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I actually wanted to name this post “Things You Shouldn’t Post On Professional Listservs,” but, when I started asking my fellow Geeks/Bradys for suggestions, some of them responded with “there are still listservs out there??” So, I changed “Listservs” to “Online Communities” and therefore expanded it to all the new forms of communication platforms that are out there, ranging from old-fashioned listservs, to Twitter, to Facebook, to Google+ and even some of those specialized professional communities that Associations create for their members.

I’ve watched over the years as smart people do dumb things in their online communities. Sometimes those things are complete accidents, but sometimes they are just laps in judgment that make for embarrassing situations. I thought I’d name a few of them here… I’m sure this is only scratching the surface of online community faux pas… so, feel free to chime in with any additional things that you shouldn’t post in your online communities.

  1. Tell everyone that you were just “unfairly fired” from your job and why your former boss is an idiot.
    I think we’ve all seen this one. These comments are usually sent out in the heat of the moment, and tend to give way too much information about themselves and their now former employer. The end result is that the sender of the message usually looks petty, and everyone that reads the message tends to understand why this person was fired. The good result of this kind of message is that at least everyone else knows that if they receive a resume from this person, it can immediately go in the trash.
  2. Accidentally reply to the entire list with a snarky remarks meant for a friend.
    For those of us that have an ability to fire off “zingers” about others, this is one of those that is a constant danger. Usually, the zinger is designed to go to the sender of the message (in most cases a friend that you can make fun of), but the darn community list is set up so that “Reply” is actually a reply to the entire community, not just the original sender. Hopefully, you are really good friends with this person, and they are easy to forgive you for being who you are. Remember, always (I mean ALWAYS) look at the address of the message to see if the recipient is the person, or the entire community!
  3. Ask to borrow something that you know is either copyrighted, or restricted by user license (but your firm is too cheap to buy.)
    This one happens a lot in the “library world” and it is one that falls under the category, “you know better, but you do it anyway.” Every time I see a message asking someone to send them a copy of an article out of a publication like LAW360, or some other copyrighted (and strictly monitored) resource, I tend to watch for the vendor to send out a message to the whole community reminding them that they cannot PDF a copy of an article to people outside their organization. If you absolutely need the article, contact the vendor and ask if you can purchase a one-off copy… email a close friend to see if they can descretely send you a copy… or pick up the phone and call them (thus leaving no e-discovery trail to come back to bite you later.) Note: the last two are still violations of your user agreement… but, we know that people do this anyway.
  4. Publicly thanking someone for loaning you something that is copyrighted or restricted by user license.
    See above, and just add in the embarrassment of the person that just broke their license agreement to do the requester a favor, and was thanked publicly for that violation.At best, you can file this under “no good deed goes unpunished.”
  5. Forward an internal memo because the “auto-fill” option chose the listserv instead of the individual you meant to email.
    This happens more than we would probably like to admit. For example, because my last name starts with “La”, the same two letters that say “law-lib” start with, it could end up that messages meant for me could be autofilled with the address to an entire listserv/online community. The rule here is that the more confidential and important the message is… the more likely it will fall under this faux pas.
  6. Share vendor negotiations outcomes.
    “Yea!! We just cut our _____ contract down to $____ a month!!” Everyone on the list wants to thank you for doing this, but the vendor you just exposed is probably not going to be happy with you, and may point to that “confidentiality” clause in the ____ contract you just signed for $_____ a month!
  7. Share new product information that you received under a Non-Disclosure Agreement
    Speaking of confidentiality… if you ever want to be placed in total darkness about new products coming to the market, just go ahead and comment about them in your online community while you are still under a NDA. Not only will that particular company ban you from any future product development trials, every other company in your industry will find out you are a blabbermouth and will blacklist you from their trials as well. Of course, for bloggers like myself, we always love it when others expose secrets, so that we can post it on our blogs and speculate on what is about to come to market!!
  8. Brag about a potential job you might get… bonus points if you mention negative things about the interview.
    “Whoo Hoo!! Looks like I’m going to get that big job at ____ & _____!! Although, I’m not sure I really want to work with _____, he’s kind of a jerk!”
    Yeah… now you don’t have to worry about working with _______.
  9. Invite a geographically diverse group to a local event.
    “Happy Hour at Moe’s in Springfield!! Everyone’s welcome!!”
    While everyone appreciates your enthusiasm (and a few will send you links to the local AA chapter), try to keep these announcements on the local communities rather than those huge lists of 5,000. The other 4,995 people will just be upset that you’re partying without them
  10. Mention the name of a new lateral Partner before the move has been publicly announced.
    “Hey, anyone know what treatises that _______ had at ______ & _______? She’s starting here next week and I want to make sure we have everything lined up for her.”
    We all understand that you are wanting to make a smooth transition for the incoming partner from her old firm, but this sort of mistake will land you on an Above the Law post, and simultaneously land you on your butt outside the front doors of your firm (quickly followed by boxes filled with your office belongings.)
Oh, there is probably so much more in the way of online community faux pas, but I’ll stop here for now. Of course there are two “Golden Rules” around online community communications that you should always follow:
  1. Be Careful!
  2. Don’t Do Something Stupid!!
You’ll find that in life, as well as online, these two rules will usually keep you out of trouble.