If you can’t stand in front of your target, reading what you’ve written aloud, you have no right to it.” Always be accountable for what you post, this is the easiest and quickest way to gain respect online. Once you’ve got that, others will simply ignore unsubstantiated comments left by the anonymous posters.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant in South Africa for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.