Art Imitates Life, Life Imitates LinkedIn: Online Citizenship

Most of us in business or other organisations belong to LinkedIn, and many of us participate in discussion groups related to our fields and areas of specialisation and interest. Furthermore, marketing and promotions professionals these days tell us that it is extremely important to have an online presence and profile, and though there are other alternatives like Brazen Careerist, LinkedIn is the professional social networking standard.

Accordingly, like most people I know, I belong to many LinkedIn groups, which in my case cover areas like organisational psychometrics, psychometrics, creativity, arts, advertising and HR. Like most people, I subscribe to a few good professional blogs that are mostly related to Human Resources, and through these come upon many links to other blogs and articles. It’s an expanding world, and I’m both personally and professionally grateful to be exposed daily to so much information and food for thought.

I have always been interested in many different areas, and so my professional interests and reading reflect this.  Lately, because I’ve started to notice some patterns in myself and others, and because my interests cover a fairly wide (and often apparently inconsistent) range of subjects, I’ve begun to realise that my online life is very similar to my real life.

Online, the contacts I collect seem to be like my friends and associates in real life: they are interesting, varied, creative, mostly outspoken, confident, leaders and thought influencers, and from many walks of life and professional areas. The things they say to me are starting to be like things people in real life say to me.

More importantly though, I’ve started to realise that the virtual, online professional world needs to maintain standards and etiquette, just like in the real world. Just as I do in real life, I seem to spend a lot of my time being on guard for and smoothing over potential conflicts. The online world of professional social net-working is a place where all cultures come together and connect instantly, where the nuance of the written word is often difficult to understand and subtleties are sometimes misunderstood, and the different time zones across the world make the time of day an ingredient in the way we communicate and what we say.

Online, even in the professional sphere of LinkedIn (as opposed to Facebook for instance) there are bullies, cranks, show-offs, posers, extraverts, introverts, casual people, funny people, serious people, formal people and many, many others. Just like real life. In real life though, you can look someone in the eye and hear the tone in their voice and judge their body language.

So I’m beginning to think that we need to proactively think of ourselves as online citizens, with responsibilities to be civil and not too dominating in discussions but to have something to say and keep discussions going, aware and empathetic of differences like race and culture, and to be particularly careful to try to pick up verbal nuance and humour, and not to over-react to apparent slights but to publicly object to online dominance, bullying or impoliteness.

A year or so ago my sons made a short film called Art Imitates Life, Life Imitates Facebook for Kino, Sydney. It should come as no surprise to me to find that the same principle applies to LinkedIn.

Lynette Jensen

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