Community Building by Emily Post

Emily Post was ahead of her time. If she were alive today, she would be one of the most sought after social media consultants, not necessarily because of her computer savvy, but because of her social etiquette. For those who aren't familiar with EmilyPost. she wrote the book, "Etiquette" in 1922 where she outlined best practices surrounding social conduct.

In her opening chapter, Post wrote about a "Best Society", which is defined as "an unlimited brotherhood which spreads over the entire surface of the globe, the members of which are invariably people of cultivation and worldly knowledge, who have not only perfect manners, but a perfect manner." I would argue that we could use this same description to characterize the ideal Internet - a community of individuals who come together, seeking to share ideas and interact in a civilized manner.

According to Post, "Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it seek to exclude those who are not of exalted birth but it is an association of gentle-folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities,and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognizes its chosen members." In other words, Best Society is a collection of elite individuals who uphold a code of conduct and ethics.

As we journey to experiment and define this growing online world,are we moving towards a Digital Best Society or the exact opposite?

I argue that while we can praise the social web for a variety of reasons - agency, transparency, mass-communication, speed - our effort to scale social interactions has left us compromising our social etiquette. With that in mind, I've gone through Emily Post's "Etiquette" and decided to apply some of her rules to today's social web and community-building efforts:

  • Introduce Yourself (Chapter 2) - We're so caught up these days in numbers and expanding our networks, but what good is a point of connection without any context? I think it's a shame that I don't necessarily know everyone who follows me on Twitter and that I get random Facebook requests from time to time. I have nothing against making new connections, but it would be nice if context and introductions were formalized again. If you're trying to connect with others online and you really have intentions of connecting with them on a personal level, make sure you Introduce yourself properly. If you want to communicate via this blog as a channel, it would be appreciated if you included your name and point of contact.
  • "Think Before You Speak (Chapter 7) - Print journalism is dying and dynamic web content is growing at an exponential rate. Everyone wants to be the first to say something or the first to add comment to the discussion, but we must be mindful of the words we use. I think in our haste, we sometimes lose sight of the messages we project and in a world that's Indexed by Google, these words have a lasting effect.
  • Use "Words, Phrases, and Pronunciation (Chapter 8) Wisely" -Similar to point 3, I still think it's important to maintain a level of proper grammar and syntax when communicating online. That seems to be lost these days in an era of text messaging and live blogging. I've always believed that first impressions matter and when I see content that's sloppily written, my first instinct is to think the writer is careless.
  • Learn About "Clubs and Club Etiquette (Chapter 33) - This might be my favorite chapter from Post because it most closely resembles online forums. Post writes "a club, as every one knows, is merely an organization of people—men or women or both—who establish club rooms, in which they meet at specified times for specified purposes, or which they use casually and individually....There are two ways of joining a clubby invitation and by making application or having it made for you." Post details how to join and participate in each different type of club, which reminds me of the advice I give to businesses all the time when they ask me about building online communities: there are different solutions for different settings.
  • Be Mindful of "Longer Letters (Chapter 28)" - If we're to think about letters as emails, Post's message is simple: Brevity and Courtesy are key. Write thoughtfully and be considerate of people's time when sending correspondence.

There are countless other parallels I can draw between Post and what I believe to be are best online practices, but I'll leave off with a quote from her last chapter: "The world is at present looking toward America and whatever we become is bound to lower or raise the standards of life. The other countries are old, we are youth personified! We have all youth's glorious beauty and strength and vitality and courage. If we can keep these attributes and add finish and understanding and perfect taste in living and thinking, we need not dwell on the Golden Age that is past, but believe in the Golden Age that is sure to be."<

Most leaders are still struggling to understand the Internet and where this all leads, even those of us who are actively present in the space. As we continue to experiment and fine-tune our interactions within this medium, let's not lose site of the fact that we as people have a code of ethics and manners, which we all should aspire to. Our interactions today will set a precedent not only for future online users, but for our present day constituents.

Bottom line: I am making it my personal responsibility to try to build a company that reflects Emily Post's Best Society. It is my hope that as we grow Mzinga, we can create cultural attitudes and etiquette that will make Emily proud.

Cailin DarcyComment