Before we get into "blog etiquette," I realize that the information in this section may seem harsh, but there really isn't a way to write about blog etiquette in a happy-go-lucky manner. That's because we have to use examples of bad blog behavior (usually mine) in order to demonstrate good blog behavior.
I'm having visions of my mother standing over me with a hickory switch saying, "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." Seriously, we want to help bloggers, particularly new ones, avoid some common pitfalls. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've been guilty of all but two of the following offenses and trust me, I would have preferred to read a post like this before I began blogging. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. Just remember that most of us have exhibited bad blog behavior at one point or another, and many times, we didn't even realize it. If you feel a sting, or have an "oh gosh" moment while reading this, don't take it too personally. Just note it and keep on bloggin'.
Blog Snobbery: Don't be a blog snob. Don't dismiss new bloggers who are trying to get your attention, provided they're playing by the rules or are ignorant due only to their amateur status. You were a newbie once and you were trying to connect with like-minded bloggers, too. I recall the time a brand new blogger emailed to say that he loved my blog and wanted to introduce himself. He asked if I would put him on my blogroll. At the time, I thought, "he doesn't care about my blog, he just wants to get some traction." I didn't pay him any attention. Know where he is now? Working for a big multi-media outlet and a recognizable figure in the blog world. Yes, some people will want to use you to reach others, but if they are talented and you like their work, don't dismiss them, give them a break. Remember that when you started out, your sitemeter said zero, too. Networking, after all, is a huge part of blogging.
Make the Rules Clear: You are the owner of your blog. It belongs to you, and nobody else. If you have preferences, like no cursing or no personal attacks on others, make your wishes clear. I am not a perpetual potty-mouth, but I do utter bad words on occasion. Even so, I preferred to have no cursing on my blog (mom reads it), but I didn't have any rules to that effect posted. So, when a blogger that I respected went on a cursing tirade in the comment section in response to an outrageous story I had blogged about, it wouldn't have been fair for me to clobber her in public. I didn't, I just left a comment that no cursing is allowed. This happened because I had not made my preferences, my rules, if you will, known. It is your responsibility to control the tone of your blog. If anything goes, than anything goes, but if you want some rules in place, make them clear from the outset. If you don't, and people offend your sensibilities or take over your blog, you only have yourself to blame.
Trackback Etiquette: AWTM touched on this in the previous installment, but I wanted to expand on it a bit. The first time I sent a trackback ping, it didn't go so well, although some time had passed before I realized just how badly I had screwed up. The help section told me how to send a trackback ping, but it didn't tell me why to send one. It was my belief that when you send a trackback ping, you only have to trackback to a post that is similar in nature to your post, which is only partially true. A trackback ping is one way to advertise your work on someone else's site, but it's a reciprocal process.
I went all out with my first trackback. I sent it to one of the top bloggers in the blogosphere, a blog which receives 22,000 visits a day. I was proud of my courage, but pride faded to embarrassment when, six months later, I realized that I had done it all wrong. I had merely trackbacked to a like-minded post, but I had not linked to, or quoted from, the post I pinged. That's a no no. If you send a trackback ping to someone's post, you must place a link to their post in your own post, and more often than not, you should quote from that post (though it's not always necessary, but the link is). Luckily, the blogger I pinged let it stand and didn't publicly humiliate me. It could have been brutal if he had chosen to do so. I'm sure he took a look at my blog and realized I was new and granted me some mercy.
Hijacking Traffic: This must be some type of covert term that bloggers only discuss in person. I had no idea such a term existed until I found myself in the room with 200 other bloggers, after I had been blogging for over a year. I overheard some bloggers complaining about the tactics of another blogger. I didn't want to sound like a dunce, so I didn't ask any questions. I just followed the conversation and pieced together what I needed to know - don't hijack traffic. If you do it occasionally, and if what you say is pertinent to the post at hand, you are not a hijacker. If you do it constantly and what you say isn't relevant to the discussion at all, you are a hijacker. So, what is "it?" "It" is linking to your blog in the comment section.
If you read a post that somehow dovetails with something you've written about, feel free to put a link to your blog in the comment section of that post. Hey, I was just thinking the same thing, see here. This comment is a perfect, non-egregious example. Most bloggers I've spoken with don't mind this being done provided that it's only done occasionally, and the link that was added is directly relevant to the post on which you commented. If it's done constantly, you are labeled a "traffic hijacker" and that term doesn't sound very nice. There is an area in the comment section for you to place the URL of your blog, it was designed that way for a reason.
Proper Sourcing: This is a biggie. If only one of these items sticks with you, it should be this one. Bloggers are proud of their work. Even if you think it's crappy or dishonest or misinformed, bloggers spend a lot of time on their work and if you're going to use their work, or their ideas, for ANY purpose, you need to give proper attribution. This is often referred to as a "hat tip," a term I personally don't like, but it is what it is.
The blog world may seem huge, but in reality, sometimes it's not that big at all, especially for bloggers who write about specific subjects. You are only fooling yourself if you think there aren't like-minded individuals who are reading your work, whether or not they comment. Virtually every week, some of the SpouseBUZZ authors will receive email from people telling us that something we've said on air, written about on the blog, said at a conference or done at a conference has been blatently duplicated and used elsewhere, without attribution. Ideas can -- and should -- be duplicated and expanded upon, that's the beauty of the blogosphere. Nobody owns a patent on topics, but if you receive your inspiration from somewhere other than between your own ears, it's only polite to note it and link to what inspired you. We do this all the time at SpouseBUZZ.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but at some point, if a blogger repeatedly refuses to acknowledge the source of his inspiration and it's obvious (and it will be) where it came from, readers will pick up on it, they will wonder if you have any original ideas of your own and they will begin to think of you as a phony. As in the real world, whispers behind the back occur in the blog world. If someone is guility of using other blogger's work, the offender may notice his statistics going up, or frequent visits from the same source. That's because once you're tagged with this label, people will check in on you frequently to see if this pattern continues. They will take notes and they will tattle on you.
I once watched a very ugly situation unfold between two very high-profile bloggers with opposing political viewpoints. One blogger had been watching, apparently with the patience of a saint, the other blogger's nefarious behavior. One day, I stumbled upon a comprehensive post written by the gatherer of facts. He had linked and detailed, very methodically, scores of bad blog behavior on the part of the other blogger. It was devastating, and there was no question when you saw it laid out in such detail, right before you, links and all, what had been going on. The other blogger? He's still high-profile, but has zero credibility. And I'm quite sure that blog eyes follow him around the blogosphere just in case he slips up again.
If copycat behavior is noticed, some bloggers will call you out in a New York minute, others will be more gracious and avoid publicly humiliating you, but one thing's certain - people will know. Giving credit where credit is due is the honorable thing to do. Do not use other people's creativity and then try to pass it off as your own. If you do, you'll likely isolate a segment of readers that you hoped you would reach and bond with and you'll lose credibility. Do not let this happen, it's much too easy to avoid.
On the other hand, there is a catch. Isn't there always?
Original Ideas: If you stumble across a blog and recognize the material as your own, think twice before you explode. I once had a blogger hint, not so subtly, that something I did stemmed from something she had recently written about. In reality, if that blogger had checked my archives, she would have realized that this idea was blogged about long before she wrote about it. I didn't publicly address this, because that could easily lead to a blog fight (which you'll read about next), but it was a reminder that everything is not always as it appears. So, be sure your facts are right before you jump to conclusions.
Military spouses, for instance, share similar experiences all the time. You're probably not the only one who has thought, or written about, a specific topic with respect to military life or culture. Granted, if you write about a topic one day, and the next day you find that someone wrote about the same topic with eerie similarities, and you know this person reads your blog, then yes, you may have reason to be resentful. However, don't assume a topic or a new idea was born simply from reading your work. Think long and hard before you throw accusations around, because you could very well become publicly embarrassed. For the perpetual offender, it doesn't take long for a pattern to occur, but for an occasional offender, perhaps it's a coincidence. Just be sure, that's all.
Blog Fights: I enjoy a good take-down just as much as the next guy, but I prefer it when it's done with class, style and most importantly - reasoned judgment. Sadly, my friend Cass has turned the lights out on her blog, she knew how to pick apart an argument with sanity and intellect better than anyone I've ever read.
Blog fights are very public. They can become disturbingly nasty very quickly. They are unseemly. You will read things that you don't agree with. You will read things that send you blood pressure skyrocketing. You will read things that are blatantly false, and you will want to respond. Before you do, cool off a bit. If you still want to respond, you should be prepared for what could happen next. If you're following proper blog etiquette and linking to what set you off, the author is going to know about it. If you omit the link, chances are, he will still know about it. Someone will pick up on it, or find you through a google search. Then, a cyber-fight may well follow.
There is nothing wrong with pointing out someone's error, misguided viewpoint, uninformed viewpoint or challenging someone with facts, but do it in a civilized manner, even if the person you are countering isn't all that civilized. You will be viewed as the grown-up if you follow that advice. When a vicious blog fight crops up, everyone loses. If you have a confrontational style, by all means, go for it. But if you don't, do not pick a fight if you're not prepared for the nastiness that will likely follow, and certainly don't pick a fight if you don't want to get a reputation in the blog world as being an incessant troublemaker. On the other hand.... you may wake up one day to find someone has started a blog fight with you and you can't imagine why.
Always remember that bloggers, and blog consumers, like the general population, agree and disagree with one another all the time. You may write something that seems innocuous to you, but highly offends someone else. If you're like me, the first time it happens you will panic and question yourself. Don't. If you stand by what you wrote, and if someone took offense, my advice is to simply write in the comment section, "we agree to disagree," or "I'm sorry you took offense," or just leave it alone. There's always someone who is itching to get into a fight, or cause trouble. Disengage if you're not ready for a protracted back and forth. They will move on to someone else when they realize you're not playing ball. Many of them are, after all, nitpickers.
Nitpickers: Blogs, by their very nature, are a place where we can express ourselves. We use them to discuss issues, bounce ideas off of one another and have cyber-conversations. The comment section should add to the discussion at hand, not distract from it. I learn things all the time from the comment section. If you're a frequent commenter, your job, most of the time, is to move the discussion forward, or at least contribute to it in some way. Be a commenter, not a nitpicker. Again, it's perfectly reasonable to challenge people when you feel it's necessary. Or, you can write about them on your own blog, but if you constantly nitpick and play devil's advocate in someone else's comment section, without substantively contributing to the dialogue, it begins to annoy those who are engaged in a real debate or discussion and you only manage to marginalize yourself. Either move the conversation forward, or get out of the way. Of course, this doesn't apply to the types of posts which solicit opinions/views, etc.. It's meant more as a warning to suppress any urge you may have to simply hit and run.
Blog etiquette is a very broad subject. I can't possibly cover all of the situations that could crop up, and believe me, there are many. This is simply a basic outline of what seems to be the most obvious topics we should discuss with respect to blog behavior, the areas where you'll run into the most trouble with the blog community if you violate the rules. As I stated in the opening, I've violated blog etiquette on more than one occasion, but I try to keep the things I've mentioned above in mind before I act on an urge. I suppose the golden rule is also applicable to the blog world, "blog unto others as you would have them blog unto you." If you have other blog etiquette tips, please share them with us.
We originally intended this series to be a five-part series, but I'm going to add one more installment. Many of you have asked how things work, so I thought I would add a "Bells and Whistles" installment. We'll discuss all those things that you can add to your blog (widgets, blogbars, sitemeters, images, etc.) in the next installment, which will be posted next week.
SpouseBUZZ Blog Series:
Part I: Blog It, Don't Hog It
Part II: I Want a Blog, Now What?
Part III: Privacy/OPSEC
Part IV: Networking