Here are some tips on appropriate small talk tactics for your social networks.
1. Establish a purpose before you post and proliferate. Are you just announcing something or are you open to a dialogue? If you want to let people know you’re taking an exotic vacation, it’s better to engage your network. Try, “Just booked a ticket to India. Anyone have hotel or restaurant recommendations?” Or if your company is hiring, try, “Looking for a seasoned advertising, taking recommendations.”
2. Don’t over share. TMI (too much information) on the WWW is tasteless. When you share too much, people stop asking questions and it’s as if you’re simply looking for a reaction rather than a discourse. For example, I just had someone close to me announce on her profile that she was awaiting medical test results. This immediately troubled me. What was she being tested for? Was it serious? I had no knowledge of her suffering from any sort of illness and we talk frequently. As the comments began to accumulate on her page, I think many people who know her well must have been thinking similarly. Why was she so comfortable sharing her medical status with the web world, and yet reluctant to personally discuss it directly with people close to her? An Internet interaction, with the same depth as a face-to-face conversation, should be the goal.
3. Apply normal small talk rules. Primarily, avoid controversial topics (politics, religion, etc.) in such a diverse and public forum. Unless, of course, you are willing to experience feedback and varied responses. I see people all the time who state strong opinions about the latest political happenings and aren’t open to having a digital discourse about it. I had a friend who was asked to join a Facebook group that criticized a politician. The person who asked my friend to join the politician-bashing group had no knowledge of her political affiliation. Was this person attempting to start up a dialogue or just spread his political preference? This seems like a rather inappropriate approach for making small talk online. Rather than attempting to discuss politics, he was pushing an agenda. Such impersonal behavior isn’t going to engage online friends or further the art of conversation. If you feel compelled to stir up your social network, try posing a question, like, “What does everyone think about the new healthcare initiative?” Your neutral headline will be less controversial and his will keep you within the boundaries of electronic etiquette.
4. Let people know about major, not minor, events in your life. Events like getting a new house, a marriage proposal, a college acceptance, a job promotion, the birth of a child, etc. are fine to share with the cyber community. However, it’s advisable to let those closest to you know more personally so they don’t find out the same way as someone you haven’t spoken to in three years. Ordinary happenings like the contents of your lunch, how bad your cold is, your favorite sports team loosing a game, or whatever mundane activity you’re currently doing are usually not worthy of sharing with your social network society.
5. Don’t be so self-important. It’s fine to promote an accomplishment like getting an article published or a product you support, but keep sponsorships to a minimum. I have a “friend” who works for a major sporting good company. Every day he promotes his company’s products, flooding my Facebook and Twitter pages. Ad nauseam. The lesson: self-endorsement can come across as self-indulgent.
Internet communities allow you to easily and effortlessly notify your entire online network about anything you want – from as significant as a wedding to as minimal as what you’re eating for dinner. So it’s important to consider your desired end result. It really shouldn’t be a one-way exchange. The main purpose of a social network is to network! So, next time you to go to publish a status update or tweet, or join an online group, think about what you’re contributing to your cyber-society. Ultimately, you should be looking to communicate, not just be heard.
Debra Fine is the author of "The Fine Art of the Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations, and Solve Conflicts at Work." (Hyperion). Visit her online at www.debrafine.com.