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Online social networks are designed to mirror your real-life social interactions. Different sites have had different levels of success in achieving that replication. Facebook, for example, is an ideal platform for mutual sharing of content with your real-life friends. Twitter on the other hand is more suited for mass-sharing similar to public speaking.
In my opinion the newest player in the market, Google+, has achieved the best replication of our real-lives on the web thus far. With the right usage of circles, comment threads, streams, asymmetric relationships and hangouts, we can now mirror not only our complicated social circles but also interact with them in ways that are very similar to real-life. We can exclusively communicate with our close friends and at the same time reach larger audiences while keeping both levels of interaction completely separate from each other. We can take part in discussions with the community or with hangouts we can simply socialize in person from the comfort of our bedrooms.
Essentially, that means my real-life daily interactions, both private and public, can now take place on g+. It is for these very reasons that Google+ has attracted millions of users within a period of four weeks.
These are still early days – we’re all exploring the features and potential of g+. However, it is also the right time to realize that, given the above discussion, we are now part of something much bigger than us. We’ve mirrored not only our local communities on here but also our societies at large leading to the formation of one big global e-society. How?
– We’re a society because we’re all from different classes and different groups interacting in one place.
– We’re a collection of communities here because we share similar interests with different groups of people. For example we have a community of photographers or designers. Locally, I also have a community of my real-life friends on g+.
Consequently, our actions on this network affect hundreds and thousands of people at the same time. Therefore, as members of this google+ society, we need to act responsibly.
As such, this article will try to establish some general points of etiquette that can universally apply to all g+ users. However, please do not take this post as a binding guide. Rather it is meant to serve as a platform for a larger social discussion on what is ethically acceptable (or not acceptable) on the world’s fastest growing e-society. For that very reason, I am greatly looking forward to the feedback and discussions for this article in comment threads across the network.
Similar to my other articles, I am going to break down the post into eight sub-sections based on google+ features so you get a nice over-view of what’s to come:
Sharing | Re-sharing | Commenting | Following | Hangouts | Advertising | Huddles | General
This includes all content that you publish except re-shares. It can be standard text-posts, pictures, links, videos, etc. Once again from a social point of view, we have to realize here that our posts affect other people. Even though we have complete freedom of speech, we cannot disregard the consequences of our actions on others in a society. Therefore, let’s look at what is generally desirable and not-desirable in terms of content sharing:
Be mindful of what you post. Since google+ allows you have to have hundreds and thousands of followers, you have people from all kinds of backgrounds in terms of culture, religion, personalities, jobs, etc. Posting some content may seem harmless to you but might be taken in a completely different way by your readers. Of course, I am not asking you to consider all possible consequences of your post but rather just be mindful of it.
Format your posts. As I’ve highlighted in one of my previous articles, one of the nice things about g+ is the ability to format your posts with bold and italic styles. Use this feature to structure your posts so that they’re easier to read and understand. This way, just one glance can be enough to tell your readers what the post is about. For ideas you can look at this simple example: bit.ly/pz1wTU
Don’t post everything publicly. It’s great that google+ allows you to post anything publicly but that does not mean you should make each and every post public. The whole idea behind circles is that just like your real-life, you do not share everything with everyone. Therefore, keep your private and personal posts within your close social circles.
Have some time-gap between successive posts. This is for your own good. Posts go down on g+ streams quite quickly. So if you post 10 GIFs in the space of 5 minutes then users will probably not bother scrolling down to look at the initial ones. Spacing out successive posts allows users to pay proper attention to each of your posts which is what you want right?
Post in first-person. This suggestion does not apply to the majority of us and is directed at the celebrities on google+. Famous people tend to let their agents update their social profiles for them. While that is understandable given time constraints, I would like to request celebrities to post in first-person too. The whole charm of following you guys is to be able to communicate with you on an equal level. So anything on your profile that makes me feel like you’re not the actual person behind this account will most likely push me to un-follow you. I do receive all your third-person posts on newspapers and other websites, but I follow you for a more personal interaction even if it is one-way.
This addresses the concept of re-sharing other posts we find in our Streams:
Always give credit. What you’re re-sharing is definitely not your own post and hence the person who originally shared it deserves credit for it. +Mention them in your re-share to let them know you’re acknowledging their contribution to the community.
Space it out. The purpose of re-sharing is to get the word out to larger audiences. However, if you and the original publisher have a lot of mutual followers, then by re-sharing right after their original post, you are not in fact reaching a larger audience. To make it more effective, allow a time-gap before you re-share the original post. This way people who missed it the first time now get the chance to view it again.
Give your feedback. While it’s always nice to see your post re-shared, receiving any feedback regarding the post is even better. So when you re-share, after crediting the original publisher, use the space to give your thoughts on their post. Even a simple “wow!” or “amazing” goes a long way.
Google+ comment threads allow for excellent debates and help with instant feedback. However, the commenting system has also been abused and we definitely do not want it to become a replication of youtube as the network grows:
Be mindful of what you say. Again, to re-iterate; what you think is okay might not be viewed in the same light by others.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the internet. There is no need to flame anyone down just because you disagree. If both publishers and commenters are mindful of what they’re saying we will get to enjoy even more fruitful discussions.
Use the +1 button. The +1 button is at the heart of google+ and so its proper use is essential to the network. To illustrate, let’s assume someone posts a funny picture. The first comment on the post you see is “lol that was hilarious”. Now, instead of typing in a new comment to say “I laughed so hard”, just +1 the first comment because it expresses the exact same thing. This is not so important for trivial cases like the one I just outlined; however, we need to realize that the comment system on Google+ allows for excellent constructive and intelligent discussions. The +1 buttons in such discussions can be used to voice your agreement to a particular argument instead of making the same point again in your own comment. In the end you get a nice thread with varying points of views which is infinitely better than a thread with the same thing being expressed throughout.
Respond to other comments/questions. This especially applies to your own posts. If you publish something, people will respond with feedback in the comment thread. They might even ask questions. Take out time to answer these people in your comment thread. If there are hundreds of comments then try to respond in a way that can generally address most comments in one post.
Keep it relevant. Make sure what you’re posting in a comment thread is relevant to the actual post. This especially applies to users that are using comment threads on posts by google+ employees to point out flaws and bugs on the network. There is a proper feedback mechanism for such things; use it! (yes, they do actually read all the feedback.) If you absolutely want to say something to someone that is not related to their post then just message them directly and start a different post. Interrupting an ongoing discussion in a comment thread with saying something completely un-related is very disruptive to the flow of that discussion.
Being added to circles. Asymmetric relationships that google+ has given us are very beneficial. They allow us they type of freedom that we certainly cannot find on facebook and twitter. You’re at complete liberty to follow whoever you want without having to wait for any reaction from their side. However, from my personal experience, when I see some random names adding me to circles, I find myself wishing that I knew a little bit more about these people. I, for one, enjoy meeting new personalities on here. So if you follow someone, it would be nice to leave them a short private message saying how you came across their profile and who you are. Obviously, you don’t have to do this if you’re not comfortable with it because one attractive aspect about the ability to follow anyone is that they don’t need to know who you are. Still though, I think choosing to introduce yourself can greatly enhance the experience of social networking. Think of it as meeting new people in real life and having a little chat with them to break the ice.
Adding others to your circles in return. Again, as mentioned above, the nice thing about asymmetrical relationships is you don’t have to follow someone just because they started following you. But that does not mean you should choose to ignore them completely. There are millions of interesting people on here, each one of them unique from the rest in their own way. So if you find someone adding you, try to make the effort of visiting their profile. This way you can get to know them a little bit and might even find them interesting enough to add to one of your circles. This will allow you to connect with other people who have the same interests as you. Isn’t that what social networking is all about?
Google+ can win the popularity vote because of hangouts alone. It’s a great way to group video chat from the comfort of your home/office/anywhere with up to nice people living anywhere in the world… and for free, too! But just like real-life hangouts, Google+ hangouts, also demand a certain degree of ethical conduct from its users. Here are a few pointers to think about the next time you enter a hangout:
– Greet everyone upon entering.
– Be polite and respectful.
– Don’t talk over someone.
– Allow everyone to talk. Don’t take over the conversation.
– Don’t yell or do anything else that interrupts the general flow of conversation.
– It is okay to mute someone if you find them annoying.
– Be mindful of what you say or how you behave.
– Use the side chat-box to voice your opinions if too many people are talking into the microphone at the same time.
This cannot be stressed enough; the current version of google+ is strictly not for advertising of any kind. Please do not use the freedom granted to you by the network to spam comment threads or public streams with your site, profile, company or business. If you do, then:
– It won’t work anyway because everyone hates spam.
– Users will report and block you – I don’t see how that helps your advertising.
The best thing to do is put links in the About section of your profile. That space is there to embed links that are relevant to your profile/job/business. People do notice them there and if they are interested they will click on them. Shoving them into people’s face, however, will only annoy them and will be counter-productive for you. Comment threads and streams are not the right place for advertisements and so please keep them that way.
Those of us that are running the Android or iPhone Google+ app know what a huddle is. Unfortunately we also know what huddle-rage can be like.
Since the app allows you to add whole circles to a huddle, a lot of users have been abusing this power. I get randomly added to huddles with hundreds of people in them many times a day. I try to see what the general talk in the huddle is; if it has nothing to do with me then I just leave and remember to not accept any huddle invites from that person again. So before you add someone to a huddle, please first think about whether they have anything to do with the huddle that you’ve just set up.
And finally a few general points of etiquette that don’t necessarily fall under one category but are equally important:
– Be polite and respectful.
– Do not flame anyone or offend them in any other way.
– Be mindful of what you say.
– Don’t single out people in your posts to hate on them. If they’re being a nuisance to anyone then just quietly report them to google and block them.
– Think before you tag people: Would they find your post interesting? Could they be embarrassed by your post in some way? Could they be offended?.
– Do not force your way of using google+ on others. You can only suggest and advise. It is up to the people to decide what is best for them. I have been careless with this one myself and will improve on it too.
That concludes the list of etiquettes. There is a wealth of academic material out there looking into ethical conduct on social networks. That an action on a social network should be considered acceptable or not is always open to much debate and can heavily depend on cultural, religious, moral and ethical values.
As such, in writing this article I do not seek to create a binding law; rather I wish to list suggestions that, if followed, can enhance your social experience not only on Google+ but also on other social networks. Proper social conduct on Google+ can shape this network as an e-society built on tolerance and understanding.
But as they say, no one-size-fits-all when it comes to social interactions. Therefore, I encourage all of you to take these points of etiquette with a grain of salt and apply them as you deem fit!
Finally, I would like to point out that I based this article on a public g+ survey I carried out yesterday: bit.ly/gp_etiquettesurvey. I thank all the participants there for taking out the time to respond with thoughtful and lengthy answers. I have done my best to cover all the points you raised.
Thank you for reading through.