Anyone who has used Google+ for more than a few hours has, no doubt, discovered a very high level of engagement. Users are sharing great content and are eager to share opinions on just about any topic, and there are many ways to share and connect. One can share, re-share, comment, +1, tag others, and even comment on comments and re-share re-shares. How, then, does one effectively participate? Are there established rules of etiquette for all of this communication?
The short answer is no. What follows is not intended to read like rules. It is simply a collection of my opinions based on what I’ve learned over more than twenty years communicating with others online. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but please be nice.
This guest post was written by Bill Soistman. Bill is a programmer, educator, and trouble maker who has been sharing his opinions online since 1995.
He has more than twenty-five years experience solving real world problems and turning ideas into websites, mobile applications, and actionable strategies. He lives in Delaware with his lovely wife and two brilliant children. He cares far too much about baseball and blogs about faith, family, freedom, and fun. He currently spends a lot of time hanging out on Google+.
Sharing “Your” Content
If you have something original to share, share it. If you discovered something great online, share it. Sounds easy, right? So, what about the noise? With whom should one share and how often? I can’t answer those questions. I have a much better handle on what to do with content posted by others, but the same standard should apply to original content. That standard is added value. In the end, quality should always win out over quantity.
Comments should be reserved for real commentary, but the value of a comment is relative to the nature, tone, and intended audience of the post. A well thought out opinion on an important social issue is much more valuable when followed by carefully articulated consenting and dissenting opinions.
A thousand comments of mere agreement or raging hate do not add real value to the discussion. A political rant shared with a circle of like-minded people, on the other hand, may warrant a barrage of comments reading “amen” or “you go girl!” Same goes for the pic you buddy posts of his world record waterski jump or new Lamborghini, and your friends posts about graduations, promotions, engagements, anniversaries, births, etc. Go ahead and say “Congratulations!”
What About +1?
Giving a post a +1 may be preferred to posting a very short comment simply to express agreement, disagreement, or amusement.
I tend to draw the line based on the nature of my relationship with the author of the post. If that water ski jump record was set by a close personal friend, I will +1 but I am more inclined to also add a comment. A casual acquaintance of mine posts the same thing and I will +1 and leave my commentary out of it, even though I am just as impressed. On the other hand, if a complete stranger is proud of his accomplishment and I have reason to believe that he cares about my two cents, I’ll comment. It all comes down to added value to others. If I find I’m commenting for my own benefit, I probably shouldn’t.
Another way to participate in the discussion is to re-share content posted by others. This is widely regarded as a favorite feature by users because it spreads content to new circles and invites others to participate in the discussion. The benefits seem obvious, but there are questions to consider before indiscriminately re-sharing everything.
In my experience, re-sharing is the biggest contributor of noise. Some in my circles have proposed an arbitrary limit to the number of re-shares as a solution to the added noise. If you see something in your stream five or more times, for example, perhaps it is best not to share it again. I disagree. I think Google could mitigate the noise with an option to hide redundant posts (though I haven’t thought of solutions to the open questions this raises). I think the consideration, once again, is one of adding value for my friends. If I have something to add to the discussion or a qualifying remark, then I’ll re-share. Otherwise, +1 is the way to go. Simply hitting the share button because I like something is not, in my opinion, the best approach.
One must also consider fragmentation before re-sharing. Inviting others to participate in a discussion is great, but if the new comments are posted on the re-shared thread, the discussion is now fragmented. Sometimes that’s fine. Re-sharing is an excellent way to take the discussion in a different direction, but what about cases where fragmentation distracts? Should there be some protocol for requesting comments be added to the original post? Should Google implement some method of comment aggregation (or have they already done so)? The best course of action, for now, is to simply consider these questions before re-sharing and act accordingly.
Finally, privacy is at issue here. If something was shared publicly, it stands to reason that it is open for re-sharing, but one should think carefully about re-sharing something that was shared in a limited context. One of the favorite features among users is the ability to selectively share content with others by using circles, but that value may be diminished when posts are re-shared. There are restrictions and polite reminders in place for re-sharing non-public content and I think Google is working on more in this regard, but the best approach is careful consideration before you re-share.
Re-Sharing Re-Shared Posts
When one re-shares content that was re-shared already, the new post will look as though it were re-shared from the original post. This takes care of proper attribution for the original author, but does the re-sharer deserve some credit? Some users have begun to add something similar to the “hat tip” or “via so and so” that many bloggers use when they comment on news stories and such. I tend to think this is the best approach for now and may be one of the better ways to use tagging.
Where Does It End?
What should one do about commenting on something that was re-shared? Is one obligated to comment on the original post? Is it appropriate to leave a “thanks for sharing” comment on the re-share, or does that add too much noise? When is it appropriate to tag someone by name? Is it necessary to return the favor when one is tagged by someone else? Is it always inappropriate to tag those who are popular simply to get the attention of the attention getters? What about the etiquette of adding people to circles? If I create a circle for the express purpose of avoiding people while leading them to believe I am “following” them, does that make me a bad person?
Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or should not participate. When I first started using Twitter in 2006 there were a lot of opinions, including mine, about the wrong way to use it. Many of those opinions, including some of mine, lost in the free marketplace of ideas. Like other communities before it, Google+ will evolve based on the behavior of users. We should all stop to think about how our behavior changes the experience for others, and we should, in my opinion, adjust our behavior for the benefit of the community.