Social Networking: 3 Lessons---
First off, since my primary audience is technical communicators, I know that the convention is that the numbers 1 through 10 are supposed to be spelled out, but usability studies have shown that digits are easier to scan and read than if the number is spelled out.
OK, social networking. I had a recent experience that personalized the risk companies run when they allow a heightened level of interaction on their web sites. I've had a pretty cozy relationship with a particular vendor over the past several years, contributing articles and testimonials, and even doing a presentation at a national conference that highlighted how I had used one of their products. I was searching their web site about a month ago because I needed to find a paper of mine that they had published, and while doing the search found a snippity comment someone had made about me. The vendor had used a quote from me about a product of theirs that I had helped Beta-test. The quote was on their product release page. Someone, in commenting on the product and the release notification, made fun of me because the quote included my PhD after my name. The comment seemed out of place since it did not deal with the product (the purpose of the forum) nor did it deal with my opinion of the product (which would have been fair game). The comment was ad hominem, that is, it attacked me, the person.
I emailed the webmaster and asked that the comment be removed. No answer. I sent an email to the VP of Marketing and got an answer that it would be removed in a few days. One month later it was still there. I sent a second email yesterday, this time copying the president. The VP answered saying it would be off by the end of day. She was good to her word; it's gone today.
The 3 Lessons
Lesson 1--for the person who made the comment. Professional forums are not MySpace. When we participate in these forums, we need to keep the maturity level above middle school. Stay on topic and add value to the professional community you are participating in.
Lesson 2--for me and anyone else engaging in forums, blogs, or other public domains. I was probably being thin-skinned and took more offense than I should have. Part of going public means you are going to be open to all kinds of criticism. I'm very used to my ideas and my writing being criticized. I guess I was not as prepared for someone to make fun of me because I include my professional credentials in my signature block.
Lesson 3--for companies that encourage customer forums. The VP said that the company was reluctant to edit comments lest they degrade the validity of the forum. I understand that; I even respect it. But when comments about customers who participate get unnecessarily personal, some degree of moderation is called for. If a company is going to operate a company-sponsored forum, it must monitor the posts and step in when folks start making fun of other participants. I have moderated many face-to-face meetings and this is the responsibility of the moderator. I think online discussions demand the same oversight.
There always have been and will be bullies in the school yard, you know, the mean kids who like to taunt others--even when the kids get older and the school yard exists in cyberspace. And we will always need a vigilant grown-up to step in periodically and make them stop.