Being a Good Cyber Citizen

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a class of sophomores about the meaning and importance of being a good cyber citizen. I sat on a panel with four other adults and two student representatives. Each panelist was asked to come prepared to address the following questions:

1. In terms of your own experience, what do you think it means to be a good cyber citizen?  Describe behaviors that you think are important to being a good cyber citizen?

2. How do you think students’ virtual lives can impact their “real lives”?

Being a good citizen on or offline is not the result of a one-time action. It is crucial to demonstrate accountability, responsibility and compassion each day. Am I perfect? No, not even close. Do I handle each situation with grace and maturity? There are too many people who could answer to the contrary if I pretended I was holier than thou. Being a good citizen takes practice. You must have patience with others and yourself. Here are the tidbits I shared with the young adults to the first question:

  1. Online persona is only one facet of a person’s character. You may have heard of the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” (though the phrase seems a bit archaic in the age of ebooks), the same is true of not judging people solely on their online profiles, comments or shares. While this content may prove insightful, it is not indicative of the person as a whole. You know the person as they choose to show themselves.
  2. There is a continuous blur between your professional and personal profiles. No matter how hard you try to keep the two separate, there will be someone, somewhere who will be able to follow the online breadcrumb trail and connect your profiles or attempts at anonymity. What you do and say anywhere is a reflection upon you and your networks – past, present and future.
  3. Nothing is private; Your online conversations are your unique digital tattoo. What you write and say online is captured forever. Anyone can take a screenshot of your actions and share, despite your privacy settings. Deleting your social profiles does not stop people from talking about you. Stop trying to take control of how others perceive you and take command of your actions. Be aware of what you post. Think about the consequences. And when you slip up, because you will…take responsibility and be accountable. These are the actions that define maturity, not age.

We are the voice and controllers of history. Us. Everything we write and say is being tagged, classified and judged by humans and robots. I can’t look into a crystal ball and personalize my response to the second answer. Some people have to learn the hard way. I know, in some respects, that has been me. Even if I had the opportunity to redo some of the messier parts of my life or questionable decisions, I would have probably taken the same path because that is what needed to happen for me to learn and be accountable in the future.

What you do now, impacts you now and in the future. Even before the digital era this life lesson was true. Today, what you say or do will be seen forever. When you are 50 and you see the thoughts and ideas publicized from when you were 15, you may cringe, but will you be ashamed? Will you know that that very public and visible tattoo influenced every other decision you or any other person or organization made? Life is not so black and white, but it should give you pause to reflect how those shades of gray will be reflected.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Do a quick search for social media policies and guidelines.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Quickly, open and view five of those documents. Quite similar to each other, right? Copy and paste. Copy and paste. For all the talk about crafting a social media policy or set of guidelines. many of these documents were created based on the publicly available documents of other companies, rather than the needs and culture of their own organization.

You don’t need to search very far for inspiration and guidance for your own policy or guidelines. All you need to do is locate your organization’s Code of Conduct. What is the tone of voice? What mission and values are integrated in the document? Use the Code of Conduct as your guide to determine if a social media policy (or guidelines) is needed or warranted.


Many ethics codes include aspirational and rules / principles section. Why was the Code of Conduct created? To inspire? Regulate behavior? Both? Do a bit of homework and determine how the code was devised and the individuals or working group responsible for the creation. Read between the lines and search for clues to the order of information and principles presented. How often is the code reviewed and updated? Once a year is once too late and leads to check-the-box thinking.


How is the code socialized within (and, perhaps, external) the organization? How was the code implemented? Is it integrated into organizational policies and practices? Simply creating a code or additional social media policy does not mean people will automatically adhere to those principles. Give them a reason. How is the code currently enforced? Is it enforced through encouraging behavior and demonstration by example? Just stating that one must act “professional” does not demonstrate the action. My version of professional may be different than yours. There may not be a need for a social media policy, but a set of guidelines modeling the expected behavior and reinforcing behavior continuously through continuous learning.

But we must remember that good laws, if they are not obeyed, do not constitute good government. Hence there are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citizens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey…” (Aristotle, Politics) 


Who is affected by the code and what is the best way to share information with them? Sometimes organizations get so lost in the shiny new tools or design, they disregard the lowest common denominator solution. Determine the format based on the applicability and access to all levels of the organization.

I am asking you to ask a lot of questions. That is because there is no cookie cutter approach to policy. Your Code of Ethics and additional policy and guidelines are specific to the needs, challenges, desires and values of your organization. Often, an understood and updated Code of Conduct supplemented with social media / community guidelines are what is needed and not necessarily the creation of a policy. Only your organization can make that determination by acting the part of the detective and seeking the precious truth and reasoning. Why reinvent the wheel?

Neon Nerves Inspire Workflow

There are numerous blogs and technology now supporting the growth of the ever evolving role of the community manager, but how many are tackling the internal communications process necessary for  mapping connections and real time external engagement? Very few. You see, policy and process are not sexy. They are not cool.

While there may not be a silver bullet technology or cookie cutter process, we can learn from those lessons and perspectives of those doing the heavy lifting. But few are sharing. Yes, you may find a directory of social media policies, but I challenge you to find policies that are fresh and reflective of the culture instead of copy and past versions of other policies. But, process? Unless it is related to a shiny new platform, few people are talking about how they make real time engagement work and scale across multiple business units.

The workflow is a key ingredient of a community manager’s toolkit. We cannot plan for every scenario that may play out online, but you can review past topics and conversations that have occurred online and in other communication channels. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The function of a workflow is to streamline your communications, eliminate layers, and clearly depict process in simple, connected steps.

As if you needed another hat to juggle, think of yourself as a trauma surgeon and you must navigate all the nerves obscured by trauma or disease. You need a map to navigate your approach. It would be helpful if those nerves were tagged with a fluorescent compound to reduce the number of nicked nerves accidentally nicked or severed during surgery. As a community manager, you are navigating the nerve paths in your organization so you can engage in real-time external conversations. Sometimes these communications paths are blocked because of hierarchy, miscommunications, and a host of other problems common to internal communications.

Build a workflow mapping the connections of the nerve paths in your company and how communication is passed among the business units. Similar to the fluorescent compound surgeons use, highlight those paths a community manager will need hooks into to meet the expectations of your community, so you or another authorized representative can respond at the right time with the right information.

What communications / nerve paths are you highlighting in your workflow? Are you mapping the connections by phase and function? Please share your lessons learned.

Being a conscientious online community tourist

Just over a week ago my husband and I took a whirlwind vacation to Istanbul with a stop in Rome on the journey to our final destination. Of course, you know me, the typical Type-A personality, I like having a plan and a process. This does not mean I cannot be spontaneous. Other than a dinner reservation on one night of the trip, we did not schedule a minute-by-minute itinerary. Yes, we had a list of places we would like to visit, but did not want to feel any more rushed than our four day trip was by default.There was pre-trip planning and a plan to be had, however.

You see, I did not want us to be “that tourist” – you know the one I am talking about. I can see you cringe right now. Let’s not generalize either. It is not just the Americans visiting other countries. There are folks fitting this description of every culture, gender and age. Unfortunately, folks tend to generalize the population of an entire country based on the case of one rotten apple. Just take a read through this post on the most annoying habits of tourists. How many of us have ever committed one of these fouls due to ignorance or blatant disregard?

So, I may not have planned my every move in Rome and Istanbul, but I did study the habits and customs of the cities visited. Trust me, I had my fair share of sticking out like a sore thumb in high school. My goal when visiting any location (this includes within U.S.A. too) is to put on the hat of an anthropologist and study the community before entering. Perhaps this study habit is the product of my career as a community manager or developed as a military brat visiting and living in a multitude of countries. There is nothing worse than being “that tourist,” knowingly or unknowingly.

Applied anthropology may be a useful practice extending beyond your annual vacation planning. You may consider applying this research habit to your daily online ventures, as well. It is so easy to hop from one blog or community platform/group to the next without hesitation or consideration of the inhabitants and regular participants in these spaces. Interrupting a conversation or insulting a community member because you did not have context of prior conversations or actions is a blunder similar totrying to touch in on London’s Oyster system using a paper ticket.

Before you can map the connections between your organization and community, you have to understand the methods, motivation and venues of participation.


  • Try to be an impartial observer and look at the community surroundings and interaction through the lens of one without bias.
  • Read between the lines and examine the underlying emotional triggers of what is said and shared or not mentioned.
  • Look at the content being shared and discussed to pinpoint trends and hot topics.


  • Go for a community walk (similar to a photo walk) and take action without being disruptive and document landmarks or other areas of the community space or platform you have not noticed before:
      • How are people organized within the community? Are there subgroups? What is the cause of these subgroups and current conversation topics/exchanges?
      • How do people influence each other and outcomes?
      • How much space is allocated to sharing different types of content (i.e. documents, blog posts, discussion forums, etc)? Is discussion enabled and encouraged around content?
      • What type of information is considered important enough to label as announcements or advertise prominently within the community space? Does this priority of information align with conversation and subgroup organization observations?
      • What topics of conversation or forms of engagement utilized in common community areas?
      • What type of lingo is used in conversation to reference topics and company/brand/product/service mentions?
      • What level of emotion is expressed in the interactions? What is the tone?
      • What types of interaction is observed? Is the interaction limited to community members or are there official company spokespeople participating?


  • Interview community members (Once again, don’t just analyze the answers to your questions, but observe how and what is said and not said in reply) to help make sense of the information gathered during the observation and lurking stages:
      • How do community members discuss the community with friends outside the online community space?
      • What would community members change about the space and interactions?
      • Who are the (perceived) community heroes?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of the information you can and should glean before participating in any community. You are just a tourist like any other until you become familiar with the habits and customs of your community. Avoid being labeled as the ignorant tourist. Your Internet connection may be your passport and transfer you immediately to any community destination, but citizenship is a process. In online communities, citizenship is earned with trust and credibility.