“He who burns his bridges better be a damn good swimmer”
DaVinciDeb: Growing up on a farm in North Dakota, there were two things I could count on. One was my sturdy bike, the other was my friend Avis and her occasional challenges to play chicken. I didn’t shy from these challenges. Debbi the kamikaze bike rider was also Debbi the wild kitten tamer.
Eventually, I became “Debbi who never gives an inch.” Living by a code of never yielding, of course, has its price. I still have scars! Not surprisingly, I was a mass of torn and battered flesh from my knees up to my blond locks. Avis was similarly a walking collection of bruises and lacerations. I can still see myself pedaling toward certain pain, pain less important than the sting of bruised pride.
As I got older, my enthusiasm for chicken waned. I obtained this concern for feelings of others. Maturity brought with it caution, and an annoying instinct for self-preservation. Confrontation was not all it was cracked up to be. Of course, I understood that some confrontation cannot be avoided. Belonging to a small community, I knew eventually there was a bridge that would be burned.
Twitter is not Mayberry, RFD, though. Floyd the barber can walk down the street and apologize to Andy for some clumsy comment about the sheriff’s girlfriend’s never changing hairstyle. You won’t have that kind of opportunity on Twitter. You may not always get the chance to meet a person face to face that you meet online, but they are closer than you think. Tom and I have had the pleasure of meeting many people from the online Twitter community.
Exchanging written messages can be tricky, and Twitter is no exception. When you talk to someone in person, you can see their expression. You can sense things like the room suddenly becoming icy cold. But written communication affords no such clues. And language is imprecise. You are bound to write something that can easily be misinterpreted. Many a professional writer has turned a phrase with unintended sharp edges. So, why hazard more trouble? Here are classic blunders (not all mine):
1. Sooner or later you will be removed as a follower. Even worse, you will be blocked. Trust me on this: a slap in the face with a bicycle handlebar is not as bad. If you are tempted to block someone, consider this move carefully. If you started to follow someone then changed your mind, just unfollow them, don’t block them indiscriminately. Blocking is the online equivalent of a court sanctioned restraining order.
I recently discovered a person I was about to send an invitation to speak at one of our events had blocked me. The nerve! This was a complete ambush because I didn’t have a clue this guy was annoyed over something. What could be the problem, I wondered? Thus the problem: When you are blocked without warning you are left to draw your own conclusions on what happened. So, now I’m left wondering if I somehow was an oaf, or if his wife is the overly jealous type. Maybe he has become a recluse… Maybe he owes me money or maybe he’s become an international jewel thief.
2. There are things that are said that are not fit for public consumption. You know the kind of stuff that you can let fly: bragging to people on Twitter that you did indeed inhale. If you are looking for a job, and your prospective employer sees something like that, it could cost you the job. The same with using poorly chosen language that you wouldn’t dare use in front of your mother, unless you want your mouth washed out with soap. Trashing your boss, coworkers or friends on Twitter is another way to burn a bridge since you are more than likely going to be found out at some time. You would be amazed at what shows up on a Google search.
3. Critical thoughts: see No. 2. If you have something to say to someone that should be said to only that person, direct message them. Ridiculing or criticizing someone in public has a curious way of backfiring. The victim usually garners sympathy. And, you can find yourself cut off socially. A profanity laced tirade or a vicious tongue lashing works counter to building any kind of relationships.
4. If your world view is “it’s all about me” that’s going to be a problem. Relentlessly promoting your business and telling people they have to come to your event is uncool. Read my paper, read my blog post, buy my product…..Remember the tip when dating: desperation is a turnoff. It’s about respect, too. The social etiquette of Twitter favors understated self-promotion. A post or two made eight hours apart to market your event, paper, product or blog is fine but then give it a rest.
5. Give and take. Engage others in conversation. Retweet other peoples’ events, posts and blogs. If you are producing events, invite your following to suggest an event. In the parlance of cyber talk, it is totally okay to let others know you are taking the kids out for an ice cream cone. Followers see a part of you. Mix this with an occasional substantive tweet.
6. Big faux pas: direct messages with advertisements. Known as spam, this practice drives people away in droves. I believe this is the quickest route to being blocked. To me spam is spam, whether you are typing it or eating that stuff that comes out of a can. (If you have ever had canned Spam, you won’t be surprised when I say I would rather have all 10 toenails removed with pliers than eat that wannabe meat).
7. Excessive ranting burns bridges. By the same token, boasting is hazardous, too. Everyone is entitled, but crowing about your favorite politician winning is obnoxious, and can result in losing your following. If celebrities can’t get away with it, what makes you think you can? How about the time when James Cameron crowed he was “king of the world” after collecting an armload of Oscars for the Titantic? Not cute, some would say later. Think about it. The Broncos are down by at least four touchdowns in the worst Superbowl blowout ever, and someone in your living room is dancing and razzing the “donkos.” At least in that circumstance, you can spill guacamole in their lap. In the virtual world, we don’t have custard pies to throw – yet.
8. Golden rule: Be courteous. What works in the service business works in Twitter.
By the way, Avis and I remained friends and we still laugh about our youthful homicidal – or maybe suicidal – tendencies.
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