Digital Media - Who are you talking too?

There have been many recent press reports about the use and abuse of digital media as a means of communication and the responsibilities of the people using it. Commentators suggest that digital media users should adopt the same approach, manners and reservations for this form of communication as they would in the off-line world.

It is my opinion that there needs to be a greater understanding of who you are actually talking to for the appropriate matching of on-line and off-line communication etiquette so that a communicator can answer the question “how would I behave if I was doing this in person?”

This article uses analogies and draws comparisons with the off-line world for various digital communication vehicles so that you can better equip yourself to answer that question. You may be surprised by what it reveals...

SMS (Text Messages)

whisper.jpgSending an SMS message is akin to whispering in the ear of a close friend (UNLESS YOU USE CAPS LOCK) in the privacy of your own home with a few noteworthy caveats:

  • It is all too easy to find yourself whispering in the ear of the wrong friend if you select the wrong contact and you do not have the strong visual clue of the person being next to you
  • Your words may be misinterpreted without you getting any visual feedback at the time you say them. Your friend has as much time as they like to mull them over before responding
  • You may often be unsure whether your friend has heard you and you have no idea when or if you might receive a response.
  • Autocorrect can get you in trouble, always read before pressing send ( )

If you need a quick answer and/or want to properly assess their reaction consider alternatives:

  • Go and see your friend
  • Skype or Facetime them (with video)
  • Make a voice call

Photo Credit, Creative Commons: Ian Carrol


Email is also like whispering in a friend’s ear with similar issues and alternatives as SMS with the following additional considerations:

  • You can easily be whispering in the ear of people you didn’t intend with an accidental “reply all” or a predictive contact selection by your email client (ie oops, not that Joanne Smith)
  • It is very easy for your friend to repeat the conversation with a click of “forward”
  • Long emails are easier to write than an SMS, if you are emotional at the time it is worth leaving your message as draft until you have become less emotional and have a chance to re-read in the cold light of day.

Facebook (with default privacy settings)

pub.jpgFacebook private messages are similar to SMS and email however status updates or posting on your friend’s “wall” are most definitely not;

With default security settings imagine you are in a pub or bar surrounded by a number of your close friend’s and relatives, some vague acquaintances and some people you barely know at all but met on holiday when you were drunk. As you are about to “open your mouth” (hopefully you are not drunk) ask yourself the question:

“Would I be prepared to stand on the bar now and shout this so that everybody in the room can hear?”

Also bear in mind that if one of your “friends” comments or likes what you just said all their friends, vague acquaintances and random people they met on holiday when inebriated can hear what you just said too.

TOP TIP: Never post a Facebook status saying something like “I am going on holiday next Saturday for two weeks...yay!!!” - would you shout that in the bar? Are you absolutely sure that one of your acquaintance’s random contacts is not an opportunistic burglar?

Photo Credit, Creative Commons: Steve Parker

Twitter (with default privacy settings)

theatre.jpgTwitter is considerably more public than Facebook, you are no longer in a bar. You are standing on a stage in a large auditorium which may initially be fairly empty with an audience of people you vaguely know or have come into contact with but (particularly if you say something controversial) can quickly fill up with people you don’t recognise at all. If they then start heckling you you can easily try a few put downs, or even ask the bouncers to remove the hecklers, but there are plenty of their mates sat outside waiting to fill their seats.

There is one key difference between Twitter and a public stage performance; unless you delete your tweet your performance lasts forever and can be repeated by anyone in the world at anytime.

If you have this image in mind you will think more before you go on stage in front of the cameras to a potential worldwide audience.

TOP TIP: If you want to perform in front of a much more exclusive, invited audience switch on “Protect my Tweets” under “Tweet Privacy” in your Twitter account settings.

Photo Credit, Creative Commons: Sean and Lauren


Other digital media channels have similar characteristics to those outlined above:

LinkedIn = Facebook (but it’s an office party)
Pinterest = Twitter (but it’s usually someone else’s conversation you are copying)
Youtube = Twitter (in High Definition)
Google+ = Facebook (but nobody but a couple of weird friends is in the bar)

Calls to Action - Check Yourself Out

  1. Google your name (with the town you live in if you have a common surname) and see what you find
  2. Click Images
  3. Review your privacy settings
  4. Google a friend’s name
  5. Pass this on