Netiquette, blogging and writing online…


On a discussion forum that I’m on, someone was noting a pet peeve of theirs was people who commit to doing a guest blog for their site and then flaking out with little or no warning.

I find the thread really interesting as it combines a bit of “professionalism” with “netiquette” with “marketing” with “writing”. In my day job, I deal with a lot of young professionals / millennials who have very different expectations of professionalism than some of us old fogies, and while this wasn’t specifically the sub-theme, in some ways it relates, at least in my mind.

We have a mental model of how people interact, and a lot of it is still stuck in the world of the tactile. Face to face, shaking hands, etc. And yet as the world globalized, we came to realize as business people that other cultures do NOT have the same expectations / roles in their rituals as a lot of us westerners. We even have a bunch of racist stereotypes hidden in business guides that resulted from these culture wars about how the “japanese” or the “chinese” do business, written as offensively to some business people in those cultures as some of the “poor blacks who find solace through music” stereotypes that permeated America for some time. Yet the reality was that our perceptions of how to do business changed — maybe not shaking hands is not a sign of disrespect, for example.

Like with globalization, the net opened up the world but this time to virtual commerce, and if we stop for a second, we’ll realize that if we offer guest blogs, then our blog is essentially an e-commerce site in that we’re offering to “sell” a guest some blog space in barter exchange for them writing a blog entry (plus some extra bits). What do the hosts get out of it? Content for our site, more visitors, an enhanced community network experience, and the knowledge / satisfaction we helped another author. What does the guest get? Visibility on our site, potentially more visitors back to their site, networking, and, umm, the satisfaction of writing an interesting blog on someone else’s site perhaps plus hopefully (!) some sales.

Now, if we look at netiquette (which is the reality of our online transactions, NOT the ethereal protocols we have in tactile world), we realize that on average overall relationships tend to be vastly more anonymous, more transactional than long-term, and most important of all? Far less secured — and I don’t mean in terms of access to credit cards. (And please, I’m talking about overall relationships, please don’t e-mail me to tell me how you met this really interesting person in Sweden 10 years ago on the net or your husband or your wife or found your long-lost 12th cousin).

If you offer me your book through Amazon, and I buy it, that’s pretty “firm”/secure because it is a simple transaction. If you offer me a spot on your blog, and I accept, that’s pretty soft. I know, I know, if you’re being professional, it shouldn’t be, but this is the online world. It’s more like an “option to buy” than a firm “purchase order”. Why?

Because if I’m the guest, I still have to do something to make the transaction happen. If we go back to the Mad Men world of hard advertising, “always be closing”, “telling isn’t selling”, etc., the transaction is still “pending”. We haven’t closed the deal, we just have an agreement in principle. In the real tactile world, people pretend that is pretty firm most of the time. Yet, as with say FutureShop or a car dealership, the minute that “customer” walks out the door without signing in blood, the reliability of that “deal” drops to the level of “possible lead” or maybe even “dead wood”. And after tons of conversations, dealers at both stores know that an agreement in principle is not the same as a sale.

The virtual world is full of people making commitments / over commitments / disorganization / websites launching with great fanfare by individuals and after ten posts going silent. Ask yourself — are you updating your own blog as often as you thought you would? Are you even keeping your commitment to yourself????

Add in the fact that your faceless entity on the other end who agrees to write a blog for your site may be (a) fully employed on the side, (b) busy, (c) afraid of failure, (d) deep in writing, (e) dead, (f) a complete flake, (g) changed their mind, (h) broke and can’t fix their laptop to access the net to read your e-mails, etc. and is too embarrassed to tell you any of those explanations. And then add in the fact that you have an agreement in principle, not an actual sale, it is not surprising when they don’t all deliver.

But a lot of that is our upfront expectation. At work, I obviously shouldn’t be expecting our millennials to be jumping up and down at the thought of last-minute overtime but I equally shouldn’t be expecting them to even accept it at all — some won’t. And that isn’t unprofessional, it is just a very different view of the employment relationship. One that differs from my “traditional” one. Not better, not worse, different. Because they are a completely different “customer” / “transaction partner” than I’m expecting / wishing they were, and I shouldn’t rely on them as if they were of the same “mental culture”.

What does this mean for those running sites asking / offering other people the chance to provide content in exchange for providing that content? Or dealing with businesses that offer e-services to us? Assume that not 100% of all “pending transactions” will close when you want them to, or at all. And have backup options ready to go in case they don’t.

For the writing world, magazines and publishers do it all the time — if the writer doesn’t deliver that front cover story or final chapter on time, they go with another cover story or fill the window with another author’s book. They’re prepared for their partners to perhaps not deliver, and have deadlines far enough in advance that they can substitute other material if needed.

Why aren’t we prepared like that? After all, we’re the ones that didn’t close the deal. And isn’t THAT unprofessional of us?

And for those of us hoping to participate as guests, the advice is simple — honour your commitments as if the deal has already closed, and you’ll stand out from the crowd of netiquette slackers whose commitment is more net-ready than world-ready.


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Netiquette, blogging and writing online… — 5 Comments

  1. PolyWogg,
    Internet or not, professionalism is still professionalism, and commitments need to be met. But new authors have to pay extraordinary attention to deadlines because the people setting the deadlines are taking an extraordinary chance on them.

    So I agree with the points you’re making. My archaeological mystery, American Caliphate, is due out in December. Can I guest blog then? I promise to deliver!

    William Doonan

  2. I’m so sorry that you have been let down as this sort of thing reflects badly on the rest of us. I can only assure you that I would never do that unless I had died and not realised it. Anytime I can be of help you need only to ask.

    • I should have clarified I guess for my original comments, as I misled both yourself and William perhaps. I don’t offer any guest blogging spots on this site, at least not yet (at least not in this venue anyway). But I should think about that more :)


  3. PolyWogg, thank you for this post, actually it is right on time. It is so uncouth to not follow through if one agrees to be guest on a blog. If one decides not to do so, you are not to avoid the follow-up emails, but be a man/woman and reply. augie

    • On a personal level, I tend to agree. But, if the original “contract” was just an “option”, then the hoster who follows up starts to feel (to the unproductive would-be guest) like a spammer harassing them for not following through on something. Kind of like you coming to a deal with a car dealership, changing your mind, and then the salesperson keeps calling you. Easy to say, “sorry, changed my mind”, but lots of people avoid those types of calls for fear of conflict. Not a great response, and it’s pretty low-maintenance to hit reply to an email and say, “Sorry, I’ve had to re-prioritize and decided to go in a different direction”, but for some, that’s more than they’re ready to do. Plus, I know with some would-be guests, to even send that e-mail would make them feel like a failure, like they let the other person down (which they did, admittedly), but if they just “ignore” the e-mails, they don’t have to admit they can’t do it.

      I feel a bit the same way right now about book reviews. I have a bunch pending to write, and a bunch backlogged just to READ. I had hoped to have everything in my backlog cleared out by the end of August, but life has intervened in a big way, and I haven’t got to it. But, what’s my responsibility here to the authors? I agreed to review their books, we didn’t attach a deadline to it, and I will still get to them (probably closer to November now). But should I e-mail all of them individually and say, “Hey, I’m behind, but haven’t forgotten about you!” or just post a note on my blog? Is that sufficient?

      As one person pointed out elsewhere, there is a difference between courtesy, expectations, and obligations. It strikes me that a note back out would be somewhere between the first two, but perhaps the authors themselves would view it closer to the third?


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