Manners are everything.

Recently, I've been thinking about conversation and the best ways to have it online. I am hardly the world's greatest advocate for for reasoned discussion. I am particularly good at taking a strong position and working to defend it. I know, however, that my favorite approach is only useful in limited circumstances. More often, reasoned conversation is the way to effective communication.

It's really hard to do that online. The competitive struggle for attention favors assertive stances. You get more attention if you sound really sure of yourself. It's hard to maintain a posture of "I sort of wonder if this might be true." It often gets you insulted or ignored, rarely respected.

So, the airwaves get dominated by personalities who are always on broadcast and only a little on receive. It's good for big puffy egos and really bad for community. The celebrity of the moment tends to have little ears and high output.

With a couple of recent dust-ups and a broad influx of new members, it's a good time to think about what makes for effective online community and conversation. (I've covered this issue elsewhere recently.)

I was talking with Jason Davis about this question this morning. We talked about the most important things for developing a sense of community. I walked away from the conversation and came up with these notions:

  • Remember that those words and letters on your computer screen are a person.
    This is really easy to forget. In the heat of the moment, alone with your thoughts and reactions, it's hard to recall that the text you are mad about is another living, breathing human with feelings. It's easy to say harsh things that are hurtful. Try not to do it.
  • Understand the person who is receiving your message.
    You know what happens when you confront a liar with his lies, right? He always denies them. Always. Many responses to your online postings are that easy to predict. If you are going to draw fire for what you say, be sure you know why you are doing it. If your writing is obviously hurtful, write it but don't publish it.
  • Use the right function for the message. has blogs and forums. If you want a conversation, use the forums. If you want to confront, to post a commercial message, to have a one sided dialog, to preach, use the blogs. Free speech is important at Manners dictate the appropriate forum.
  • The Forum is for Conversation
    This is where the community gets to know you. We work together and collaborate here. It is a place for talking and moving toward shared opinion. Celebrate and incorporate diverse views. It makes for richer conversation.
  • Your Blog Is Your Own Personal Kitty Litter Box.
    Okay, that's harsh. The idea is that this is your own personal theater in which you can yell "Fire" if you want to. If the forum is the living room, the blog is your office.
  • Use Email
    Not everything needs to be available to everybody. Finding the balance between public and private is part of learning how to adopt to your new home on
  • Find Ways to Meet Other Community Members Face 2 Face
    It's amazing what happens when you can remember a good laugh, a great story or the general tenor of your last conversation with someone you know mostly online. Part of the point of the Recruiting Roadshow project is that online community depends on physical community.
  • Always Reject Intolerance
    Respond quickly and strongly to mass generalizations about groups of people. Remember that this is a public place and our behavior reflects on our profession. It's a bad idea to give the world the impression that we think discrimination is okay, that bullying is acceptable or that shirking responsibility and whining should be tolerated.
  • Be slow to judge, quick to forgive
    Until you've been on the receiving end of harsh online criticism, you can't understand how awful it feels. People make mistakes and good community is all about incorporating it it while encouraging even more risk taking.
  • Be Positive. Encourage People To Participate. Praise heavily.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that I've gotten some things wrong and missed others. I'd really appreciate your help fleshing out this list and making it better.

(Here's a little known, very useful guide to building online community. Scan it. It's an easy, quick, value-laden read. It's by John Coate who was the director of community experience at the WeLL. I reread it - and let it influence me - as I pulled this piece together.)

John Sumser is the CEO and founder of the Recruiting Roadshow. To see more of his work, check out

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Replies to This Discussion

Hey J. WIlliam Tincup = what does your company do? I think you might be someone I should talk to but can't really tell.....
@Gene Leshinsky "Techruiter"

Gene you raise some very valid points and highlight another: To your observation: "Someone else was called a racist… " illustrates how one reads what one wants to read even when what is being said is nothing of the sort, and how things taken out of context can perpetuate erroneous thinking over accurate reporting.

A lesson for both the reader and the writer perhaps.

@Martin Snyder

To your point: "...that manners are situational and individual" I respectfully disagree. Manners are something you have in every instance and interaction or the semblance of manners is just that, all show.

Mother taught me, "Manners maketh the man." What say you?
Thanks for the clear voice and thoughtful invitation to respectful mores for our digital community
The link back to Coate's writing was a great referral to sound thinking from a previous century, altho only a blink in the digital buddah's life
Very glad to read this post - I am new to RBC and in exploring the Forums I was, though rallied by the passion - concerned about the "netiquette". I appreciate seeing the leaders in this community gently guide us in the right direction.
Nicely done.
John.. great piece. And.. that's all I wanted to chime in with.

However, I'd like comment regarding Josh L.'s comment. I respect Josh. However, I'm inclined to say that sometimes.. I just want to let others know that I could not have said something any better than they have. And, maybe my one liner let's the author feel appreciated by one liner.

One last bit...

There are times when I notice a not so regular face come out with a quick one liner to show their approval. I can't help but think that those folks (at least some of them) may have really stretched to overcome their "stage fright" just to make that simple post.

Though I can see how the one liners can be irritating because of the increase in system messages we receive... I'm of the opinion that the benefits of broader participation out-way our inconvenience... in the grander scope of the community.
Jim - one line.
I agree.
John, I tried to make this the front page for last night but it did not seem to work. I wanted everyone to see it
Hi John Sumser.,

It's really a stupendous article. As the old saying goes., once you spill the words, you can't take it back.

Think Twice "Before you spill the words".

I think this article is in related to somebody who has written as 'Indians are Racists' I understand the frustration of the recruiter who commented in the forum, due to the fact that most of them spam their Available Consultants & Req. list., but he shouldn't have used these words. Can he do the same thing with other Race people., No - Why?. he will be in big trouble. We Indians are basically have the attitude of "forget & forgive."

I think now the thread is taken off.

My .02 solution for this problem is Jason can send an e-mail to everybody about the rules of RBC., like if anybody spams especially in the forum they will be suspended for 6 months.

Last but not the least, I like this so much.

"If the forum is the living room, the blog is your office. "

Thanks everybody.

Karen, the author of the post asked me to remove the post. he could have done so as well. anyone who writes something here has the ability to remove it. I'm sorry I had to hang up on you last saturday when you called me and would not stop talking.

I don’t have time for a lengthy post today or to become mired in a circular debate. However you make some points which are worth taking a minute or two to reply to:

>> Gopi, you mentioned a post that no longer exists and say that the individuals said that all Indians were racist - forgive me, but I read that post, and dont' remember the author implying or saying that anywhere in his post!

Karen, the point that Gopi is making is that the post he heard about was offensive. It was. I suspect he may be confusing a post that the author voluntarily took down and my remarks [vis-à-vis “racist”] in reply to Gene Leshinsky who is referencing this post and subsequent thread: Claudia's Wednesday Wisdom: The Case of the Disappearing Hiring Man...

>> Which brings me to a problem with that post being removed in the first place

The author voluntarily removed the post because he must have realized that rather than it being in the slightest bit amusing, blatantly racists comments are crass, stupid and offensive. To suggest “we’re being overrun by Indians” is no exception, whatever the intent was.

>> That post may have appeared disagreeable from the onset to some, and to some it defined what many individuals have felt for a long time in frustration.

I refer you the video that I posted on Wednesday’s thread and strongly encourage you to read up on Enoch Powell. He too articulated what everyone “felt for a long time in frustration” and to cut a long story short, ended up in the wilderness.

Not only was Enoch Powell wrong about the diversity of community being a threat to the established order, his definition of “everyone” [as in the white man] excluded “everyone else.” That aside, assume for a moment that the poster was expressing a point of view that “everyone” shared. I for one flatly reject it!

If one has an issue the way that certain people conduct themselves and then assign that negative behavior to those people as a race, that person is a racist. If they – or you for that matter – have an issue with the way people are conducting themselves on the site let’s identify the behavior as the problem not the fact that it might appear to be a trait among one class, race, creed or whatever.

>> So, if it had been handled well by the moderator

It was handled perfectly. The post was taken down because that was the right thing to do. Communities are always better when they police themselves. Jason was absolutely correct in not taking the post down and I supported him 100% in that decision. The poster took the post down -- not under protest -- but voluntarily.

>> Maybe it is just me, but, I am not as agreeable with your words John.

I think you may have hit the nail on the head. There’s nothing wrong with being a contrarian, nothing at all. Without a thesis, antithesis, synthesis and constant reexamination we miss out on the dialectics of a thing.

But to be controversial for the sake of it can easily grate on the nerves of those who desire the open and frank "free speech" you want to defend but which controversy, for the sake of it, too often stifles

To close, whether you agree with John or not, the consensus here is that the forum is a place for one type of discussion and your blog the appropriate platform for another.

Respectfully, you should express your controversial and antagonistic views on your blog where the response you’ll get from me will not be tempered by the polite conversation we’re trying to have here, setting the tone for the community at large.

>> Taking an Educational Approach to Speech is the best way to “manage” an online community. It is through removing dangerous perceptions, and by asking.. as it is through asking that we find answers.

Karen, it’s much more than that which is why in this instance you are way off mark. I suggest you reread each of John’s points and view them as a whole. I believe that is what John intended rather than
Karen, if being misconstrued and misquoted is what you've come to expect from your posting online have you considered the virtue of not saying anything?

Rather than participate in the suffocation of an otherwise fantastic post, and your unfortunate victimization, you can have the last word, Karen...



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