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This chapter is from the book Providing answers

Providing answers

Being active on the Web is not just about what information you can glean from it and get from other people. In order to be a healthy part of the web ecosystem, it is important to attempt to replenish the Web with as much assistance and resources as you have taken.

Be a good online citizen

There is such a thing as web “karma”—what you say and do (or don’t do) can have much farther-reaching ramifications than you know, and will mostly likely come back to you in some way, shape or form. Therefore, it is a good idea to remember several key points about being an active citizen on the Web:

  • What happens on the Web, stays on the Web—indefinitely (or a close approximation thereof). Comments that you make on a blog, forum, wiki, and now, Twitter, Facebook and other social network sites are public, searchable and archived.
  • Despite what seems to be the incredible vastness of the Web, much like the person-to-person world, once you start frequenting certain places based on common interests, it is in fact a very small world. Thus, you can’t truly be anonymous. In certain communities, people know each other, and once you join in and make yourself visible, they will start to know you too. Hopefully, you will endeavor to be seen in a positive light.
  • Also similar to the offline world, on the Web you have a visible identity that is based upon your words and actions, and increasingly, your web identity even supplants your in-person identity, as the Web may be someone’s first introduction to you—without you even knowing. This is important to be aware of before you start making off-color or negative comments on a blog or website (if not done anonymously). Any of these could easily come up in a search for your name.

Use good web etiquette

Anytime you deal with people, there are always going to be some guidelines for how the interaction should go, and on the Web it is no different. What are some of the hallmarks of playing well with others on the Web? Here are some good pieces of netiquette advice to keep in mind:

  • Spend some time observing before you jump in.
  • When you do offer something, know what you are talking about and make sense when talking about it.
  • Share your knowledge and expertise openly.
  • Link to supplemental information.
  • Give credit to the sources of your information—ideas, stories, images.
  • Leave insightful and helpful comments, and read over your wording to make sure the message is clear.
  • Limit gratuitous self-promotion and ceaseless self-chatter. People are overwhelmed by information and don’t care about what you are doing every second of the day.
  • Be forgiving of others’ mistakes.

Give back

Now that you have some of the rules of the road for behaving well online, it’s time to infuse the Web with your own contributions. Let’s look at some of the ways you can do so.

Through blog comments

Adding a comment to a blog post is a great way to do several things simultaneously: to give back by providing additional information and resources, to increase your visibility and people’s awareness of who you are and what you know, and finally to direct people to your own website and potentially having the opportunity of both giving back and growing your online persona. While “me too” comments are harmless, they won’t really advance your reputation as much as a thoughtful, information-rich response would. Instead, practice good netiquette and observe before you jump in by reading the other comments, share your information and make sense while doing it, and finally, offer relevant information and link to it.

Through forums and lists

Differently from blog posts, on forums and lists people are actively asking for answers and sharing resources. Similar to blog posts, these venues are both great opportunities for you to solve problems, offer solutions, and share your expertise, knowledge and resources—and positively build your reputation while doing so.

Through social media

You probably already have a number of social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, but how many of your messages have to do with providing content that will be helpful for other people?

One of the biggest recommendations that social media professionals give to those starting out is to “lend value.” What does that mean? That means that while posts about your cats may be amusing for some of your followers, for most of your followers they are just more pieces of the unending useless chatter that constitutes their social media stream. In order for your stream to be valued, provide posts that are informative and useful for your followers. Resources, tips and links to articles are all great ways to lend value.

Through your own blog or website

Through your own website, you can control one hundred percent of what information you present to the world, follow your inspirations to create content, and share your expertise as it grows.

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