"We already know that anonymous letters are despicable. In etiquette, as well as in law, hiring a hit man to do the job does not relieve you of responsibility." --Judith Martin
In last month's column, I offered the reasons why I don't allow anonymous comments on my blog. The quote above from the modern-day Miss Manners offers some additional food for thought on anonymity in the digital age. As members of a civilized society, we have a responsibility to own our words.
Treat your webz like you treat your business
I've heard many a writer, Twitter user and Facebook friend spout iterations of, "I don't say anything online that I wouldn't want my mother to read." My mom is my friend on Facebook. By now, she's come to understand who her daughter is and loves me for me. But many don't enjoy that level of understanding with their audiences. We all operate under different sets of rules. Find yours.
When we treat our online interactions as if they can be traced back
to us at anytime, we (might) think twice about what pours out of our keyboards. I don't have invisible people in my business--I have real ones who help me deliver solutions. Sometimes they cause problems (and sometimes I do, too).
Real people make mistakes, and we own them. An LCD screen doesn't make us invisible. I'm firmly of the belief that one requires us to be more responsible about what we share--and with whom, and in what voice and in what language.
The (limited) value of invisible people
Does being invisible mean you're not real? In many cases, yeah. It diminishes your contribution (positive or negative) because you're saying you don't want to own your words. However, businesses that operate in service- and product-oriented industries can't skip the opportunity to get as much customer feedback as possible, even if some of it is anonymous.
While online shopping is more the norm these days, it doesn't mean everyone's comfortable with the process. Credit card numbers, e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers … that's a lot of information floating around. If you give your customers the opportunity to provide feedback without the burden of identifying themselves, you're gonna get the jackwagons. But you'll also improve your service and selection and help your audience understand that they're the most important part of why you're able to do what you love.
Give your bottom line a voice, and make the blank for filling in a name optional. Some people just want to be heard, and our job is to listen.
Step into the light
As businesspeople, there's little reason to be invisible as we skip about the interwebz. We're not whistle-blowing. We're not trying to bring down an oppressive regime. It's good business to own our words. By being seen and counted (and if we're bloggers, requiring others to do the same), we're establishing a higher standard for communication. With all the digital mumbo jumbo, we live in a world where too many people are invisible (check out invisiblepeople.tv).
They'd love to be heard. Seen. Recognized. We have that privilege each day, and I know that it's my responsibility to honor it. Maybe you feel the same way.