Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Online Networking 101: Don't be rude to your market

As many who read this blog know, I'm a pretty avid online networker. I blog, participate in forum and list discussions, and I'm a fair regular on a number of different sites. Have been since I started the zen kitchen back in 2005.

In any networking situation, there's a certain etiquette involved in meeting people and getting them interested enough to keep talking to you. There are also certain ways you can immediately turn people off - I'm sure you've met people who do this, online or off. The only difference between online and in-person etiquette is the structure that things take; in the online world, changes in tone normally suggested in conversation by a change of voice or use of hands isn't available, so users have come up with all sorts of tricks to hint at changes of tone, or emphasis.

Today, I came across an article on Biznik that utilizes two of the most common forms of online emphasis: TEXT IN ALL CAPS and *asterisked* text. Now mind you, the article makes great points. Many websites do focus too much on "me" instead of "you." The use of these online tools of emphasis to bring the point home (although asterisked text is one of my *biggest* online pet peeves) isn't an online sin in and of itself.

In my mind, the issue here is an issue of tone. The tone of the article is already pretty derogatory towards the very people the author is trying to target (he even includes a warning that he fully expects to get hate mail as a result of this article), but when you add the double-punch of asterisked text and all caps being completely overused throughout the article, the whole thing comes across as, well, trying too hard to be controversial and not hard enough to offer something genuinely helpful to the reader.

When these tools are used once or twice in a piece, it can provide needed emphasis; when it's used in this way, it's the online equivalent of getting in someone's face and screaming at them about how stupid they are, veins popping and breath reeking of bad networking event coffee. It's not respecting your audience enough to believe they can *get* what you're writing.

This, of course, is just my take. What are your thoughts?


Chris said...

Hey Dani,

Glad to see I inspired a blog post.

A couple of quick comments/explanations etc:

1. I originally wrote this article to be sent out in my plain text newsletter. Since I can't use bold or italics or anything like that in that form I use asterisks, capitalization and other little tricks to make different parts stand out and to make the whole thing easier to read.

2. I'm not sure what you mean as far as a derogatory tone is concerned. Certainly that article is meant to be a bit ballsy and caustic, but I really have nothing but love for the solopreneurs it was aimed at. If it flipped a switch in your head a little too hard, well, these things happen.

3. If I had written a "nice" article on the same topic without asterisks, capitalization, rollicking sentence structure and all that, just about nobody would have read it. If I want to get valuable ideas into peoples' heads, sometimes you have to be a bit rough.

Oh, and it's good to see Watertown represented on Biznik. I grew up in Grafton (outside Worcester) and went to school at BU.

communicatrix said...

I've read an article or two of Chris' before and I think his tone is his tone is his tone. Personally, I have no issue with it; in a lot of ways, I think it's fairly smart. In addition to reinforcing his brand, he's weeding out his non-fans from his fans. Those who aren't into outrageous won't hire him, and their talking smack about him just brings him publicity.

Plus, what he's saying is sound.

That said, I've always thought extensive use of bolding, italicizing, etc. to be the lazy man's way of signaling tone and creating emphasis. If you're a good enough writer, you shouldn't need much of it, just like if you're a good enough cook, you don't have to salt the crap out of everything.

There are examples of heavy bolding or capping being a stylistic thing, though. Louise Fitzhugh used caps EXTENSIVELY, as did what's-her-face who wrote _Eloise_ (gawd...talk about lazy--I can't go to wikipedia?) KAY THOMAS!!! There. I remembered.

John Hodgman and Heather Armstrong both use a lot of caps, too. And they're both excellent writers. Even still, it gets old. _To me_.

Chris said...

Hey Communicatrix,

That's an awesome name =-)

And you've hit it right on the head as far as why I write these things the way I do.

I've actually got a whole other article I've been meaning to write on that very topic titled "If you're not offending someone, you're doing it wrong."

And I'll bet you can already tell what that one's going to be about.

As far as the whole *HOW DO YOU PUT EMPHASIS ON THINGS* issue, I'm not sure I have much to say on the topic.

I put *stress* on things the way that I do because . . .

It Works

And because it makes it easier for folks to scan through my articles or emails and get the content they need.

People are *lazy.*

And they don't like reading.

So you have to make it simple for them to do so.


Dani Nordin said...

@communicatrix re: the "lazy man's way" - this is part of my point. I have no issue with being caustic or ballsy; hell, I'm ballsy enough as it is. I just think that the points are valid enough, and the style is valid enough, in Chris's article, to not need to rely so heavily on stylistic tricks to get his points across.

@chris: Thanks for responding so quickly after my post! To be clear, in no way was I saying that I thought you should write a "nice" article; far from it, in fact. And I'm glad to see, shortly after my post, that you changed much of the asterisked text to bold. That said, as I mentioned to Communicatrix, I think it's more than possible, as a good writer, to be ballsy and caustic without relying on tricks that jar the reader. That said, I'm more than fine just agreeing to disagree.

Behzad said...

Hi Dani, What does it mean when someone does not respond back to a message I send them? Does it mean they are not interested to share the knowledge?

Dani Nordin said...


Not necessarily. People forget to respond to messages for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they're very busy right now, or they thought that the conversation was over, so they didn't feel the need to follow up. In some cases, you also might be sending to an account that doesn't get checked often.

I'd say if you send them a second e-mail and they still don't respond, then give up. Otherwise, I wouldn't make too much of it.