I’ve heard several conversations lately about the wisdom of avoiding inflammatory topics, politics, religion and other subjects that might offend current or prospective customers. I agree completely with those who warn that inflammatory and controversial posts can be bad for business. To avoid this, some advocate separating business and personal accounts, or abstaining completely from topics on which people disagree.
This can lead to a different sort of risk — that of ceasing to be real people. If all we post is stuff to promote our business, our church or whatever, we become wooden and lifeless. We fall back into the mistake many made from the earliest days of Twitter — never showing up except to post something promotional.
In the old days, it was equated to walking into a Chamber of Commerce mixer, throwing a stack of business cards in the air, and walking out without stopping to say hello.
So where do we find the balance between turning our feeds into lifeless bulletin boards and spewing stuff that drives people away? I suggest that rather than just laying down warnings and lists of forbidden topics, we shift the focus to traits that are attractive to people who might want to know you, hang out with and (yes) do business with you.
I don’t have to tell you what good manners are. If your parents didn’t teach you, it’s unlikely you’ll learn anything from me. (Besides which, my own etiquette is a work in progress; I’m not always a great example.) George Washington compiled a wonderful and entertaining list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” Many are dated and humorous now (“Spit not into the fire” comes to mind). But I offer two as being useful. His first is a virtual Golden Rule of civility: “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”
No. 70 also seems like a good idea to me: “Reprehend not the imperfections of others for that belongs to Parents Masters and Superiors.”
Intelligence and creativity
Most people will will accept views they don’t share, especially if you have your own reasons, express your own thoughts, and can engage with respect, humility and humor. (That pretty much rules out grabbing memes from your favorite partisan site and dumping them into everybody’s feed.) Instead, throw a different light on a topic. Teach me something. Make me think. But be careful. If I catch you passing on misleading memes or “facts” that turn out to be fiction, your reputation takes a major hit with me. As mine should with you.
Even so, let’s not spend every moment on controversial matters. Tell me about a place you visited and learned something. Show me something you’ve made or cooked. Brag on your kids. Tell me what you thought of the new Star Wars movie, or what novel you’re enjoying. I can’t imagine anyone taking offense at any of that, and it’s nice to know you have a life.
One overlooked way we diminish our “personal brand” (a term I hate, but one I’m forced to use now and then) is by coming across as somebody eager to waste time. If you have time to do every little quiz and viral fad, or if you have time to stalk and “like” everything I post, I may assume you don’t have enough to do, so I may not take you as seriously as you’d like.
Finally, here’s one that’s more difficult to get a handle on. People respect people who think for themselves, and who do interesting things. Among folks who commonly show up in my conversations, I especially enjoy Isaac Pigott’s passion for poking holes in misleading memes without losing his sense of humor. Or Ryan George’s stories about his parking team. Or Rachel Lindley’s twins. Or Vickie Wooten Franks’s culinary adventures. I, in turn, am always up for good conversation about woodworking, homebrewing or baseball, and those interests have led to some great relationships.
What does all this add up to?
So here’s where I come down. There’s no point pretending we all have the same opinions, love the same athletic teams, worship the same way or vote for the same party. Besides, where’s the fun in that?
In other words, let’s find the middle ground. Let’s do on social media what most of us do in real life. Say howdy, make good conversation, help each other out when we need it, maybe even clown around a bit. We know how to do that, and how to be polite. We also know what’s crude or offensive. If we just bring that common sense to the keyboard, I imagine we’ll be ok.