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Even though social networks have been around for awhile, there is still a learning curve on “the rules.”

We should not be surprised, however, because there is always a learning curve.  Just because one generation learned something does not mean that the next already knows it.  We all grow and learn what is socially appropriate – in “real life” as well as in our virtual networks.  And in both realms, sometimes things change and situations change and we have to help each other “learn” what to do (and NOT do).

Following up on a tweet from @FenixMuhindra, I read “Three personalities of your social media engagement.”  This is a brief summary of the styles or the expected styles of communicating on three of the more popular social media – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (from a business marketing perspective).  This article is a part of the “socialization” process we all go through, a way we learn what is acceptable or expected in society – in this case the virtual society.  Very helpful and necessary.

How important is it? Other bloggers on this topic say that without conventions or etiquette “online communities would result in utter chaos” (perhaps a hyperbole) (“Week 4 – Regulation, Convention, Etiquette in Online Communities” blog post by medoskateboard, on November 5, 2012, http://medoskateboard.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/week-4-regulation-convention-etiquette-in-online-communities/). Organizational communication researches espouse the importance of socialization for successful organizations (e.g., Miller, Katherine. Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes, 6th ed. Boston, MA, 2012).  Online educators discuss the importance of establishing a community of learners (Comeaux, Patricia, ed. Communication and Collaboration in the Online Classroom: Examples and Applications. Bolton, MA. 2002), and the importance of online learners knowing what is expected of them (such as one aspect of the Quality Matters design principles for line courses).

Certainly we realize the importance in our face-to-face communities and interactions.  The same, then, is applied to our virtual interactions: because we interact “there” much like we interact “here” – with expectations.  Communication scholars have long studied this.  Expectancy violation theory (see Infante, Dominic, Andrew Rancer and Theodore Avtigis. Contemporary Communication Theory. Dubuque, IA, 2010) is based on the assumption that have expectations developed from learning and socialization, and dependent upon the culture and context (social, business, personal, public/private, etc.).

Our interaction is guided by our expectations in a specific context.  As social beings we interact face-to-face as well as virtually.  The need for guidelines, convention and etiquette in online communities is just as important as in our face-to-face interactions.  In many ways, as the two are blended, there is really little difference beyond the mode of communication (but research must continue before this claim can actually be made – just a hypothesis on my part).  To be functional (helpful, what we want) our interaction and communication with other has to have guidelines.

This interaction in online communities goes beyond communication.  Another blogger discusses End User License Agreements (EULA) and some of the legal ramifications involved in online communities as we interact (blog post November 5, 2012, by Innishkaru, http://inishblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/essay/).  Certainly the legal aspects will constantly be change, but it is still a part of our expectations – the guidelines and conventions we need to know as we come into and interact within our online communities.  And each will be different – each context we participate in will have its own guidelines and conventions, its own etiquette.

Just as our old face-to-face communities change.

Either way, “real” or “virtual,” we need to learn, to be socialized, so that the community functions to the benefit of the community members and the community as a whole.