The Importance of Social Courtesy In Publishing A Blog

When you publish a magazine online, you deal with the public, right? So how is it that more than a few online publications don’t have the courtesy to respond? Isn’t being social what social networking is all about? We’ll check out some benefits and best practices of being courteous and mannerly when you publish a blog.

It’s Called “Social” for a reason

Every blog worth it’s salt has a twitterfeed or facebook feed where they post links, share content, keep in touch and probably most importantly drive traffic (we’re being candid here). It’s kind of amusing when you see the same article twittered and tweeted so many times, but even this can be explained in the context of social: You have a design blog, people read it because they like it, they follow you on Twitter because they like it, and some don’t subscribe to the other blogs so the information you tweet is new to them. This is good; you find cool information, and you share it. It’s what Twitter is all about… and social networking itself, really.

There is a balance, though. If you see something cool posted on Smashing Magazine, chances are everybody’s already read it, seen it tweeted, seen it retweeted. The chances are pretty dang good, in fact.

Courtesy #1: Don’t Flood Your Followers’ timelines with very popular, common items unless you have a witty, pithy something to add.

When People Retweet You, Thank Them.

I learned this from Terri Nakamura — who is very respected and well liked on Twitter. When you retweet something from Terri, she thanks you, even if it’s your handle in a list of other Twitterers who RT’d the same link, you still get recognized and thanked. It shows appreciation. Occasionally, magically, you’ll attract RT bots. Do you have to thank them every time? No. They aren’t human they’re simply grabbing your link and broadcasting it. Maybe you catch up and thank everyone twice a week, but make sure you do it within a day or two at most.

And it’s okay if you thank several twitterers at once; you don’t have to shout out each one personally. Shouting a big “thanks!” to a few at a time is accepted and perfectly polite. Otherwise, you might risk falling victim to Courtesy #1 (above).

Courtesy #2: Shout out and thank the ones who retweet your links, especially if they’ve added a comment of their own.

Address Criticisms Quickly & Try To Understand

A while back I made a simple, late-night tweet about a writer whose tone I personally didn’t like. Now, I didn’t at all get nasty or personal (not my style) I simply stated I didn’t care for the tone of writing. You may have heard of this chap: Anil Dash. Although I hadn’t attached any hashtag or @ to my tweet (ergo, he had to search Twitter for occurrences of his name) he responded within a couple hours in a friendly way and acknowledged my thought and expressed his concern. It was personal, it was friendly, and it was very professional. While I still don’t care for his tone of writing, I nonetheless have a much higher regard for Anil and what he has to say about a given topic (and as a result of his response, you are now reading about how professionally he takes his writing). This is the type of “good press” you can’t buy. If you find someone has a gripe with the way you do things, go to him or her personally and try to resolve it or at least smooth it over.

Now, I qualify that: You can tell if someone has a legitimate concern or if they’re just flaming, so make your response appropriately.

Courtesy #3: Acknowledge criticism and complaints, publicly if you have to, and resolve them in a friendly, personal manner.

There’s a minor point here about searching Twitter for your name or for Twitter handle, which we’ll discuss a bit later. Well, right now in fact…

Search Periodically for Your Name or Blog Title

This might seem very minor, but in keeping with our “be polite and say thank you” mantra, it’s fitting to mention this.

Every so often, do a search for occurrences of your Twitter handle or blog name. You’ll be surprised at how many you turn up. My blog isn’t that popular at all and it surprises me at times. In this way, you keep on top of the whole social thing and have a better grasp for how well read your blog is.
This is especially the case in resolving the criticisms that otherwise go undetected. Anil wouldn’t have known my criticism if he hadn’t searched. You likewise could miss an opportunity to keep a reader happy and get some good press.

Courtesy #4: Search out & acknowledge tweets from those who don’t shout you out directly.

Encourages Input About Design, Errors & New Features

Being up on the social (read: being friendly and interactive) can really help out when it comes to successfully implementing a new look, a new feature or subsection, and encouraging feedback about bugs with your site.

Experience: Two weeks ago — no, seriously, two weeks ago — I sent off a friendly tweet to the publisher of a very well respected and established design blog (not Creative Overflow) informing him of a glitch I found with his index page but only the logo and primary navigation loaded; no content, at all. I was able to duplicate this major problem consistently. Being as he has recently redesigned the blog, I thought he’d like to know. I took a screen grab, shortened the URL, and tweeted to him the image along with my system stats so he could troubleshoot. The problem was fixed within half an hour, and… and I never got a word back. This is more than simply not being polite, it’s downright rude. In the meantime, given the redesign, I’ve noticed other issues (significantly less significant, at best) with his website, but have no compunction to tell him.

Contrast this to Brian Hoff at The Design Cubicle. I caught a slight bug (to me, at least) and he responded, friendly, and took note of the problem. It was fixed a while later. Again, by being polite and friendly we as publishers maintain a social equilibrium with our readers. We publish what they like, but without feedback we can lose track of where to go and what to do next, let alone when we encounter bugs and problems that our readers can alert us to quickly.

Courtesy #5: DO especially take time to consider reports of bugs and errors from your readers.

Being Social Builds Community & Encourages Followers

Being polite and interactive with your readers also gets them involved in the site itself. It let’s them feel like they’re a part of it — and they are, if you let them.

In case you hadn’t noticed, more followers means more traffic to your publication (we’re being candid, again). More happy readers who share means more traffic to your publication. All this could be nullified by forgoing common courtesies as you continue publishing. By being socially involved, talking back with readers, and affording everyone the same politeness you encourage your readers to be supportive, willing to help promote, and more likely to comment and add interest to an article. This can all be just about flushed if you don’t build rapport and community with your readers.

Courtesy #6: Don’t hesitate to be social and outgoing with your readers. If they posted a tweet or a comment you like, get involved.

You Get Back What You Give Out — We’re Talking Karma

And I don’t mean Karma in the weird, esoteric, fuzzy sense. You truly do attract more people if you’re more polite and courteous. Kind of like a Pay It Forward type of thing, if you’re outgoing and friendly to others, it comes back to you in the form of politeness, link-ability, and buzz. Even if nothing comes of it, you feel better about what you do and this has a direct influence on the things you publish and the way you run your blog. It allows you to take the high road, so to speak, and affords your readers respect and appreciation.

This doesn’t mean you have to chant a weird mantra and light up the incense before you respond; just be polite about how you run the everyday stuff. It’s kind of like keeping the phones lines clear or keeping the ice off a two way street. The street is still there, but it’s easier to pass and more likely to have traffic.

Courtesy #7: Even if you’re busy, or it’s a minor complaint, afford your readers dignity and contribute to overall good energy in the design blog business (is it a business…?).

The Basics Are Basic for a Reason

Any benefit you receive as the result of being polite, friendly and courteous is a perk of how you, personally, are contributing to a society & education in an positive up building way.

Most importantly, doing these things — just being polite — is the right thing to do. It’s a basic courtesy that, sadly, can set you apart in the world.

Derek has been passionate for design since childhood and more recently has designed & developed for international projects, as well as written about social ethics and design for several digital magazines. He lives in New York with his family, two cats, vintage Italian espresso maker. You should follow him on Twitter & read his blog, ThisIsInspired Magazine.